World Of Zoo (not to be confused with 2DBoy's excellent "World Of Goo") is a new title from a rather Zoo-centric developer. Blue Fang Games is best known for the Zoo Tycoon PC games, and it's clearly playing in familiar territory here. Where Zoo Tycoon took on the Sim City style of simulating running an entire Zoo, World Of Zoo takes it down a level to make it simpler for younger players, mixing in a bit of Pokemon/Tamagotchi style individual animal levelling along the way.
The very first decision you've got to make when building your first Zoo is which type of critter you want to handle first. There's 11 animal families to meet — antelopes, bears, big cats, crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, horses, koalas, small monkeys, pandas and finally penguins. We were a little disheartened to see hippos overlooked, but they're always a possibility for a potential World Of Zoo 2: Electric Fence Boogaloo.
Once you've selected your first unlocked animal — all the additional families can be unlocked once enough star tokens are earned within a single exhibit — you get to play with them, and learn a bit about them along the way. Each animal has three challenge mini-games, as well as a set of themed "playsets" that open up new interactions. As you play through keeping your animals as healthy and happy as possible with a variety of toys, foods and keeper implements, you'll earn star token currency and new keeper levels that open up even more interactions with your animals. You can buy new animals across sub-species, with the data for each coming from National Geographic. Yep, while the kids are playing, they're technically also learning. Just don't tell them that and everything should be fine.
The sole reason that World Of Zoo works is down to the mixture of simple gestures for all of the game's commands tied into some absolutely charming cell-shaded animation. Pretty much everything you do in the game comes down to pointing at it and hitting A, and the game structure is such that if a player doesn't quite do the right thing, it'll still have an effect on the game world, still leaving them feeling as though they're in control. We plonked down a group of three- to eight-year olds in front of it, and sat back and watched them giggle, snort, gasp and smile their way through a couple of hours worth of washing elephants, feeding crocodiles and watching penguins slide around on their bellies. They would have played longer had we let them.
Undoubtedly, older and more cynical gamers won't get as much out of World Of Zoo, and they'll spot the repeated activities across several animal types, and instances where the mini-games aren't quite as precise as they need to be. This clearly isn't a title aimed at that audience, however. Like many kid-centric games there's some repetitive music on offer, and the sound of the medical scanner beeping can get a little irksome after a few hours of it. Still, with multiplayer support and a lot of animals on offer, this is a great title for younger, animal crazed gamers.