• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatCommodore 64
DeveloperJohannes Braun
ReviewDoug and Shaun C.

Main review

I’m not entirely sure what the plot behind Zoo Mania is, or whether there is a reason for the zoo theme at all, but it makes a nice change and shows a bit of imagination! I guess with a bit of a stretch you could come up with a contrived story about a zoo keeper trying to round up animals in a zoo, but really this isn’t necessary! When playing the game you are presented with an eight by eight grid of seven different types of animals. Each level requires an increasing number of each type of animal to be collected before you can progress to the next level and you collect those animals by swapping the positions of two adjacent animals (either horizontally or vertically) in order to get three or more of the same kind of animal into a row. These animals are then removed, with the animals above the now empty spaces falling down to fill the gaps and new ones appear from the top to re-populate the grid.

Of course it’s not as easy as it seems, there’s a time limit ticking away that is topped up a little each each time you make a row, but when the time does beat you (and it will all too frequently) the game rubs in your defeat rather nicely by flashing the now oh-so obvious animals that you could have swapped! The control mechanism is nice and easy, moving a box around to select one of the zoo animals and then pressing fire and moving in a direction to swap the highlighted creature with the one in that direction. The box seems to take forever to move when you’re desperately trying to get across the play area to a flashing bonus!


The in-game graphics by Roland “Crossbow” Togel are well drawn and colourful with all the animals instantly recognizable – I think my favourite is the green hippo! What’s more important is that the animals are distinctive enough to give you an outside chance of spotting a possible row, and they provide the game with much of it’s playful atmosphere. I’m not quite so sure about the title picture, but maybe that’s just my own personal preference; it fits in well with the rest of the game though. There’s a nice piece of title music by Alexander “Fanta” Rotzsch, but the in-game music really stands out since it’s a catchy tune which I’ve found myself whistling along to while playing the game quite a few times now, but it’s varied enough to prevent it from getting annoying after repeated plays.

All of this is very slickly presented and it’s easy to see that the game is obviously lovingly crafted by someone who wanted to make sure it was done properly. Anyone who’s ever tried to put together a game will understand that this is a lot harder than you’d expect, but get it right and it can make a real difference to the game even before the player has started level one! If that wasn’t enough, the game has an option to save your high scores and the latest version even features two different types of two player mode – battle or team! A number of other game writers could learn a thing or two from this. Again we have another example of an incredibly simple concept translating rather nicely into a rewarding and addictive puzzle game. Would I play it if I didn’t have to review it? The answer is a resounding yes, it’s exquisitely presented and for anyone who likes accessible puzzle games like this – you should find a satisfying experience in Zoo Mania, and even if you’re not sure about puzzle games, this is still a lot of fun.

Second opinion

You know a puzzle game has you hooked when you start seeing puzzle pieces floating before your eyes as you drift off to sleep at night. Well, over the past week or so I’ve had to put up with a bunch of animal heads dancing above my bed, and it’s not because the zoo animals ceiling mobile I ordered from eBay last month has finally arrived. No, it’s all thanks to Zoo Mania, a deceptively simple piece-matching puzzle game that pits your powers of observation against the clock while keeping the pace moving fast enough to give it that elusive “one more go” factor.

To fans of Zoo Keeper, the online puzzle game that later saw release across a range of platforms, Zoo Mania will look immediately familiar. However it’s worth noting that the game takes its cues from the original 2002 version of Zoo Keeper, which means that a couple of gameplay elements found in the more recent versions don’t appear here. The first is the ability to begin a new move while the current move is still in progress. I can see how this feature could have added to the game in terms of building combos, yet I don’t feel the lack of it particularly hindered my enjoyment. The other missing feature is the “binoculars” button, which gives the player a limited number of opportunities to reveal any moves remaining on the board. Now this might sound like an option intended only for players who suck, but unless you have Terminator-like vision, you’re going to run into times when you simply fail to see any possible moves, choke, and bomb out. Some might argue that this is all part of the fun, and it’s true that it adds some interesting moments of panic, but it can be frustrating to have an otherwise excellent run prematurely cut short by one unlucky moment of “zoo blindness”. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but if there’s one thing likely to finally wean me away from compulsively playing this game, that’s probably it.

The only other niggle I have is that although the two music tracks that alternate from level to level are bouncy tunes that will have you nodding along as you play, there’s no option for sound effects, which is a shame as some solid, chunky SFX could have worked well here. But apart from those couple of minor gripes, I honestly have no complaints; this really is a great game. The animal tiles are nicely drawn (with strong use of colour that making it easy to differentiate between them at a glance), the control is smooth, your scores are saved, and it even offers some excellent two-player options (co-op and versus). In fact, I’ve been so hooked on Zoo Mania that I feel I should offer this warning: Every time I fired it up for “just one go”, I ended up having at least ten goes. At least! Not only that, but there’s an old man who walks his three yappy Daschunds past my place every afternoon, and lately I’ve had to resist the urge to run out and push their heads together to make them disappear. It’s just as well they’re not monkeys, or there would be trouble for sure.