Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Gamebryo, Blue Fang Games
Release Date: October 17, 2006
Game expansions are usually a risky business. Rarely is the same amount of time, money and dedication given to an add-on because there just isn't enough return on the investment. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. One of these long-standing exceptions, Zoo Tycoon 1 & 2 continues to enhance the core product with exceptionally detailed and well-researched content. I would consider the entire Zoo Tycoon franchise to be "edutainment" if it weren't for the fact that it cleverly conceals its educational elements behind a truly entertaining game.
Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania is the fifth expansion in the franchise and targets, as you have already guessed, marine life. Marine Mania adds 20 marine animals to the base Zoo Tycoon 2 game, a new marine animal training and show system, and four new biomes: Benthic, Coastal, Reef and Pelagic. You will get the chance to work with several varieties of shark and whale, a manta ray, sea lions, dolphins, otters, walruses, penguins and even manatees. Marine Mania provides well-designed, easy-to-follow tutorials specifically designed to get you up to speed with the new features and tools found in the expansion pack. A nice reference card is also included in the package to help summarize the new content.
In addition to a standard sandbox mode, Marine Mania adds new content to both the campaign and challenge gameplay modes. In campaign mode, you have two different campaigns; the first focuses on building up marine exhibits at various zoos, and the second campaign focuses on training marine animals and offering marine animal performances. Combined, you will have a total of nine missions to complete. In challenge play, you have 13 different zoos, usually broken down by biome, in which a wide variety of challenges are presented throughout the scenario.
Zoo Tycoon 2's extensive encyclopedia also gets updated with the addition of the Marine Mania expansion. An abundance of aquatic content has been added - more than enough to make anyone an amateur marine biologist. As has been the case with all of the Zoo Tycoon expansions, a plethora of new themed objects and scenery is also included to enhance the overall game.
After five expansions, Zoo Tycoon 2 is a well-polished game; long gone are the tedious environment adjustments of the first Zoo Tycoon. The new biome painting system is much more forgiving and all but eliminates the one major gameplay flaw of the franchise. Like those before it, the expansion seamlessly integrates with the base game and other expansion packs. The Marine Mania expansion delivers a brand new tool called the object painter, which lets you select any (unlocked and available) object in your zoo and immediately make a copy of it. This tool is especially handy when continuing paths or adding scenery.
The new training and show system in Marine Mania allows you to actually participate in the training process, and successfully training an animal in a new trick unlocks additional tricks for that specific animal. With the mouse and a combination of keyboard and mouse button selections, you guide your trainees through their tricks, and depending on your timing, you either train them well, or you will need to repeat the process. Of course, it is possible to bypass all of this training activity by hiring a trainer to do the work for you. Numerous elements are required to be balanced to create successful marine shows. You will need to take into consideration the well-being and comfort of the performers as well as the scheduling and mixture of content in the shows. The trainer can't help you with planning shows, so be prepared to go through the show tutorial several times to get up to speed on this element of gameplay.
Visually, Marine Mania continues to use low-polygon graphics; although they can sometimes seem too blocky, they have suitably represented the game elements since the release of the base title. Animations in the expansion are consistent with all of the other expansion packs and remain occasionally amusing and usually believable. As has been the case in the past, some strange clipping can occur from time to time, such as objects merging, animals briefly swimming on land, and other strange anomalies. These issues are considerably more noticeable while in the first-person guest mode, most likely because you are so much closer to the objects.
This is certainly one title where sound plays a critical role in improving quality and realism. Sounds are abundant, properly represented, and do not disappoint. Marine Mania has a nice mapping feature which offers an exportable overview map of your zoo, just like what you would find in the maps you receive when you go to an actual zoo.
Campaigns present precise goals and objectives which must be completed to successfully unlock the next mission. Additionally, you are usually rewarded with new objects or cash after successfully completing a mission. In challenge mode, you receive challenges which you can either accept or decline; successful missions are rewarded with money and objects, while failed challenges can result in the loss of money or other negative gameplay effects, such as lower zoo attendance.
The main challenge of Marine Mania is to properly balance the costs associated with the construction, upgrading and maintenance of your zoo against generated income, which comes from your guests in the form of sales and donations. Other money is generated through grants and awards for completing objectives, which can vary from cleaning up an existing zoo to building up a starting zoo. It is real easy to quickly spend your available cash when playing the game so it is critical to properly prioritize your purchases to obtain the best results.
If your zookeepers need a little help or you need to earn some additional money, you can enter the new guest mode and assist with the care of the animals. Some of the activities you can assist with including feeding, grooming and cleaning up of the animals' environments. In fact, just about every staff position can be experienced first-hand.
Although Marine Mania does not contain a multiplayer mode, it does offer optional news updates and occasional new downloadable content directly in-game, if you have an internet connection. There is also a fairly large online community where you can exchange zoos and challenge others with your own zoo creations.
The Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania expansion is yet another enjoyable add-on to the Zoo Tycoon 2 collection. With the new training and performance system, another unique gaming experience has been added to an already full-featured game. Except for an occasional graphics glitch, the expansion favorably enhances the Zoo Tycoon 2 series. I would recommend adding it to your family gaming collection.
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