Planet Zoo is an upcoming entry from Frontier Developments which hopes to revitalise interest in zoo simulators. The specific sub-genre was highly popularised by Blue Fang in the early 00s’ with their hit title Zoo Tycoon.
The Zoo Tycoon series was already reinvented as a disappointing launch title for the Xbox One. That remake was slammed for its’ cumbersome gameplay that failed to replicate the magic of the original series.
Frontier Development is a studio with an impressive pedigree in the business simulator genre. Having developed the original Roller Coaster Tycoon series. They’ve had a few bumps along the way to producing a Zoo Tycoon successor. But may finally have struck the right balance with Planet Zoo.
Business Simulators of The 90s’
Business simulators were all the rage at the turn of the millennia. The genre has been around since the early days of gaming but shot to prominence in the late 90s’ with titles like Harvest Moon 64 and Rollercoaster Tycoon.
Controversial developer Peter Molyneux was one of the big names behind the genre’s boom with his former studio Bullfrog Productions. The studio developed the ‘Theme’ series, most notably Theme Park World and Theme Hospital.
Eventually, everything from casinos to skate parks enjoyed the business sim treatment. Even president Donald Trump has his own line of games in the genre. The next notable entry, however, was Zoo Tycoon, which replicated the success of many amusement park themed predecessors.
Progression was designed around a loop of building your zoo to contain more exotic animals and increasing attendances. Then, of course, the inevitable releasing of a particular enclosure just to see what would happen.
With advancing technology and more immersive titles, the genre has seen a collapse in popularity over the years. Modern business simulators are often billed as ‘spiritual successors’ and often flop both commercially and critically. Take the much-maligned Sim City from 2013 as the perfect example.
However, Two Point Hospital launched in 2018 and was lauded as a potential revival for the genre. A spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, it’s one of few successful reboots, landing amidst the 90s’ nostalgia currently permeating the gaming scene.
Frontier Developments and Planet Zoo
Frontier Developments are hoping Planet Zoo can offer the next step in the genre’s revival. Following on from another successful reboot from the studio, Planet Coaster. Like Two Point Hospital, Planet Coaster was a huge critical success, praised for its’ diverse creation options.
The studio has vast experience within the genre and has learnt plenty of lessons from past mistakes. Frontier Developments were in fact, the same studio that developed the last attempted reboot of Zoo Tycoon for the Xbox One.
They’ve also had another mixed bag of a zoo style simulator recently with Jurassic World Evolutions. The most recent title to come out of the studio. Combining business simulator elements with the popular dinosaur franchise seemed like a sure hit.
But the game launched with mediocre to poor reviews and similar sales. Again criticised for mundane gameplay based on grinding and long wait times. Creation tools really felt shackled as well so there wasn’t even a ton of fun to be had with building your park.
Needless to say, it was a disappointing follow up to Planet Coaster. But the two games did share one thing in common, criticism over the lack of difficulty. There are elements from both though that suggest Planet Zoo could be the best entry yet.
A Planet Zoo in Balance
The one big praise Jurassic World Evolution did receive was for its’ lifelike character models and behaviour patterns. That’s crucial because Frontier Developments have very much taken that and built on it for Planet Zoo.
Animations look incredible and animals behave as you would expect. They interact with elements in their enclosure and even the weather. It was confirmed at E3 that the free form creation from Planet Coaster would also be making a return. A vast improvement over the stunted nature of the Jurassic World tie-in.
Each animal will also be unique in its’ genetic code presenting a variety of new challenges. Animals will have individual requirements to maintain morale and keep them fit and healthy. Customer satisfaction will also play a bigger role in the financial success of the zoo.
Attendees expect both entertainment and education from their visit, the zoo needs to offer relevant information, which needs to be researched. They’ll also be put off by seeing staff working so staff routes and building placements will play a more strategic role.
In short, Planet Zoo is a combination of the excellent character models and customisation of Frontier Developments’ previous titles. They’ve also taken into account previous criticism and added a spattering more difficulty. In terms of fiscal and moral responsibilities for all animals, staff and customers.