Zoos are a great place for families to go out to, where they can see all kinds of exotic animals. Visiting them is great, but what if you could build and run your own? Thanks to the power of video games, you can. These particular games allow you to control every aspect of the zoos you run. You can have whatever animals you want, hire all kinds of staff to help you with the day-to-day running of your park, and add attractions and facilities to keep your visitors satisfied. All zoo management games have these core features, but each one brings something different. Check out this list to see what each game has to offer.
Note that these games are not listed in order of ranking, but order of release date.
1. ZOO TYCOON SERIES
Probably the first zoo management game, the original Zoo Tycoon was released in 2001, developed by Blue Fang Games and published by Microsoft Studios.
(YouTube video by Game Trailer Preserve Project)
The original Zoo Tycoon was a pioneer in zoo management games. It was the first game of its type that allowed you to design and run your own zoo, and you could place all kinds of exotic and interesting animals in your park, such as lions, elephants, tigers, rhinos, chimpanzees, penguins, pandas, giraffes, hippos, and lots more. The animals that you see in zoos in the real world you can place in your own park.
You couldn’t just plonk animals in enclosures in your park. You had a responsibility to take care of them; keeping them fed and entertained, and if you failed, they would become bored, restless, and even stressed. Animals could even die. This was a big responsibility, and if your park was full of lots of different animals to watch over, you’d have your hands full. Luckily, you could hire staff to help you look after the animals, such as keepers and vets and more.
It wasn’t just animals you had to take care of. Visitors, or guests, were also one of your main priorities. If your guests were unhappy, your park’s profits would founder, and as a result, your animals would suffer too. Guests would have 5 needs: happiness, hunger, thirst, restroom need, and energy. This seemed like a lot to take care of, but fortunately, you would have facilities that would take care of those needs, providing you placed enough of them around your park.
Zoo Tycoon also had a research feature, unlocking things such as new buildings and even new animals. Researching was the only way to access animal houses such as aviaries, as well as endangered animals. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a cool new animal or attraction to place in your park.
The original game featured 3 modes: Tutorial, Scenario, and Freeform. Tutorial teaches you the basics of the game, Scenario has goals with restrictions, and Freeform is sandbox mode.
Zoo Tycoon was a big success, selling 1 million copies within a year. DLC was released; Dinosaur Digs, introducing dinosaurs into your parks, and Marine Mania, giving you water-based animals. Additionally, a free DLC was made available from the Microsoft website, called Endangered Species. In 2003, Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection was released, which included the original game, as well as all expansions and DLC. Zoo Tycoon was also released on DS.
Zoo Tycoon followed with a sequel, Zoo Tycoon 2, in 2004 (which also got a release on mobile). The 2.5D graphics were swapped with 3D. The game had a campaign and challenge mode with missions, in which you could unlock new objects. Tasks weren’t just building a profitable park, but assignments such as breeding endangered species. You could also play in sandbox mode, granting you a lot of space for your park, unlimited funds, and every animal available in the game.
Zoo Tycoon 2 also included an in-game encyclopedia called a Zoopedia, with facts and information on all the animals, helping you to take care of them and meet their needs. Animals would have to be placed in a suitable biome that would match their natural habitat, such as wetlands or savannah, otherwise they would become unhappy. Plants were also categorized by biome.
(YouTube video by Racorac)
In 2013, a new version of Zoo Tycoon was released as a launch title for the then-new Xbox One. It was also released on Xbox 360. It was later released on PC, titled Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection.
Although the original Xbox version may have disappointed anticipated Zoo Tycoon fans, the improved PC re-release does have a lot of great things about it. The game features almost 200 animals, giving you a lot of choice for your parks. You don’t just have mammals, but reptiles, birds, and aquatic creatures. This version of Zoo Tycoon has a level system. You climb up the levels by placing or upgrading attractions, unlocking new attractions and facilities.
With the Xbox Kinect, you could directly interact with some of the animals by feeding them, washing them, and playing with them.
