Sometimes the most simplistic video games in concept become the ones with the most longevity. Zoo Keeper is a puzzle game with a straightforward concept: line up three animals in a row to clear them from the board. The animals will then disappear off screen -only to be replaced by other falling animals. It’s always these types of puzzle games that prove the hardest to put down. Each round is timed and points are doubled if the randomly selected ‘Lucky’ animal – displayed on the Nintendo DS’s top screen – is cleared from the game board. You can only switch two animals that are side by side at a time and one or both have to make three animals or more in a row. More points are earned for combos larger than three animals. Making a match grants you more time in the round. New rounds start off with a fresh playing board, replenishing the options of animals to capture. The frenzied pace will have players searching the screen for animal matches as time hurriedly ticks away.
The action of Zoo Keeper takes place on the bottom screen, and players can use either the DS stylus or a finger to switch animals. The top screen displays the ‘Lucky’ animal as well as points accumulated and also the quota of animals needed to clear the round. Special panels cycle through each animal in rapid fashion; click it and the animal in the panel is cleared from the board. When no more moves are available, a new board is set up. Get stuck and there are up to three hints you can use by clicking the binoculars on the right side of the action. After a certain amount of points are rewarded you then earn a set of binoculars, so if you use all of your chances more can be replenished.
Zoo Keeper offers five different game modes: Normal, Tokoton, Quest, Time Attack, and 2 Player vs. In Tokoton you must fill a quota of 100 of each animal to advance to the next level. In Time Attack you have six minutes to accumulate as many points as possible. Quest is 10 different goals assigned by the head zookeeper, which, if completed will earn you points, but failure means points are deducted. Also, if the mission is not completed quickly and cleanly, then points may also be docked. 2 Player vs. pits two players head-to-head with only a single game card needed to play.
As stated earlier, all games are timed. In Normal mode, when animals are captured more time is put on the clock. When time runs out all remaining matches that weren’t found are subsequently revealed – this proves heartbreaking when you see ones that were overlooked. A nice feature of Zoo Keeper is that once a match is made, play can immediately continue without waiting for the panels to align again.
Zoo Keeper is so simple that practically anyone should be able to pick-up-and-play immediately. Don’t confuse simplicity with mediocrity, though, as Zoo Keeper’s 30 levels and five game modes will keep you occupied for quite some time. The gameplay is solid and replay value is wonderfully high.
The game music is upbeat and particularly fitting for this puzzle action game. The audio is a throwback to 8-bit gaming with a simplistic and easily remembered melody. There is even some voice work included, which is nice to hear on a DS title. The animated animals have grimacing looks on their faces when captured and they seem to flash disapproving looks at other times. This whimsical theme gives Zoo Keeper a certain charm that is a refreshing change. While the concept of this puzzle title is perhaps nothing new, Zoo Keeper is executed extremely well throughout, and its various modes of play add a fair amount of variety to the puzzle premise. And, as a handheld title, it’s all the more enticing because of portability and quick rounds.
How can you possibly go wrong with such a cute puzzle game for the Nintendo DS? Well, I don’t think you can. The addictive gameplay makes Zoo Keeper one of my current favorites for the blooming DS. The graphics are rich in color while having an old-school gaming feel; the nostalgic presentation of which makes Zoo Keeper that little bit more endearing.
Puzzle games are usually a safe bet for fun gameplay and a good time. In that regard Zoo Keeper will not disappoint. The game’s premise is simple enough but mastering it will take focused skill and no shortage of luck. Zoo Keeper’s addictive presentation, broad immersion factor, and ‘fun for all’ nature should raise it to nothing short of a DS crowd favorite.