Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: Torus Games
Release Date: October 23, 2007
There are some games that seem like no-brainers on paper. What creature-loving child would pass up the chance to care for dozens of wild and exotic animals at their zoo, doing everything from petting a cobra to setting the broken bones of a leopard? Hopefully, parents can condition their offspring to avoid a game like Zoo Hospital, which promises hours of fun treating animals but only succeeds as a compendium of trivia for each of the 40 species present in the title.
While Zoo Hospital manages to present some interesting information on each of the animals between its mind-numbing gameplay, it's not enough to save the game. The diagnoses and operations are dull and repetitive at best. I've called games "chores" before, but Zoo Hospital is the perfect example of a title that's less fun than manual labor. At least with manual labor, you can eventually feel like you've accomplished something.
After a brief introduction to your Aunt Lucy, you're thrust into the game. You start out with an overworld map, which shows you icons for each of the animals. More appear as you successfully treat sick or sad animals, until you reach 40. Once you've "unlocked" all the animals, you lose the motivation to continue because Zoo Hospital devolves into hours of repetitive touch-screen shenanigans with no reward. The only incentive you have to keep playing is to unlock all of the different rewards, which are earned by excelling at treating different animals. Since you have no control over which animals are sick, you can't really plan out or strategize your way to these achievements, so you have to rely on luck. The ranks awarded to players are almost luck-based themselves, with many "treatments" having no clear method to their ranking madness.
Every operation starts with a diagnosis, which is accomplished by dragging icons for each of the seven different tests onto areas of the patient. You can find out the animal's temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, etc. You can also scan different areas of the body with an X-ray, which is only used to find broken legs or discover silverware lodged in animals' throats. This apparently happens a lot at the zoo.
Once you identify a result that varies even slightly from the ideal conditions of the animal, you're prompted to either identify the rest of the problem through more tests or move on to the operation. A lot of the diagnoses are redundant (finding an elevated temperature and respiratory rate for an ostrich suffering from sweating and panting, for example), and the whole process feels unnecessary after the first few operations. The entire time you diagnose, Aunt Lucy is looking over your shoulder and telling you that you're right. To make it worse, every time she opens her mouth, you have to click through her dialogue with an icon in the upper right. Trauma Center, the excellent surgeon game for the DS that paved the way for a slew of awful imitators, suffered from the same problem, but Zoo Hospital doesn't have the exciting gameplay to make up for this flaw. After a while, you just want to tell Aunt Lucy to disappear like the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo.
Once you're past the diagnosis, you can move on to the treatment. Sometimes, Aunt Lucy will take the animal away and fix it herself, claiming she's adjusting its diet or starting it on heart medication. This would be okay if it were an occasional random occurrence, but instead it seems to constitute about half of all the cases. If only that were hyperbole .…
When you get to personally treat the patients, it's a complete mixed bag. Sometimes, you'll be doing something as boring as brushing a venomous king cobra's teeth or dousing parasites with antibiotic. One of the treatments even has you suturing a laceration, just like a real surgeon might, but the exciting ones are few and far between. Mostly, you'll be doing the same things over and over, rubbing on anesthetic, pulling spoons out of throats via a cute Operation-style mini-game, or jabbing an anaconda with a syringe and hoping it doesn't get too angry so you don't have to pet it. Each mini-game last 10 to 30 seconds, and it's usually punctuated with Lucy's inane jabber. To make matters worse, there's no variation between the animals. While treating an eagle's broken bones, you first must shave an area of it to operate. As you shave the feathers, stubble appears, and after completing it, you're told, "You've shaved off enough hair." If that's not going to confuse the kiddies, I don't know what will.
Fortunately, the animals in Zoo Hospital aren't that bad to look at. They're on par with most DS animal simulation games, which is saying something considering the number of animals there are. It's not as good-looking as some more modern consoles could make it, but for the DS, it's a downright masterpiece. You can't quite say the same for the sound, which is generic and seems to consist of only two tracks.
If by some miracle or divine will, two game cartridges appear in the same area, the developers claim that a co-op mode is available with two whole brand new mini-games. Sadly, barring the alignment of all the planets in our galaxy, no one will ever know the truth of this. Of course, it's probably not so sad since the co-op consists of one player playing the mini-game while the other soothes the animal with gentle strokes along the spine.
Overall, Zoo Hospital is a forgettable relic that is just another in a long list of DS shovelware and a pretty bad example of it at that. Although the animals look pretty good for the DS, there is very little about the game that's compelling enough to keep you playing after you've unlocked the 40 available creatures.
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