Let’s Build A Zoo review: Stardew goes to the zoo in excellent management sim

Let's Build a Zoo review header imageSpringloaded

Let’s Build a Zoo is a management sim that allows players to build a diverse and unique zoo operation. Coupled with moral choices and thousands of customization and animal options, it’s one of the ‘beast’ examples of the genre we’ve seen in a while.

Let’s Build a Zoo, Developed by Springloaded and published by No More Robots, first launched on PC during the Fall of 2021. The indie tycoon management game takes elements from past favorites like Roller Coaster Tycoon and applies them to a pixelated zoo that players can customize and expand.

Since its initial release, the game has also dropped the DLC pack Dinosaur Island, taking on tycoon giants like Jurassic World Evolution. While the game lacks the more realistic graphics of many other management sims, it offers a variety that other games can only dream of.

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While the game has been widely popular as a PC release, it’s finally arrived on consoles. Taking a game designed for point-and-click management and making it intuitive for controllers can be a challenge, and Let’s Build A Zoo takes it on bravely.

Let’s Build a Zoo key details

  • Developer: Springloaded
  • Price: $19.99 Standard/ $26.99 with DLC
  • Release date: September 29, 2022
  • Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One/S/X, PlayStation 4/5

Management fine-tuned to a literal science

Let’s Build a Zoo starts out small. Animals like bunnies, geese, and snakes all require simple habitats and aren’t costly to keep or maintain. Around ensuring animals are fed and entertained, a short tutorial will put the player through their paces – while animal happiness is important, park satisfaction keeps the zoo running.

From here, players will find the hidden layers to Let’s Build a Zoo, taking it from a simple management sim to a genre standout — Players have an almost overwhelming amount of control over the details of their zoo, from the amount of pay each employee receives to the caffeine and sugar quantities in the vending machine products.

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Additionally, the game’s research center acts as a check on what players have access to. Once the Research Center is built, research points begin amassing. These are used to unlock new habitats, decorations, facilities, and other useful items needed to keep the zoo running.

World Map in Let's Build a ZooSpringloaded

It is also very important to manage the zones of employees throughout the zoo. If left free-range, zoo keepers, janitors, and other staff will go through their day without structure, which can leave animals unfed and habitats overrun with, well, poop.

The control over the inner workings of the zoo goes even deeper, however, as players can also choose to fire their employees and hire new ones if their work ethic, politeness, or energy stats are too low. The hiring process is surprisingly well put together, with job applications submitted for the player to vet before accepting.

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All of these details walk the line between fun and complexity, and kept us playing for hours.

Breed anything you can imagine

Let's Build a Zoo Map layoutSpringloaded
Let’s Build a Zoo offers limitless customization

Let’s Build a Zoo offers a base of 500 total species. Each of these has several color variations that can be brought out through breeding. Because of this, breeding is an essential part of growing the collection of animals on display.

To get started, players can trade eligible animals with other zoos on the World Map. This offers a good genetic base to breed. From here, the animals are capable of breeding on their own when two members of the opposite sex are in the same habitat together.

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However, for a boosted chance at rare variations of a species, players must build the Nursery. This building allows selective breeding operations to be put in motion, creating much more control over what offspring are in the zoo.

Additionally, to prevent accidentally becoming overrun in habitats, the game has an option to give animals a contraceptive. This offers precise control over each species as the numbers grow, and prevents the player from drowning in bunnies three hours into gameplay.

For those who want to get extra fancy, however, DNA Splicing is the perfect solution. By unlocking the splicer, players can access up to 300,000 different animal combinations. Habitats can be filled with Duckodiles, Oragulions, and any other number of bizarre genetic monstrosities. However, doing so has its consequences, making each splice project a heavy moral decision for players.

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Let’s Build a Zoo makes you question your life choices

Lets Build a Zoo Review Desert HabitatSpringloaded
Moral choices play a part in zoo success

Let’s Build a Zoo also has a unique and interesting mechanic that may be surprising to Tycoon fans. From the start of the game, the player will be presented with moral choices. These can be small, like choosing healthier or more sustainable ingredients for concession treats, or be as serious as purchasing exotic animals from black market dealers.

These choices manifest in morality points, which must be at certain levels to unlock tiles at the Research Center.

While these choices may seem small, they bring sharp awareness to some of the true struggles that come with running a zoo. Players can choose to abuse their animals for profit or lose profit to support local release programs and shelters, opening the blinds on the stark evils that lurk in the shadows of the well-loved attractions. What could so easily have come across as binary opportunities to accrue more points actually prompted internal discussions about how to proceed.

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Zoo struggles on the Nintendo Switch

While the content of Let’s Build a Zoo is fantastic, the game does stumble on optimization. It is very clear from the start that it was originally designed for a PC. The controls are clunky, with the bumpers used both for opening critical menus and speeding up the in-game clock. This can often result in accidental button presses.

Shop menu in Let's Build a ZooSpringloaded

Additionally, the dialogue boxes are painfully small, with text so tiny it can be a true chore to read. Even docked, the text is cramped on the TV screen, and the data bar at the top can also be difficult to decipher.

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The most frustrating instance of control issues comes with the cursor steered by the left analog stick. The sensitivity of the cursor is high, which makes clicking on facilities, animals, and patrons frustratingly difficult. With a mouse navigating is a breeze, but the constant toggling via the controller is a real pain in the neck when things need to be worked on quickly.

The Verdict: 8/10

Overall, Let’s Build a Zoo is an in-depth and delightful tycoon management sim. Its mechanics are detailed, going above and beyond to create an enjoyable experience. Players will get lost in decorating their habitats, and revel in the difficult choices that shape their zoos. There is no denying the love and dedication put into crafting the game, and it is a true treat to play.

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Reviewed on Nintendo Switch