Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Developer: Frontline Studios
Release Date: November 11, 2008
The DS has a glut of shovelware designed to appeal to the hoards of kids with a DS in their pocket and cute animals gleaming in their eyes. Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals takes a less beaten path and tries to add in some complicated medical terms and abstract stylus doctoring, but at its heart, it's just a cheap attempt to cash in on a love for animals without any real game to back it up.
This is no Trauma Center. Much like the last Zoo Vet game to show up on the DS, the game is a series of simple, untimed procedures that can't really go wrong. The main goal of the game is to treat every animal that shows up as ill on the zoo map. There are fifteen different and mildly exotic animals in the un-named zoo, and each one gets sick before the game ends. In total there are about 30 different operations cluttering up the game, keeping you from being the head vet of a happy, healthy zoo. The challenge of the game is just in figuring out just what's wrong.
Challenge isn't the right word, though. Before every case, you're given a brief but sometimes unmistakable set of symptoms. For instance, if an eagle has broken her wing, the other zookeepers might tell you at the start that a storm knocked her about and broke her wing. Problem solved. A quick cut and realignment with forceps, and you're done. In other cases, you may have to do blood tests or scoop up feces (with the same forceps, eew) to find bacteria or fungi, but mostly you just use the magnifying lens on the problem area, and you'll find out exactly what's wrong. Even if you're not quick enough to pick up on the obvious and clumsy dialogue cues, you can press the X button at any time, and a text bubble will explain your next step without any mystery.
The X button therefore becomes both a cure for frustration and a wrecking ball that destroys any meaningful difficulty. The fact that there are difficulty settings to this game is a bit of a joke, and they don't seem to make any difference at all. Those who are looking for a way to challenge themselves won't find what they're looking for because the game's diagnostic procedure feels capricious and redundant. You just looked at an infected eye, so what should you do next? Why, look at the eye with your magnifying lens a second time. You've injected an animal with antibiotics, but she still might suffer some pain so your teammates want you to give it some painkillers. Well, that means it's time to select the same tool and apply it in the same area.
Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals makes random medical decisions without letting you know each and every time, so players looking for challenge will instead just find a dense game that is waiting for a specific, unnamed input. There's no way to tell when medicine should be oral, injected, or, in one case, administered through an IV, so it's a very lucky thing indeed that there's an easy button that tells you just what you need to know.
Of course, following instructions isn't exactly a stroll through the enclosures either. The touch-screen controls let you zoom in on most animals' head, chest, fore- and hind legs and tail or posterior. Simply put, though, it doesn't always work. Clicking a chest may lead you to zoom in on the forelegs, and trying to pinpoint the neck on a giant Galapagos Tortoise is like trying to find a needle in a barn full of haystacks. Seriously, I spent five minutes trying to find the right spot to tack an IV onto a bird's scrawny leg, and I finally hit the spot that I'd already clicked a dozen times before.
This bugginess stops the experience from being a simple but pleasant romp through routine tasks that it's meant to be. Instead of easily checking vitals, magnifying the problem area and then treating with either the scalpel or medicines, you have to frantically click around. The mini-games that you have to put up with to perform basic procedures are just as problematic. In order to check vitals, you have to click three tiny boxes in sync with a moving dot, and the boxes barely register and the timing is never 100 percent in-tune with the dot. Taking a blood test requires you to spin a centrifuge in a circle for seconds before you're done, and the circling almost always slows down without reason. None of the 15 tools at your disposal are both interesting and well-executed, leading to a kind of dread in every diagnostic procedure.
The main game is poorly done and unpleasant, but to make matters worse, the presentation is childishly ridiculous. The supporting cast at the zoo is a bunch of misfits who spout lines like, "When I get nervous, I take out my phone and pretend to text," and then warn how otters being nervous can have serious consequences. Their dialogue is rambling, and their portraits are even more ridiculous. They're very simply rendered, without much attention to detail, and most of their avatar expressions look like something out of a Machinima comedy. The animals aren't rendered much more lovingly, looking about as bare as they can without being simple polygons. Sound effects are nearly nonexistent, and the music left my head as soon as the DS closed.
To try and distract players from the lack of content, some mini-games were tacked on, and these probably save Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals from sinking into a special pit reserved for the worst dregs of the digital age. These are simple things, but they're generally much more effective than the pointless tapping and guessing of the short main game. The fish-throwing game lets you feed four hungry penguins by chucking fish with the stylus from the bottom screen to the top screen, and it's actually challenging and charming combination. There is no incentive other than a high score, but that's more than anywhere else. There's also a simple matching game and a jigsaw puzzle meant for the very young crowd, but it's all done competently.
Less exciting is the flea-finding mini-game, which makes you blow into patches of fur and pick out fleas with the stylus. It's frustrating to blow and keep an eye on the lower screen, and the square patches are hard to select. Even worse is toothbrushing, which is just a frantic scramble to rub back and forth before colored germs multiply and overtake an animal mouth. The screen barely seems to know you're brushing half the time, which usually leads to ugly failure.
There's simply nothing in Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals that anyone could want. The animals are simple and ugly, and you spend the whole game cutting them up or digging through their feces anyway. It's as painful as operating on our furry friends, only without the exhilaration or danger that comes with saving a member of an endangered species. Even the simple but fun mini-games can't save this title from the bargain bin.Score: 3.5/10
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