After looking at the box art you’d be forgiven for thinking Zoo Resort 3D was a cutesy zoo management sim; in fact, you’ll find it's the complete opposite. With a realistic aesthetic and set of mechanics that sets it apart from simulation titles in general, it certainly provides a unique experience on 3DS. Moreover it’s actually entertaining, to begin with at least.
As the grandchild of a recently deceased zoo keeper you inherit a small zoo and are encouraged to restore it back to its former glory, introducing more animals and promoting the zoo online through a blog. It’s a very simple narrative that serves merely as the initial driving force; the meat of the game is through your management of the zoo, making whichever choices you see fit to improve it.
Starting off with only a lone elephant and a handful of empty enclosures, you’re guided through a comprehensive tutorial on caring, bonding and purchasing animals, as well as expanding and promoting the zoo. All actions are simple and clear. You’ll find no superfluous options or information here: Zoo Resort 3D excels at providing an easy to play sim with a fantastically designed, open interface. However, this simplicity does strip it of any real charm. No visitors can be seen scurrying about, micro-management is non-existent and you’re limited in the layout of your zoo to only the placement of animals in pre-built enclosures.
Zoo Resort 3D is clearly not of the same ilk as Theme Park and it’s a bit of shame. However, where it shines is in the primary aspect of the experience, the animal bonding process. Here is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, gradually getting to know your animals, gaining their trust and learning how to exploit them for more visitors.
The bonding process consists of two actions which both contribute to how comfortable your animals are around you and your visitors, as well as their general mood. Feeding them – which also doubles as a way to lure an animal into view – and taking photos. Photographing your animal from different angles while it moves, eats, frolics and so forth helps you bond with them and provides excellent promotion material to go on your blog to entice more visitors. With either the 3DS gyroscopic controls or through the Circle Pad in conjunction with the Y button, you can pan, tilt and zoom your camera and take shot with a press of the shoulder buttons. After using up your set number of photos for the day and having fed your animals, you can skip to the next day, where you rinse and repeat.
It’s a continuation of the running theme of simplicity. The bonding process is as complicated as it gets, and while its accessibility is exceptional it lacks that compelling challenge and element of change to keep you interested in the long term. Different animals offer unique views and perform individual actions at least, but otherwise it gets repetitive fast.
What helps with the repetition, however, are the fantastic visuals. The realistic aesthetic incorporates detailed textures and animation that combine to do an excellent job of recreating each beast. You’ll genuinely feel compelled to see every animal, and with higher level bonds resulting in special actions of each animal performing a movement that defines them, you’re likely to lose hours upon hours to unlocking the roster and cultivating your animal relationships.
Unfortunately unlocking new animals is a slightly off-putting game of chance. You earn animal points through visitor numbers and bonding which can then be spent on several categories of dispensers – such as carnivores and herbivores – to unlock a random animal or food item from that category. Once again the benefits of simplicity offers some appeal but the lack of structure will put many off. There are challenges to complete which offer rewards — including new animals — but this will only get you so far.
Otherwise your management of the zoo is quite limited. You can expand for a price to place more animals, switch animals into different enclosures to find the perfect location for visitors to find them, and replace animals with new ones to provide something fresh for people to see. Unfortunately that’s it. The micro-management that the majority of sim fans crave is nowhere to be seen and without such mechanics there’s only so much enjoyment you derive from capturing your animals on film.
Zoo Resort 3D is more Pokémon Snap than Zoo Tycoon, and while this will appeal to those not looking for an in-depth management sim on their 3DS, its accessibility from its simplicity is soon countered by its repetitiveness. Mind you, it’s technically impressive, with some of the best visuals around. Don’t expect to actually be running your zoo, but if animal photography is up your alley then this is the title for you.