Publisher: Enlight Software
Developer: Enlight Software
Release Date: September 22, 2005
People love theme parks. People love being in control of everything. What's not to love about a game that puts you in total control of building a marine park, making it enticing to visitors, and expanding it beyond your wildest dreams? This was the basis of 1999's Roller Coaster Tycoon, which spawned a sea of clones that no one would have expected. It's perfectly understandable, though; these are games that anyone can relate to, even your strange quiet relatives who you're not sure whether or not they can operate a mouse and keyboard. One of the more memorable Tycoon games was 2001's Zoo Tycoon, which basically offered the basic theme park – with animals. People love animals.
Enlight Software brings us the spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon (nevermind their being a sequel to that released in '04 and a DS version released in '05) with a fully 3D environment filled to the brim with colorful buildings, beautiful plant life, and staff, visitors, and animals.
Initially, it doesn't appear to be too different from any other Tycoon simulation, and in time you'll discover that essentially it really isn't much different. There are two main modes of play here, Free and Scenario. The Free mode lets you start off with basically whatever you wish: designate your starting cash, your park size, and so forth, and sets you loose with no time limit and no real goals besides your own. The Scenario Mode puts you in certain situations and challenges you to complete its tasks in due time. It can be challenging, but it's fun for those who are tired of the Free mode.
The game offers six different tutorials to help ease you into the vibe of things, and they are actually quite helpful. You'll learn how to find your way around the user interface, hire people and build up your park appropriately without going broke, and so forth. By the time the kindly, gentle old man voicing the tutorials finishes, you'll be set for the 21 scenarios or just a freeform exploration on your own.
The game prominently features, unsurprisingly, a number of animals. Primarily these are water based animals – this is a marine park, after all – guys like sea lions, manatees, and penguins (about 30 in all). You'll notice that the game isn't strictly marine life, though, as there are around 30 more animals, ranging from cheetahs, rhinos, to kangaroos and all other sorts of zoo attractions to keep people interested. You need to make sure these animals are in their proper habitats with fencing so that visitors are never in danger and the animals are happy as possible. You'll also have to assign zoo keepers wisely, as some exhibits require special attention from specially trained people. You need to make sure the staff is large and efficient enough so that no animals are left for excruciating periods of time.
The game world feels fairly large in comparison to other simulation games of this type. Your park might have sprawling pathways, palm trees everywhere, animal exhibits in any direction no matter where one might be standing, easily accessible concessions and restrooms, and might even be topped off by a rail system for speedy long distance transportation. You'll want to make sure your visitors are happy and this is easily known with a quick tap of the mouse in what is a reasonably nice user interface. There is a lot of information presented in readily available menus, which can be organized as you please. For example, you can list animals in your park by name, gender, and so forth – and easily rename them and check on other statistics all in the same area.
Essentially the success of your park boils down to how good you are at micromanaging. Are all the services in your park fairly priced? Is everything easily found? Do visitors have a problem getting to trash cans, restrooms, and food? Do you have enough staff on hand to take care of the animals and clean up the sidewalks? There is a vast number of things to keep track of and the game can fool you into a false sense of security. If you do keep a watchful eye on everything, though, you'll find the game is a total breeze. Even the challenges offered up in the scenario mode can be quickly completed if you know what you're doing.
The game runs on a 3D engine that is by no means impressive, but works well enough and hopefully on lower end computers that the sort of audience this game appeals to would have. The camera can move just as you need it – pan around, up and down, zoom in and out; it would be nice, however, if the mass amounts of foliage and other protruding objects would turn transparent or something so that you could maintain both a nice level of detail and scope; as it is, you'll probably be doing most of your work from a fairly unflattering overhead angle. If you do zoom in, you'll find people happily walking around, maintenance doing their job, and animals acting pretty much like animals. Watching any one character shows you that no insane amount of detail went into each thing, but looking at everything as a whole is a little bit impressive.
The game does have a pleasant background score following the action. It's light and bouncy and keeps you at work, but because there really isn't much else to listen to, it can grow kind of tedious after a few hours. There's not much voice acting to hear, here, besides the calm tutorial voice. The sound effects vary in quality; the murmur of the people sounds good, on one hand, while certain individual animal noises had me asking “Was that even supposed to be an animal? What was that??” I suppose it's been a long time since I've been to Disney World or any zoo, so I can't be a hundred percent sure about the kind of noises these animals make, but I think I've seen enough TV to know that some of them sound way off. All in all, though, there's no need to turn your speakers down too low.
Marine Park Empire basically does what it sets out to do. It provides a lot of building blocks for making your very own marine park or traditional zoo or both, gives you a little insight on how to approach this, and lets you have at it. When you get tired of it, you can take up one of the challenges, or just leave it be. In short bursts, the micromanagement isn't so bad and watching your park slowly flourish can be rewarding, but over time you may find that the whole thing just feels a little bland. All told this isn't much different from any other Tycoon-type game out there, save for the animal influx. It might make a good gift for an animal lover that would like the sort of slow paced gameplay these simulations provide, but anyone else with prior dabblings in the genre will probably be bored relatively quickly.
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