The Zoo Tycoon series has been considered retired. Frontier Developments, who made the 2013 version, moved on to make Planet Zoo. Although the Zoo Tycoon series has officially (and sadly) ended, it’s not a series that should be forgotten. Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection is still available to play. Although there will be no new Zoo Tycoon games, it’s considered one of the best zoo management games, as well as one of the best games of all time.
2. WILDLIFE PARK SERIES
In response to Zoo Tycoon‘s great success, Wildlife Park was released in 2003. The original game was developed by B-Alive GmbH and published by Deep Silver, JoWood Productions, and Encore Software Inc.
The original Wildlife Park has the classic 2.5D graphics that gives players warm feelings of nostalgia today. Like Zoo Tycoon, it includes tutorials and a campaign mode. In campaign mode (complete with 20 missions), you have to complete certain goals, ranging in difficulty, testing your skills and knowledge as an animal park builder and keeper. If you just want to build your own park with no limitations, you can play in sandbox mode.
You can build zoos practically anywhere around the world, which have their own climates and flora, so you really feel like you’re sweating in a dense jungle or baking in a barren desert or freezing in a blizzard in an alpine forest. To get you more immersed in the lands you’re playing in, the game has its own spellbinding soundtrack, the music usually matching the location you’re currently in.
You have a huge variety of animals to choose from, 45 altogether, including mammals, reptiles, birds, and marine animals. You can add new animals to your park by placing down their respective animal houses, each designed to reflect the animal and the location they come from. You have to keep in mind the environment the animals originated from. An animal adapted for colder climates will be hard to keep happy in a hot dry desert. Animals have certain behavior, such as reproducing, socializing, aging, dying, aggression, and “trainability”.
You can keep animals occupied with objects such as ropes and video screens. If you’re stuck on how to make a particular animal happy, you can open up the info box, where you’ll find out everything you need, from what food it likes to eat to the type of terrain it likes to run around on.
For the original game, only one DLC was released, Wild Creatures, which includes prehistoric animals such as mammoths. In 2016, Wildlife Park was re-released to work on mobile, as well as PC.
A sequel to Wildlife Park was released in 2006, Wildlife Park 2. It includes 50 different animal species. In this game, you can directly interact with the animals by petting and feeding them. You can also enter visitor mode, where you can walk and drive around your own park. You can hire landscape artists and scientists, the latter who helps with research and breeding programs. You can breed exotic and even extinct animals, as well as plant species, in research labs.
The graphics are in 3D, which allows for more advanced terraforming. Advanced water simulation allows for underwater worlds and waterfalls. You can also build tunnels and have jeep safaris. You can take photos to put together an album of your park, and there is an encyclopedia of all the animals and plants.
Several DLC packs were released for Wildlife Park 2, which introduces domestic animals, dinosaurs, farm animals, horses, marine animals, and more.
In 2014, Wildlife Park 3 was released. Each animal is unique in appearance, with their own coat colorings and patterns, tails, manes, tusks, and horns, which are randomly assigned. You can place monorails in your park for your visitors to get around in. You can even have hot air balloon rides, so your visitors can enjoy the view of the park from the air. New DLC adds more animals and other content, with themes from Australia, the Caribbean, Alaska, Asia, and more.
Wildlife Park was one of the first games that tried to follow in Zoo Tycoon‘s success, and while it may not have reached Zoo Tycoon‘s heights of success, it’s still a commendable game.
(YouTube video by flodanik)
3. ZOO EMPIRE
Released in 2004, developed and published by Enlight Software, Zoo Empire works similar to Zoo Tycoon and Wildlife Park. The main objective is to create a zoo empire, as the name suggests.
Animals can be trained to be the star attractions at your zoo. Visitors can tour the park in boats and trains, which has 3 designs you can choose from. You can take photos and make videos. Zoo Empire features a sandbox mode and career mode. Career mode includes 30 scenarios. In career mode, you can go two ways: financial or conservation. Financial focuses on generating money from your zoos, while conservation focuses on looking after the animals.
While Zoo Empire didn’t follow with sequels like Zoo Tycoon and Wildlife Park, it’s still a notable zoo management game that has its own style thanks to its more cartoonish graphics. It has also received positive reviews.
4. ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON 3: WILD! EXPANSION PACK
You’re probably wondering why a theme park management game is on this list (particularly as a list for theme park games has already been done). While RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 is a theme park management game, the second expansion pack, Wild!, introduces the element of zoo management into the game, alongside theme park management.
RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Wild! allows you to build and manage animal parks, as well as theme parks. Of course, with any zoo, you’ll get a choice of different animals to place in your park, including the usual exotic animals such as lions and giraffes and elephants. There are up to 20 animals to choose from. When you build an enclosure, you also have to place viewing galleries, so your park visitors can get a good view of the animals. You can charge visitors to look at each animal by setting the price.
In certain scenarios, you can bring in “rescued” animals, those that arrive in poor health and need special attention. You can also get baby animals, which can be expensive but very rewarding, bringing in lots of money for you and your park. You can also receive money for baby animals from patrons wishing to care for them. You’ll have to take good care of your animals, otherwise, they might be taken away! Animals can also be released back into the wild, which will bring good publicity for your park. Poorly cared-for animals that get taken away, on the other hand, will make you look bad.
For an expansion pack to an otherwise theme-park centred game, Wild! is surprisingly in-depth with how the animals behave and how much detail you can put into your zoos. Animals have all the usual needs such as hunger and thirst, as well as socialization. They will also react to their surroundings, becoming uncomfortable in enclosures that are too small for them. Animals can also breed. Each animal behaves differently and has different needs. For example, some animals will want more socialization than others.
As well as animals, the Wild! expansion doesn’t neglect the theme park side of things. In keeping with the safari theme, the expansion includes new rides that will fit in nicely with your new zoos, including animal houses for insects and nocturnal animals, elephant rides, and safari tours.
If you want a mixture of safari and theme parks, then RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Wild! is one that won’t disappoint.
(YouTube video by Jurassicparkfan1001)
5. WORLD OF ZOO
World of Zoo was released for PC, Wii, and DS in 2009. It was published by THQ and HandyGames, and developed by Blue Fang Games (who also developed Zoo Tycoon). Like Zoo Empire, it has cuter more cartoonish graphics compared to the more realistic style of Wildlife Park and Zoo Tycoon. World of Zoo was released on different platforms, with the Wii version having the most features. The Wii version has a multiplayer feature. Also, while the PC version has 6 animal groups, the Wii version adds 5, bringing the total to 11.
World of Zoo includes 95 different animal species. The game is partly educational, with facts about the animals provided by the National Geographic Society. By keeping animals happy, you can earn tokens. With these tokens, you can get food, tools, and new animals. The game features an Animal Creator, similar to the creature creator tool in Spore, in which players can customize animals’ personalities and appearances. This makes World of Zoo one of the few zoo management games (if even the only one) where you can create your own animals.
You can get hands-on with the animals, interacting with them, which notches it up from just observing them, so you can create a bond with the animals you house in your park. There are also mini-games, achievements, and unlockables that will encourage hours of gameplay.
(YouTube video by vandadk)
6. MY FREE ZOO
As the name suggests, My Free Zoo is a free-to-play game. It was released in 2017, developed and published by Upjers.
The first great thing about this game, as stated in the name, is that it’s free! Who doesn’t like a free game? Well, not if the game isn’t very good, but that’s not the case with My Free Zoo. The game is presented in 2.5D isometric graphics, but this doesn’t make the game look dated at all (not that there’s anything wrong with the wonderfully nostalgic 2.5D graphics of older games). The game looks clean and polished, and the game is subtly colorful.
The goal is to save a failing petting zoo. Turning a floundering wildlife park into a great success is satisfying not just for the animals and visitors, but also for yourself, as this achievement is down to you. As you play and progress, you unlock more exotic animals. You can even breed dinosaurs at higher levels. You can earn or buy unique animals, and there is a nursery for baby animals.
My Free Zoo includes seasonal events. One thing to note is that while the game is free, it can only be played online.
7. PLANET ZOO
Released in 2019, Planet Zoo is seen as a spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon. It was created by Frontier Developments, who were also behind Planet Coaster. Like Planet Coaster, Planet Zoo was highly praised, selling more than a million copies in just 6 months.
