Xbox Game Pass first impressions: Let's Build a Zoo

By Heidi Nicholas,

Let's Build a Zoo is now available with Xbox Game Pass — here's what we thought after a few hours delving into the good (and evil) parts of zoo management...

It’s funny how quickly your moral compass becomes skewed in Let's Build a Zoo — when your establishment only has geese and pigs to its name and isn’t exactly raking in the money, all too soon, those black market animal dealers you’d been reporting to the police and their exotic hybrid animals start to look more appealing. Let’s Build a Zoo offers you the choice to turn your zoo into a successful animal sanctuary or to forget any ethical quibbles and turn to the darker side of business, and it’s a choice that’ll crop up repeatedly as you take up the reins of zoo management. Add to that the chaotic fact that you can also splice animals together with over 300,000 combinations as a result, and you can imagine how Let’s Build a Zoo promises to keep you occupied for a good long while.

Let’s Build a Zoo does not wait for you to catch up but pelts you with information from the start — at first, this was a bit overwhelming; every time a tutorial or info box disappeared, I’d have no time to even attempt what it was asking me to do before another suggestion popped up, and more after that. Once you’ve settled in to the controls and core mechanics, however, you start to realise just how much the game has to offer. The simplicity of Let’s Build a Zoo’s lovely pixel art style in no way reflects how complex the game is; you’re managing everything from your employees’ salary to the research you can do (there is a lot to research) and the size of the buses and coaches bringing in potential visitors. And then of course there are the animals themselves — their food and enrichment needs must be met, and you’ll also be busy keeping on top of how many variants of each animal you have, which breeding pairs you’ve got, and of course, what animals will be spliced together.

The controls are also a little fiddly at first, but once you get to grips with them, it feels much more seamless. Nearly everything you need can be accessed from one wheel of options which you can bring up at once, giving you an easy way to quickly check alerts, new tasks, and more. The amount of stuff you can research is brilliant and gives you even more targets to work towards as you accrue research points. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to how these research options are presented, with them all seemingly jumbled together, but there is a handy tool that you can use to highlight the options for particular categories; if you’re looking to buy a new type of bus, you can highlight the transport research options to see where they’re scattered.

let's build a zoo first impressions

Let’s Build a Zoo’s humour and silliness is also enjoyable. Buying a trampoline as an enrichment item for the animals in my zoo let all the visitors see the pigs and geese happily bouncing around their enclosures, or else diving into leaf piles or playing with a ball. Visitors will also need to be catered too, with benches, places to buy food and drinks, and restrooms. They’ll also complain if you don’t have enough decoration, which gives you more goals to work towards: first researching new decoration items and then designing scenic areas for your guests to enjoy. This is on top of all the tasks you’ll get anyway, with everybody from your investors to a local elderly complainer piling up more items on your to-do list. Occasionally, you’ll have a choice; for instance, if your zoo isn’t doing too well and one savvy visitor suggests painting your animals to make them look more exotic, do you say yes and choose not to worry about the ethics of this, or reject their idea and keep plodding along with your zoo? Some choices give you what seem to be morality points: if I did things like report illegal animal traders, for instance, I earned more “good” points which could be used to invest in more ethical research options. I tried to play that way at first, but the option to place an illegal goat-duck hybrid in your zoo, for instance, or to place robotic animals as decoys, only gets more appealing.

You can also visit the world map to trade animals with other zoos. There will always be more mundane animals, such as pigs, available to acquire, but more exotic animals like hyenas will need to be traded for something equally valuable, such as a certain variant of snake. It’s a good way to keep you busy trying to collect and breed all the variants of a species to trade for another. What’s more, your choices and actions will be highlighted in the local paper. This was a fun addition — the paper congratulated my zoo for entering into a partnership for clean energy, for instance. The result of this partnership were tasks related to wind turbines and the like; I left these for a while, as I was busy trying to get more interesting animals for the enclosures, and it was a nice surprise to see the game keeping track of this lack of interest — a future edition of the paper made it clear I’d made no progress in my promises, and made its opinion about that inaction very clear.

Summary

Xbox Game Pass is a great way to let you try out games you might have otherwise missed. I love zoo games, and yet I hadn’t been sure about Let’s Build a Zoo; a few hours in, however, and I know this is one that I’ll keep coming back to — so it’s definitely a Free Pass from us! We’ve also got the Let’s Build a Zoo achievements — the achievements felt like they were unlocking fairly regularly at first, but it looks like we’ll need to embrace both good and evil to unlock them all.

Heidi spent several hours trying to manage the chaos of her zoo on Xbox Series X, earning seven achievements as she went.
Free Pass
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature, and now enjoys writing news, reviews, and features across TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. When she’s not writing, Heidi is usually either looking for her next RPG, or trying to convince the rest of the team to hear about yet another delightfully wholesome game she has found.