is clearly one of those games Nintendo's aiming its dual-screen, touch-screen system. This game is made for the bazillion of non-gamer gamers who want something simple to pick up that's hard to put down, and in this case Zoo Keeper
works well at the job. This design isn't all that "new" or "original," but it's at least addictive and fun that pushes the Nintendo DS unique hardware features. But the pricetag (40 bucks) is far, far too high for a game that can be played pretty much for free in an online web version, or purchased for a couple of bills on nearly any cellphone out on the market.
Zoo Keeper is a variation of a puzzle game millions of people have already familiarized themselves with: Bejeweled. Swap the simple colored jewels of Bejeweled with cubist-style animal tiles, and that's pretty much the differences Zoo Keeper offers DS owners. The idea is a simple one: remove animal tiles from play by swapping two that lie adjacent, either vertically or horizontally, by tapping the two tiles with the stylus. Additional strategy comes from creating chain reactions that will remove the tiles when new ones drop. Since players can only shift tiles that will actually form a string of three, four, or five like tiles together, there's a serious limit on moves that can be made at any one time. Frequently you'll find that the limited moves mean that you can literally have no moves...especially in the upper ranks when they add a bunny into the mix of giraffes, hippos, lions, apes, elephants, pandas, and alligators; when this happens it's considered a "bonus," and the game drops a new set of tiles into play.
The game design is a bit on the random side, though. Stringing together combos, key to getting through many of the challenges, can simply "happen" since the tiles that drop in the place of the removed tiles aren't in any specific order. So while it's certainly a rush to clear out half the screen in a single shot, more often than not it was just luck that did it. The developers do offer up a few game modes so the simplistic nature doesn't get stale, including various time challenges as well as a cool "quest" option that puts specific quotas to the test. At least in single player mode, Zoo Keeper is one of those puzzle classics that fits the Nintendo DS like a glove. Its simple pick-up-and-play design works well with the touch panel and second screen, and it's a game that's fun to sit down just zone-out with, creating combo strings and racking up the highest score possible. The developers, unfortunately, set the default high score table far too high. So high, in fact, that it can take almost a half-hour in a single session just to get your name ranked on the cartridge.
The multiplayer, one of the game's strong selling points, isn't as good as it initially seems since the entire two-player structure is far too random. The idea is to compete against a second player (seen on the upper-screen) and perform combos that will remove time from the other person's clock. After playing this mode for several sessions it becomes very clear that this mode is all about the luck of the draw; just like the main game mode, combos just "happen" when removing tiles from the field since completely arbitrary tiles fall into place, potentially creating chain reactions. It's this "luck" element that causes many of the "wins" in multiplayer. Sure, a person well-trained in the mechanics of Zoo Keeper can spot the best on-screen chain points and gain the upperhand, but the fact that the clock can run out in a quick couple of seconds, it dissolves most of the thinking process out of the strategy. But since the mode only requires one copy of the game it doesn't require a whole lot beyond a second system to discover if there's any true enjoyment to be had one-on-one.
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