The game has realistic animal portrayals and emphasizes wildlife conservation. It features 73 animal species, with 35 being added with DLC. It has a realistic breeding system, which can also result in inbreeding (something that other zoo management games don’t have). Animals can be shared and traded with other players.
Planet Zoo has over 1000 building pieces such as benches, lighting, plants, and other items to help you construct the perfect parks. Custom buildings can be “blueprinted” and then uploaded and shared through the Steam Workshop. You can also modify landscapes, and build natural structures such as waterfalls and cave systems. The game has a transportation system, with safaris, boats, trains, monorails, and gondola lifts to get your guests around. The game also has a day/night cycle and weather patterns to add realism.
Planet Zoo features 4 modes: Sandbox, Career, Challenge, and Online Franchise mode. In Online Franchise mode, you trade animals with other players.
6 DLC packs were released, each one focusing on a different theme, such as the Arctic or South America, and there was also an Aquatic-themed pack. The game also has free updates.
Planet Zoo is possibly one of the best-looking zoo management games. Not only does it look good, but the gameplay won’t disappoint. If you like Zoo Tycoon and were impressed with Planet Coaster, then you should definitely check out Planet Zoo.
8. ZOO 2: ANIMAL PARK
Zoo 2: Animal Park was released in 2020, developed by KING Art and published by Upjers (the same people behind My Free Zoo). The graphics pop out at you with their vibrant colors and style. As with most other zoo management games, you play as a zoo director. If you want to expand your park and unlock new items and facilities, then you need to level up. The game also includes achievements, events, and updates.
It has a variety of animals, including the usual tigers, wolves, foxes, pandas, elephants, and giraffes, as well as more domestic animals such as bunnies and horses. You can breed baby animals, creating rare coat color variations.
If you like bright, cheerful games that are not only fun to play but also easy, you might consider this title. Note that like My Free Zoo, Zoo 2: Animal Park can only be played online.
9. LET’S BUILD A ZOO
Developed by Springloaded and published by No More Robots, Let’s Build a Zoo is a one-of-a-kind zoo management game.
One notable standout is the graphics, presented in 2D pixels. Not all modern games have to be in super-sharp 3D graphics, and Let’s Build a Zoo proves that 2D pixel graphics in games are not dead. If any, it adds that extra little charm to the game (plus, it makes the animals look really cute).
Whilst being your typical zoo management game, the core unique feature of Let’s Build a Zoo is the ability to breed and create new animals with DNA splicing. With this, you can create new and extraordinary animal breeds. For example, you can make a giraffe/elephant hybrid, or mix a chicken with a cow. With 500 different animals, you can splice together over 300,000 animal combos. Whilst breeding has been a part of many zoo management games, Let’s Build a Zoo‘s take on breeding takes it to the next level and provides lots of fun and inspiration.
There’s another unique side to Let’s Build a Zoo. Whilst you can buy animals the usual way, you have the option to buy things more… unconventionally. You can approach people from the black market to purchase and sell animals. You can even report these dodgy salespeople to the police if you so wish. How you decide to play is up to you.
While it hasn’t yet been officially released, you can play the demo via Steam. Let’s Build a Zoo is set to be released in 2021, and it’s certainly one to look out for.
10. JURASSIC PARK/JURASSIC WORLD SERIES
This has been saved for last, because it’s just such a standout series in this list. Whilst some more traditional zoo management games have introduced dinosaurs through DLC (possibly even because of Jurassic Park), the Jurassic Park series includes some special zoo management games completely dedicated to the theme of dinosaurs. Starting in 1993, the Jurassic Park series spans over a large variety of games, with various developers and publishers, and released on practically every games console. The games are mainly action-adventure and FPS, but there are also some unique park management games amongst them.
The first in the management simulation genre was Jurassic Park III: Park Builder. It was developed by Konami and released in 2001 (the same year Zoo Tycoon came out). The goal is to design and run a Jurassic Park theme park, situated on an island. You send an excavation team to one of eight worldwide locations to search for fossilized mosquitoes that contain dinosaur DNA, used to create dinosaurs. This takes it a step further than just buying some animals for your park. In this game, you have to go out, find them, and create them.
