Kudos to developer Novatrix and publisher Encore Software for resisting the urge to call their game Wildlife Park Tycoon or Sim Wildlife Park. However, that’s basically what Wildlife Park is. In the game you run a zoo, managing affairs to keep your animals, employees and guests all happy, and meanwhile trying to turn a profit. If that’s not the very definition of a tycoon game, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, while there are good parts and bad parts to the game, the good parts all come from Zoo Tycoon, and the bad parts make the game a little too slow and tedious to be any fun.
Since Wildlife Park is about running a zoo, a large part of the game involves building exhibits for animals and keeping those animals happy. This is the part of Wildlife Park that is most like Zoo Tycoon. To build an exhibit, you must give animals the proper terrain and foliage, you must give them a shelter to live in and toys to play with, and you must make sure there is a zookeeper who can keep them fed and clean their cage. Those are things common to Zoo Tycoon and Wildlife Park. Exclusive to Wildlife Park, you must also make sure that exhibits are the proper temperature. If you build a penguin exhibit in the Sahara, for example, then you’re going to need a snow blower or two to keep the penguins from melting. If animals stay in the wrong temperature for too long, they might get sick, and then you’ll need to call in a veterinarian.
The problem with this part of the game is that it is much too easy. In Zoo Tycoon animals were very picky about how their wanted their exhibits designed, and you had to have just the right percentage of foliage and rocks, and just the right terrains. In Wildlife Park, animals only need one terrain, and for other things you just need to meet minimum requirements. So instead of requiring an exhibit to have 30% water and 20% hills in it, you just need to make sure the water area has at least X squares and the hilly area has at least Y squares. That is, all you have to do is overindulge the animals to make them perfectly happy, and it means you can slap together an exhibit with very little thought or effort.
Where Wildlife Park creates a challenge is in making a profit with your zoo. For example, while in Zoo Tycoon there were only three types of employees (one of which wasn’t really necessary), in Wildlife Park there are ten employees (five of which aren’t really necessary), and that means you’re paying more in wages right from the start. Also, instead of just having zookeepers magically give food to animals like in Zoo Tycoon, in Wildlife Park you must have an animal feed manager, who must make deliveries to the zookeepers so they can have the food for the animals. Then, once the animal feed manager runs out of food, he must buy more, and the purchase costs a lot of money. Similarly, where in Zoo Tycoon you’re able to take animal droppings, turn it into fertilizer and sell it off, in Wildlife Park it costs a lot you money to dispose of trash.
Eventually, after you’ve played enough, you’ll learn what to do to make money. Tycoon games all have their quirks in this way, and for some reason guests in Wildlife Park just love telescopes and hate ice cream (I never had an ice cream stand make money, even in scenarios that take place in the desert). However, the real way to make money in Wildlife Park is to get your animals to mate and then sell the offspring. Unlike in Zoo Tycoon, animals in Wildlife Park produce actual litters, and so, for example, if you can get your herd of wolves perfectly happy (a requirement for them to have sex), then they might produce cubs every few months, and at $10k or more per litter, they’ll blow away the commercial sales of your zoo.
But here’s the problem. Stuff in the game is expensive. If you want to make giant pandas perfectly happy, for example, it’ll cost you about $250k. Other animals cost more or less than that, but even if you have animals producing lots of offspring, and even if you sell stuff in your park like crazy, it’ll still take you several months to save up enough to build a new exhibit. That means a lot of what you do in Wildlife Park is sit around and wait for money. I used that time to get some reading done, and while I appreciate it when game developers advocate literacy, I don’t think that’s what they intended. Zoo Tycoon solved this problem by having exhibits be smaller and cheaper, and by making the animals fun to watch. In Wildlife Park the animals are boring, and they largely all do the same things (climb up the hill and then jump off, over and over).
Plus, Wildlife Park has a lot of little sloppy problems in it. The animations rarely match up (when people sit on benches, sometimes they end up way behind the benches, and animals never look like they’re eating from their food bins). Sometimes when you load a scenario the game forgets to initialize the graphics, and so all you see is whiteness. There is one scenario that I don’t think can be won, and one scenario I did win that the game didn’t give me credit for. Then there are other oddities, like the game claiming that putting mirrors in exhibits will make herd animals happier, but I didn’t notice anything like that. And I never did figure out what the water filter was for. As far as I could tell, it didn’t do anything.
Still, I was working my way through the 20 scenarios that come with the game, and I was thinking I was at least lukewarm about the title, but then I got to the last scenario. The objective of that scenario is to build exhibits for every animal in the game (about 50 animals). That is maybe the worst scenario objective I’ve ever seen, and my mind just balked. There wasn’t any way I intended to play that scenario, and I think if I’d liked Wildlife Park much, I would have at least given it a go. But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t really recommend the game. If the subject matter sounds intriguing, then Zoo Tycoon is a much better bet, especially since you can get it all bundled together now for a cheap price.