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Why I Hate Zoo Keeper

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.

Nintendo DS

Rating: *
Zoo Keeper - video game reviews

October 1, 2005

I wrote about this in an earlier post, just when I had bought a copy of Zoo Keeper for Nintendo DS. It's a beloved puzzle game by many, so I decided to hop onto the bandwagon and see what the fuss was about. And at the beginning, I'm having a great time. It's pacing is casual, yet steadily building in tension as you scramble to match animals in threes; the interface with the stylus is intantaneous and wonderfully intuitive. And, heck, the game just looks good. I can only imagine how much fun versus play can be.

But there's the matter of the World of Stewart essay on the game, where Stewart Campbell tears the game apart for its Quest Mode. What's my opinion, after two weeks of playing the game? Very simply, this:

I absolutely hate this bloody game.

More specifically, I hate Quest Mode. This is the most vicious act of videogame sabotage that I can remember. I really have to wonder if the designers are actively trying to knock players to the ground and kick them once they're there. How this mode ever found its way into the final product without any testing is beyond me.

For those who don't know, Quest Mode is the third of four gameplay modes in Zoo Keeper. In this mode, the cruel boss challenges you with a series of 10 mini-games, in which you must perform specific tasks. In the first game, you must capture 20 lions. In another one, you must match only one pair of each animal; if any animal is captured twice, the whole process starts anew. In another, you must only make vertical matches, or only make matches of four animals or more.

It sounds sensible, but you'll quickly discover why it's so horribly evil. The games are completely random. You, ultimately, have no real say in the outcome of the games.

Consider the "make one match" mini-game. When you make matches, the new blocks that enter the playfield should, in all fairness, still enable you to reach your goals. They should follow a set pattern or formula, thus assuring that each game is a test of one's skill. Does that ever happen? No!

When you remove blocks from the playfield, any new pieces are completely random. In fact, everytime you play a new Quest game, all the pieces on the playfield are completely random. There's no consistency. It just comes down to dumb luck, and it's pretty damned annoying. It's pull-out-your-hair-and-scream-out-loud annoying.

Here's another example. Test #7 requires you to capture seven groups of animals without causing any chains, or combos. If you start a combo, you have to start all over. Imagine, then, when you manage to score five single matches, only to have the new blocks that appear - pieces over which you have no control - start a series of chain combos. This can happen once, or a dozen times until you can finally escape. As a result, the cruel boss docks 70% of your total score.

Have I mentioned yet tonight how much I hate these people? Zoo Keeper's designers find it acceptable to lead you along these endlessly banal "challenges," only to take away nearly all your points at the first mistake. A mistake, I repeat, that is entirely out of your control. You can pass the first six tests flawlessly, score an extra bonus on the "lunch break" stage, and then lose it all on the next two rounds, and all you get to do is watch.

Are these a bunch of sick sadists, or what?

Ultimately, you are required to reach the top score on all the four game modes in order to unlock Super Hard difficulty, which is the only way you can reach the highest scores. And since Zoo Keeper is built around getting the high score (in the vein of the arcade classics), you're pretty much forced to slog through Quest if you want any sort of bragging rights against your friends. This is simply unacceptable.

So here we have a game, really quite enjoyable once you get into it, completely wrecked because of one mode that is entirely unfair, unreasonable, and pointless. What's the deal, anyway? It's such a poisonous experience that I'm finally throwing up my hands and walking away from the whole thing. What a rotten, stinking mess. What a lousy way to reward the people who are paying your salaries. I'm not even sure if this qualifies as poor game design, or outright sabotage.

For the record, I finally beat the game's default high score on Quest Mode (scoring just over 14,000 points), no thanks to any of my efforts. I just got lucky. But that's the whole point to my little rant. In the modern world of videogames, that's just inexcusable. Stewart Campbell was right: you may as well have a giant button that hands out random numbers.

If I had any say, I know what my button would read.