(YouTube video by Android Games)
There are 140 creatures available, grouped into herbivores and carnivores. Once you’ve got some dinosaurs, you need to have a place to home them. You can have up to 8 holding pens. Dinosaurs can get ill, requiring medical attention. They must also be placed in environments that closely resemble their natural habitats. The island has 6 different environments, with jungles, a beach, plains, and a desert. Dinosaurs having this level of detail and realism really brings them to life, making them seem so real, despite going extinct millions of years ago in the real world.
Once you have a park established, you can place structures such as hotels, restaurants, and shops. You need to watch out for hurricanes and earthquakes though, as they’ll damage buildings. You can advertise your park to attract more customers. Visitors can view dinosaurs by riding tour buses. Building and managing a zoo with dinosaurs is a surreal yet enthralling experience.
A version of Park Builder was released for iOS, Android, and Facebook and received positive reviews. Sadly, the game is no longer playable, as of March 2020.
Park Builder was later followed by Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. It was developed by Blue Tongue Entertainment, and co-published by Vivendi Universal Games under Universal Interactive and Konami. It took 22 months to develop and was eventually released in 2003 on PC, Xbox, and PS2.
(YouTube video by KingBelior)
The primary goal in Operation Genesis is to construct a 5-star rated dinosaur theme park. The parks are based on custom-generated islands. You can hatch dinosaurs, build attractions, keep visitors entertained, and ensure park safety.
There are 25 species of dinosaurs, divided into 4 groups: small and large carnivores, and small and large herbivores. Each has its own needs. The larger dinosaurs are more popular but also more demanding to take care of. Carnivores have to be fed live cows and goats, while herbivores get bales of plant feed.
Like Park Builder, fossils and amber are needed to make dinosaurs. You have to send fossil-hunting teams to dig in one of nine dig sites around the world. Each dig site has fossils from 3 particular dinosaurs. The chance of finding fossils depends on the quality of the site, which is rated excellent to exhausted. Valuable items such as silver and gold can be found and sold for profit.
(YouTube video by Jurassicparkfan1001)
You can have balloon tours, safari adventures, and viewing domes in your park, but these must be researched. The balloon and safari can be controlled for exploration and photography purposes.
Operation Genesis includes 10 missions, which involves tasks such as taking photos of dinosaurs and controlling dinosaurs. After completing all the missions, Site B mode is unlocked. This is an island without any fences, buildings, or even visitors. You can place up to 8 hatcheries and can have up to 60 dinosaurs, with no diseases or dinosaurs getting stressed. This is a great way to observe dinosaurs without having to worry about visitors or facilities (or building enclosures).
The latest release in the Jurassic Park series is Jurassic World Evolution. It was made by Frontier Developments and released in 2018 for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. In 2020, it was released on Nintendo Switch.
Jurassic World Evolution features 40 dinosaurs and has emergency situations such as power failures, unpredictable weather, and dinosaur breakouts, which will stretch your abilities as the director. It includes a career mode, where you build parks with advice from different people in the departments of Science, Security, and Entertainment. You can also take photos to generate publicity.
There is also a sandbox mode, but you first have to unlock the different islands and dinosaurs through career mode. You can adjust the settings for sandbox mode, which gives you a lot of options, such as adjusting the weather, day/night cycles, and even dinosaur behavior.
Jurassic World Evolution has sold 3 million copies as of March 2020. It has been the most successful game launched by Frontier Developments. A sequel, Jurassic World Evolution 2 is scheduled for release in late 2021, due to be released for PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. If the first game was anything to go by, then 2 won’t fail to disappoint Jurassic Park/World fans.
That sums up all the zoo management games. Whether you’re managing a park full of exotic animals from around the world or prehistoric dinosaurs, zoo management games have a lot to offer and give you a lot of control in how you want to design and run your own animal parks. With upgraded graphics and gameplay in recent releases, who knows what may lie ahead for zoo management games.