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Staff Review: Zoo Keeper DS

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Staff Review: Zoo Keeper DS


Zoo Keeper is one of the most addictive puzzle games I?ve played since Tetris. Like a bit of candy, it?s best in small doses, but you'll find it difficult to not help yourself to more. But let?s get this right out of the way first: Yes, Zoo Keeper is a shameless clone of the very popular puzzler, Bejeweled. However, it?s so well done and fits so well on the Nintendo DS, I can?t help but forgive it for that. In fact, I think it greatly improves upon Bejeweled in many ways.


There?s a story behind the game. Something about the animals of the zoo escaping, and it being your job to catch them. But as with most puzzle games, it hardly matters.


The object of Zoo Keeper is to line up three animals of a kind in a row either vertically or horizontally. When you do this, the three animals disappear, and more animals drop down from the top of the screen to replace them. To line up the animals, you swap two adjacent animals with either the d-pad or the stylus. If it?s an incorrect match, the two animals will spring back to their original places. I used the d-pad to begin with, but when played with the stylus, the game really comes to life. It is far more precise and intuitive. After a while you?ll be instinctively switching animals around left and right, and even a mouse will seem archaic. Playing Bejeweled on the computer will never feel quite the same.


Sometimes, there may only be one possible match of three in a row. If no panels can be matched, then the screen will refresh, and you will get an entirely new board of tiles. If you match four or five animals in a row or eliminate multiple rows of animals at once, you receive extra points. Sometimes you can create chains, which occur when falling animals create matches, which give you even more points. When you eliminate panels, your remaining time is increased. The game is over when your time runs out.


All of the action takes place on the bottom touch screen. The top screen is used to display your score and a picture of the ?lucky? animal, which gives you double points when you capture it. One minor detail that I fell in love with was the way the animals would scowl at you if they were the only type that needed to be captured. It's both cute and a great way of helping you know what you should be trying to catch, without having to flick your eyes to the upper screen.


There are a few power-ups to help you in the game. On the right side of the screen are binoculars that when tapped, will highlight the possible animal matches for a second. This is useful when you?re getting down to the wire and are having difficulty finding that last match. The binoculars only have a limited number of uses, however, so you must use them sparingly. The other power-up is an animal head that rotates quickly though all of the different animals. When you select this wild card, whatever animal it happens to land on will clear all like animals on the screen. This is also good to use when your time is getting low.


There are five different types of gameplay:


Normal - You must capture a set number of animals before moving up to the next level. You initially start out with seven kinds of animals on the board: monkeys, elephants, pandas, hippos, giraffes, alligators and lions. In the first round, the goal is to capture at least three of each, then four of each in the next round, and so on. As you advance to higher levels, new animals are added.


Time Attack - This mode is the same as Normal, except you only have six minutes to get the highest score possible.


Totokon 100 - You must capture 100 of any single animal to move up to the next level. However, you keep the other animals you?ve captured for the next level. So if you captured 100 lions and 97 monkeys in level one, you only have three more monkeys to move up to level three.


2P - Two player mode. You can play another person using only one game card. The better you do, the more time is removed from your opponent?s remaining clock.


Quest - This mode consists of ten stages. In each stage, you have to perform a specific task for the owner, at the end of which he?ll add or subtract points based on your performance. Tasks vary from having to capture 20 lions while avoiding all other animals, to having to capture only animals that are lined up vertically. This mode puts a welcome twist on the game, and really adds to the replayability of it.


Zoo Keeper's graphics are simple, yet very well done. The artwork is highly stylized, bright and colorful. The animals themselves look similar to those found in the game Cubivore. They?re attractive, blocky, Picasso-style creations that are easy to tell apart as much from their looks as their colors. That is an advantage as it really helps in being able to discern between the different animals quickly when trying to match them up.


While the sound effects and voices in the game are well done, the same can?t be said for the music. Repetitive and annoying, it will get on your nerves within five or ten minutes. Fortunately, there?s a ?music off? option, and I suggest everyone take it. The music is by far the games biggest shortcoming.


Another disappointment worth mentioning has nothing to do with the actual gameplay. I have to wonder why Ignition Entertainment chose to release this with a $39.99 MSRP. Most DS games are at the $29.99 price point, and I can?t help but think they?re limiting their audience by making the price so high. Especially since the flash game Bejeweled can be played for free on the internet.


Overall, this game is a great addition to the DS, and I couldn?t be happier to have it in my library. Anyone who loves puzzle games owes it to themselves to try it out. Despite it borrowing heavily from Bejeweled, Zoo Keeper has so many welcome additional features and game modes; I heartily recommend it for any puzzle fan.


*You can try out the original flash version of Zoo Keeper here: http://jp.shockwave.com/games/puzzl.../zookeeper.html


Even though the music and animal designs differ from the DS version slightly, it still gives a good idea of what the game is like for those who are curious.

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Nice review, Erik. After reading it, I decided to head over to IGN to check out a couple movies of the game in action. You're right, I have seen this game before, although I don't think it was on the website you linked to in the review. It might have been at Yahoo or some other place I can't recall at the moment. At any rate, it looks like it would be a really good game to have on a portable system like the DS. I've always had a fondness for titles such as these that can be played endlessly and are always fun and enjoyable.


I agree thought that it's ridiculous to expect people to pay $40 for this though. I don't make games for a living, but I can't imagine that it cost them that much money to develop something like Zoo Keeper, especially if you can play it as a flash animation game. Once I do get a DS, I'd like to grab a copy of this, but I'll have to wait until I can find it for a more reasonable price.

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