Zoo Tycoon 2 for the Nintendo DS is a management sim that lacks the depth or difficulty to make it interesting for anyone other than its intended kiddie audience. But even so, parents looking at this title as a way to get their little tykes interested in the plight of some of the world's most endangered animal species may want to think again, as Zoo Tycoon 2 sends some decidedly mixed messages about animal welfare thanks to its ultrasimplistic gameplay.
Zoo Tycoon 2, like its predecessors, is all about creating great zoos with happy animals in healthy environments. So you can't do truly horrible things like get into the bear bile trade, stick kangaroos in aquariums, or make a beaver and a moose fight for your love. The happier your animals, the more people come to see them. The more people come, the more money you make, which you can then spend on improving your park and doing research to be able to house even more exotic creatures, and so on. It's a laudable premise, but the game's simplicity and options-light approach too often allow players to cut corners and place animals in some clearly overcrowded situations--a strange oversight for a game supposedly all about a greater appreciation for our animal brethren.
The biggest problem Zoo Tycoon 2 for the DS has is that its core gameplay--keeping your animals happy by creating the right environments for them, as well as monitoring their five basic needs--is so stripped of any complexity that you can literally use the same strategy for making all your critters happy regardless of their size, rarity, or temperament. There's simply no challenge to be found at all in the game's Campaign mode, a series of 15 scenarios split up into five difficulties. Each scenario tasks you with achieving certain objectives within a set time frame and budget, but they all amount to the same thing--start up your zoo with some basic animals, complete the research tree to unlock rarer ones, and watch the crowds roll in.
You must keep the game's animals in enclosures that match their respective natural habitats. You'll find this by selecting the animal once it's in your enclosure and finding out what its preferences are simply via tapping the animal favorites button. This will show its preferred ground surface, water type, foliage, and shelter, and will guide you directly to the purchase screen to buy, and then place, your selections.
If that sounds simple enough, it's because it is. Since exactly what's needed is clearly pointed out via a series of prompts, this process quickly becomes tedious as the ol' synapses never have to fire up at any stage to make any important decisions. Creating the perfect habitat for every animal--from otter to elephant--is as easy and quick as covering the ground with the appropriate surface, sticking some water in the corner, planting a tree here and there, putting down the occasional rock or shelter, and then placing a zookeeper in the enclosure to take care of all your animals.
Zoo Tycoon 2 does let you take a more hands-on role with the upkeep of your flock. The game's ZooKeeper mode lets you interact with any animal in the park, and is essentially a series of five minigames that directly impact an animal's happiness. All of these minigames are mind-numbingly straightforward, however, and will probably hold your interest for only a few rounds before you decide to ditch it completely and let a computer-controlled zookeeper do it for you. The feeding minigame, for example, presents you with four food options, but it's always easy to know which one to feed your chosen animal because the game highlights it for you.