Review: Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals (Nintendo DS)

Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals (NDS)
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 12/04/2008

We here at DieHard GameFAN are willing to do a lot for our readers. Whether it’s trudging through the most god-awful movie game imaginable, or simply walking outside our element to try something new, we’re never afraid to take a hit or two when it comes to reviewing games. If our trauma can save you some money and time, it’s all worth it. We’re happy to help.

But readers, this time… this time you’ve gone too far.

This time, a game has caused blood to shoot from my nose like a #*$%ing sprinkler.

Seriously.

1. Story/Modes

Before I recount my hemorrhagic fun-time, I should probably mention what the game is about. You play a new veterinarian assigned to the zoo. Your job is to help the animals when they get sick (did you really need that explained to you?). After you’ve finished all the cases on a level, you’re given a promotion. You continue this way until you are in charge of the zoo. Then, none of the animals are ever sick again and all you have to do is walk around and look at them, or play games on your office computer.

No, seriously, that’s what happens.

Each animal emergency starts with a short bit of dialog that is surprisingly well written. In fact, I’d say that the text of this game is by far the best feature. It’s informative, clever (some wonderfully awful puns) and helps guide you along the mission. Usually. But we’ll get to that later.

The office computer games are available at any time and range from mildly amusing to pointlessly awful. They’re not really labeled, so it’s a bit of guesswork as to what you’re choosing. You’ve basically got 6 mini-games: Memory, a jigsaw puzzle, trivia, flea finding, fish toss, and dental care.

Can you guess which of these games is the most fun? Wrong! It’s dental care!

Memory is your basic matching game, nothing new there. The puzzle has about 12 pieces, no penalty for putting it in the wrong spot, and all the pieces have their shadows in the background. It’s the digital equivalent of those wooden puzzles you used when you were 3. Trivia isn’t bad, and has some interesting facts. Dental Care has you brushing germs off of animals teeth, and kinda reminds me of that old Crest Cavity Creeps game for the Commodore 64. Fish Toss is just bizarrely bad. Penguins tell you what kind of fish they want, and you throw it to them. But if you throw the wrong thing, nothing happens. In fact, I spent 3 minutes throwing rotten apples at the little buggers and got nothing more than a couple of boos when I would have hit them (the food flies right over/through them).

But then there’s Flea Finding.

Let me preface by saying that I don’t hold Legacy Interactive or Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals responsible for what happened next. Maybe I didn’t read the Health and Safety insert that Nintendo crams into every package closely enough. Who knows. Anyways….

A couple of days ago, I had my wisdom teeth removed. The upper two were impacted. Did you know that there’s usually only a thin sliver of bone separating the upper wisdom teeth from your sinus cavity? Did you also know that sometimes there’s only an thin layer of tissue separating the two instead? I didn’t.

So there I was, selecting different areas of a lion’s fur to find fleas, and blowing into the microphone to separate the hair hoping to find the microscopic buggers (a rather clever use of the microphone, I must say). I’d gotten 3 out of the 4 and was hunting down the last parasite, blowing gently into the little port on the DS. The next thing I knew, there was a torrential spray of fine, red mist erupting from my nose, decorating my gleaming white DS in a festive holiday display of glimmering red lights. Apparently the pressure generated from blowing air into a microphone is sufficient to rupture tissue and send the fluid contents upwards, like the bloody blow-hole of some kind of ungodly demon-whale.

DieHard GameFAN: We risk bodily injury to review games for you.

Oddly enough, this event never turned up in the game, but I think for future installments, blood-spraying chimpanzees could make for an interesting challenge.

Back to the modes.

Finally, there’s a filing cabinet that has information on being a vet. One part is just a list of your equipment and what it does, and the other is a book of information on animals. It’s supposed to update as you help more of the critters at the zoo and tell you more about each creature. After beating the game, though, I can tell you that all it ever has is two pictures of each animal and their name. No information at all (unless you count the name, but that’s rather a cop-out, isn’t it?). To make matters worse, there’s an entire blank page underneath each picture, as if someone were supposed to write something and then didn’t. Perhaps they too suffered a traumatic blood-spraying injury and were unable to write their part.

Not that that stopped me.

I’m butch that way.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

2. Graphics

The shots of the animals and people are surprisingly well rendered. There’s no real animation other than the occasional shaking of an creature’s head, or some breathing, but everything looks very nice. The blood is incredibly realistic (no wait, that’s mine). I meant to say the wounds and other infirmities. I was afraid I’d find something cartoony, and was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism I found instead.

The mini-games, on the other hand, looked like they were slapped in at the last second to expand the “gameplay experience”. And while they don’t look like they were done in MS Paint, they do look pretty cobbled together with some photos thrown in for quality.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

3. Sound

The sound. Well… there is sound, that’s for certain. Yes, that is definitely sound coming out of those speakers.

There’s music. Which is… there. And, um… that booing I mentioned. And the music. Did I mention it’s there as well?

To be honest, there’s not much here to review, let alone talk about. You can just as easily play the game with the sound off and not even notice. I think that the sound in this game can pretty much be summed up best by a rather irrelevant and inappropriate quote from an episode of Red Dwarf; “small and inoffensive”.

Sound Rating: Below Average

4. Control/Gameplay

So the foundation of gameplay is that you’ve got a sick animal and a bunch of different tools. Your job is to apply the correct instrument to the correct area, jostle the stylus in the correct fashion, and move on to the next bit until the critter is healed. Sounds easy, yes?

