Everybody loves a good management sim, right? My theory is that we’re all willing to sink hours into games that allow us to manage and maintain imaginary businesses because it creates the illusion that we’re in control of our lives.
Planet Zoo looks set to be the latest release that distracts me from the crippling debt and overdue rent of real life, and I can’t wait to swap out boring reality for a digital zoo keeper’s hat in a game that looks every inch the Zoo Tycoon sequel I’ve been craving for so long.
That intro might have been a little too close to home for some of you, so let’s just pretend I said “Planet Zoo looks awesome” and move on, okay?
— Planet Zoo (@planetzoogame) April 24, 2019
Tycoon games tend to be all over the place- especially on mobile these days, but the genuinely good ones are few and far between, so what reason, what right do I have to be so excited for a game that’s only just been announced?
The answer is simple, really. Every ounce of hype and hope I have for Planet Zoo comes down to developer Frontier, a company who seem to have gotten creating management sims down to a particularly fine art. It also made Lost Winds, which isn’t really relevant to this article but I wanted to point out that Lost Winds is a wonderful little game. Thanks for listening.
Anyway, take a look Frontier’s recent output, such as Planet Coaster, which released in 2016. Much like Planet Zoo looks to be a spiritual sequel to Zoo Tycoon, Planet Coaster did the same thing for Rollercoaster Tycoon.
The end result was a gloriously addictive theme park management sim that took everything that worked from the classic games we remember so fondly, while sprinkling in a few smart modern touches and unexpected surprises. If you haven’t played it and you’ve been craving a theme park management game, what’s wrong with you? Go play it.
Then there’s last year’s Jurassic World Evolution, a game which took the glorious premise of running your own dinosaur theme park, first seen in the excellent Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis from way back in 2003.
Evolution was, much like Planet Coaster, a tremendous effort that played to all of the strengths of the title that preceded it, while introducing a slew of really cool new concepts. I especially dug being able to ride around in a Jeep to explore my park, and obviously letting your newly created dinos loose to wreak havoc on unsuspecting guests is always a blast.
Based on what we’ve heard about Planet Zoo so far, it sounds as if Frontier is looking to stick its formula of adding fun twists to a long established genre.
Here’s what Jonny Watts, chief creative officer of Frontier, had to say about Planet Zoo:
This is the zoo management game we’ve wanted to make for many years. We’ve challenged ourselves to build on the games we’ve made before and to carry the great legacy of classics like the Zoo Tycoon series forward. We’re taking everything we’ve learned from our past work and focusing on modern values — incredible authenticity, rich management, limitless creativity and community sharing — to make our best-ever simulation game.
One of the most striking aspects of Jurassic World Evolution (at least to me) was how engaging and relatable the dinosaurs were. Frontier recognised that you don’t play a game about building a park full of dinosaurs to worry about whether or not your customers have enough umbrellas, and instead embraced the prehistoric critters as the game’s focal point.
If Planet Zoo can do the same thing, and give us a robust management sim that doesn’t treat the animals as an afterthought, but as living, breathing attractions that need to be taken care of
Sure enough, one of the interesting new twists in Planet Zoo is that the focus will be more on the exotic animals in care, rather than the slovenly customers that spend all day farting around your park, waddling around with wheelie bins full of ice cream and complaining about the weather (the subtext here is that I prefer animals to people).
While you will still need to keep the cash coming in and make sure customers have somewhere to wee and all that stuff, you’ll also need to take care of the complex environmental and social needs of your animal friends.
You’ll be building special enclosures for your animals while considering all kinds of important questions like; “how do I make sure these animals don’t kill each other?”, “will the lions get enough shade if I put them here?”, and “where should I put the gift shop?”
We don’t know much more about Planet Zoo beyond that, but I do know that any video game that wants to me to look after lions and tigers and bears (oh my) is a day one buy in my book.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.