Let’s Build a Zoo is a management sim being developed by Springloaded and published by No More Robots. Set up your own zoo, fill it with cute animals, and then blow off steam by playing god and haphazardly mixing their DNA together to create new and bizarre hybrids! With a wealth of content planned, numerous interlocking systems and a deceptively cute aesthetic, the team released a beta build over the weekend to gather feedback and intel from the community. Here’s how it’s looking.
Let’s Build a Zoo will be released on Steam, and can be wishlisted now.
Story – Zoo Fast Zoo Furious
The beta doesn’t really concern itself overly much with a story or any deep lore, as you might expect for a sim game. Instead, you’re just told that you’re required to run the zoo while the usual zookeeper is off on holiday. That does beg the question of why the zoo you’re looking after is completely empty, but hey – it’s a convenient get-in for a limited-scope demo of the game, let’s not think too hard about it.
Where it does let itself shine a little, though, is with some of the NPCs with whom you can interact. These characters will provide you with tasks to complete over the course of your two weeks running the zoo. Let’s Build a Zoo doesn’t seem to be in the same vein as Stardew Valley, with a rich cast of fleshed-out characters to build relationships with, but the game’s cast does elicit a few chuckles over the course of the demo. Of note is the black market animal dealer, who is clearly styled after Tiger King’s Joe Exotic, mullet and all. There are plenty of others heaping missions and goals on you, too, from researchers to sneaky scam artists and more.
Gameplay – Dr Moreau? Never Heard of Him
On its surface, Let’s Build a Zoo seems like your standard sim/management game, in the style of RollerCoaster Tycoon or Two Point Hospital. The goals are fairly straightforward: create a fun zoo, attract plenty of customers, make a profit (ideally). So far, so sim. Later on, however, it starts introducing gene-splicing technology (ethics be damned) which you can use to cross different animals together and make bizarre hybrids like the Algoose (alpaca + goose) and the Rabbopotamus (rabbit + hippo).
That DNA-splicing mechanic is where the game really starts to branch out on its own. There are dozens of different animals in the game, each of which has its own variants. Start combining beasts and you’ve got, according to the game’s devs, over 300,000 possibilities with which to populate your zoo. Here is where the game has the potential to set itself apart from more straight-laced offerings like Planet Zoo. If you’ve ever wanted to fill your virtual zoo with peaceful Giraffephants or slithering Snakillos, look no further. The cute and colourful pixel art, reminiscent of the GBA-era Pokémon games, helps to sell the idea too.
Over the course of your two-week stint in the beta, you’re set various tasks to complete to teach you the basics of the game: build an enclosure, create a research station, buy new animals, et cetera. It does a good job of introducing some of the basic ideas of the game to the player, though some of them could still do with a bit of further explanation. For example, you’re not really told much about the needs of the animals and how to cater to them except that you need an Animal Keeper for them.
That said, the beta provides a pretty effective vertical slice of the game. The two-week limit is long enough to experiment with the different systems and mechanics but short enough that you’ll not really see any negative consequences to your tinkering. Animals won’t die of starvation, you’re unlikely to go broke, and you won’t fall afoul of the Animal Welfare Enforcers. There’s also a satisfying level of granularity for the management side of things. Shops and the like can be tweaked easily, upping ticket prices or changing the appearance of a gift shop on the fly. It all ends up being an enjoyable sandbox to play around in, buying animals and toying with their DNA as desired.
There appear to be a ton of planned buildings, decorations and such (including a slightly worrying category marked with a skull and crossbones), which bodes well for the amount of content in the final version. There’s only one type of enclosure available in the current build but it seems there are plenty of other biomes on the way so your animals are as comfy as can be. You can also expand your zoo by buying adjacent land, and if the beta map is anything to go by, there is a LOT of room to grow.
There are also plenty of items and stalls for the guests’ well-being (and to separate them from their hard-earned cash, of course), but the various benches, snack machines and gift shops tend to play second fiddle to the animal-related stuff, in the beta at least. No doubt in the full version, where failure may be more of an option, players will be encouraged more to cater to the desires of the humans in their zoo as well.
There are still a few teething problems to figure out, as one would expect from an open beta. Enclosures can’t be edited, only moved, and the process of moving back and forth through menus could certainly be streamlined. The game also doesn’t yet feature a pause button, so any micro-management tasks must be done with the clock still ticking. However, getting feedback on matters like these and implementing fixes in future builds is exactly the point of beta testing, and the development team have been admirably active in forums responding to players’ comments and detailing improvements for Let’s Build a Zoo’s full release. It should also be noted that in my time with the game I didn’t encounter any actual bugs or glitches while playing, which is impressive for an early build.
Overall, there’s the skeleton of a fun, innovative take on the management sim in Let’s Build a Zoo. It looks set to be more of a fun, creative romp than a strategic challenge, but with the amount of content that the team appears ready to add in later versions, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some really impressive fan-made zoos in the future. As one would expect it’s still a little rough around the edges in its current state, but Springloaded and No More Robots appear to be working overtime to sand down those corners and polish it to a splendid sheen.
Let’s Build a Zoo was reviewed in its beta build using a Steam key provided by No More Robots.