Except it isn’t. The use and sequence of instruments seems almost random. For instance, you should always start by checking their heartbeat with a stethoscope. Except for the times that you don’t. You should also always draw blood from the front legs. Except when you should draw them from the back ones. Or the tail. Reptiles should always have blood drawn from their tail. (One of the characters actually tells you this). Except… wait for it… when they should have it drawn from their legs instead. The worst part is that it’s the same animal sometimes.

It goes on like this forever. Ointment should be applied for itching, unless you should use pills instead. Fluids should be given after treatment, unless they’re needed before, or if it’s actually a blood transfusion. Or sometimes the fluids are medicine, which you should use instead of the ointment, pill, or medicine needle.

Bandages are my favorites. You have to apply them to 75% of a wound to get it to work. This means you apply a square, apply a square, apply a square, apply a square, apply a square, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, adjust a bit, and then get it just right.

Except for the times when it only takes two squares to cover an entire eagle’s wing. That was fun.

Also, fun fact, polar bears and komodo dragons do not require bandages. Why? Because they are $*&%ing hardcore.

All this guess and check work wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t get points deducted every time you made a wrong decision. Of course, having points deducted isn’t so bad because it has no affect on the outcome of the game. You can’t finish the scenario until you’ve healed the animal, and the animal is never in any danger of dying. So it’s cure or quit, really. Not the most entertaining game mechanic, but there it is. Plus you can hit X any time for a “hint”, which is actually just instructions on what to do next, so there’s never really any obstacle to finishing a procedure unless the X button has fallen off your DS. But I think if that’s the case, you have bigger problems than determining the cause of a tortoise’s loose stools.

Speaking of which, bloody diarrhea seems to be common at the zoo. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that has used the word diarrhea as much as this one. It could make a fun drinking game, though considering that this is a kids game, you’d have to tell your kid it’s medicine. Special medicine that makes it easier for daddy to cope with things. Like kids. Or this game.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though. You’ve also got to feed the animals. Why? Well, I suppose they’re hungry, and as a highly trained DVM with three assistants you really don’t have anything better to do with your time than give a panda three fish (I had no idea pandas ate fish). And feeding is just that exciting. You drag three objects into a bowl. And you’re done. There’s a notebook above that shows all the different food and has red or green bars to show if you fed it the right dinner or not. I’m not sure why, though. Perhaps you’re conducting an experiment?

Or perhaps the game itself is an experiment. Perhaps it’s actually training the vets of the future to use high-tech remote operated procedures to help animals across the glove. I mean, it’s no The Last Starfighter, but it could happen.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Poor

5. Replayability

Normally, I’d be laughing at this category. The game barely takes 2 hours to beat, and like I said, once you’re done there’s not much to do. But I suppose that if a kid was really into the idea of saving animals, they’d enjoy going through the motions a time or two more. It’s like how they can listen to the same damn song on the radio a hundred times and not get tired of it. And while I don’t know that Zoo Vet: Endangered Species has as much replay value of whatever pop song Disney has forced through the mouths of their latest cardboard stand-ups, the potential for the game to be replayed is at least present.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

The only thing keeping this category from coming in nil is the fact that the game does not play itself for you. There are no penalties nor punishments to be had. You can take as long as you like, even try and plunge a scalpel into a penguin’s eye, and nothing bad will happen, other than you’ve wasted some time. I even tried force feeding broccoli to a lion repeatedly and all I got was a dismissive shaking of his head. If nothing bad can happen, then nothing that happens is worth it.

I suppose it’s good for kids with low self esteem, though.

Balance Rating: Awful

7. Originality

The game itself isn’t very noteworthy in terms of originality, but the cases are. I’ll admit I was impressed when I found out they were written based on real case files of zoo veterinarians. It lent an air of authenticity, and almost brought some excitement to the game. One of the few impressive features to be found in what was otherwise a bland experience.

Originality Rating: Very Good

8. Addictiveness

It’s easy, it’s short, and the cases are interesting, so the game can keep you playing. But that can’t really count for addictiveness, can it? Nothing keeps you coming back, nothing compels you to continue. It’s a game, you do things, or you don’t. Can I make “meh” a new rating?

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals is a short, simple game, but it’s not painful to play. Sure there’s not much beyond the main game, and what is there can be frustratingly guess and check, but there are worse ways to spend a couple hours of your time. And if you’ve got a kid who has aspirations of being a doctor, this is a good fit. Of course, the game is rated E10, and I’m not sure a 10 year old would be interested, so you may want to aim a bit lower age-wise. It’s okay; now that He-who-must-not-be-named has been disbarred, you’re safe to purchase games as you see fit regardless of restrictions.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

10. Miscellaneous

While I may be a terrible gaming/comic/movie/music/tv geek, my roots still lie in science. For all its faults, Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals nails the science home with an industrial sized pneumatic air-gun. At the end of each emergency, you’re given an overview of what happened, and what could have happened had you not corrected it. It’s not dumbed down, either. Kids will learn about the dangers of zinc poisoning from pennies, the results of fingers getting bitten off, the uses of Clindamycin, and the effects and causes of toxoplasmosis.

Like I said earlier, the dialog is written so well that the information flows naturally and fits the game perfectly. It never feels like you’re being lectured or like the information was shoehorned in to make the game “educational”.

Also, major Science Bonus Points are awarded for giving a portion of each sale to the African Wildlife Foundation.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores
Story / Modes: Poor
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Below Average
Control / Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Awful
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals in an interesting study in contrasts. On one had we’ve got fascinating stories of zoo-based medical intrigue, coupled with serious, educational and interesting summations furthering our understanding of veterinary science. On the other hand we’ve got gameplay that is reminiscent of trying to build a series of bookcases from Ikea, only with the instructions having been shredded and scrambled before you start.

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