disco

Disco Zoo Review: Le Freak, C’est Chic

Platform: iOS                     Developer: Nimblebit                     Release Date: 02/27/2014

It’s pretty damn good. Is that enough? No? Fine.

I haven’t been writing reviews for all that long. Leviathyn is the first place to take me under its scaly wing and give me a chance to voice my opinions. But I’ve always thought about games critically. During childhood, my friends weren’t all that into video-games, so I guess I had to develop a way of telling them why this game is awesome, and why we should be playing it instead of climbing tress, paddling in the nearby brook, or engaging  in other wholesome activities. As such, I always get annoyed when I’m at a loss to justify my feelings over a game, or when my thoughts contradict the way I actually feel. Such a game was Final Fantasy XIII, a game I grew to truly love playing- and yet, a game that I cannot justify a single creative choice made by its developers even to myself. In the case of Disco ZooI feel similarly at a loss, though not to such an extreme. There’s a lot the game does right, though I find myself enjoying it far more than my brain says I should.

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Disco Zoo revolves around the simplified day-to-day running of, believe it or not, a zoo. At first you’re given access to only a few areas- an office, a helipad and an empty lot. In order to set your zoo in business, you must take a balloon ride in search of animals- in this mode, you’re presented with a 5×5 square grid, which hides the location of new animals. Each animal has their own shape comprised of 2-4 tiles, hidden in the grid. Only by uncovering all of the tiles of this animal can it be added to the zoo. Once you return after finding an animal, construction of their enclosure will begin. When this is done, your new animal will be housed, causing you to gain money over time. Each successive trip costs more money, but each animal you find increases your revenue. Furthermore, by expanding your zoo you unlock access to more vehicles, which can take you to other areas in search of even more animals. In terms of keeping your animals happy, there’s very little to do- however, after a while they fall asleep and must be woken up to earn any more cash. To counteract this, you may spend Discobux to fund a Disco, which keeps all of your animals awake and at double production speeds for the amount of time you play for. These can be found randomly as drops from customers, hidden in the tiles on safari, or as prizes from certain special events. The last of these include finding escaped animals, offers to purchase your animals from other zoos or random, monopoly chance style events- your muskoxen can for example, win a beauty contest.

This leads us to the game’s most appealing facet. To describe it simply as a sense humor seems hardly adequate; it’s more about presentation. This isn’t a game that pretends to be deeper than it actually is. The closest comparison I can think of lies in Cookie Clicker. It’s a game about clicking cookies to get cookies, so that you can use those cookies to buy more efficient ways of getting cookies. It’s hardly complicated. But what it lacks in depth it makes up for in style. Whilst playing cookie clicker you’re totally aware that the game isn’t really going to take you anywhere, but that’s fine- because it’s funny enough where you are right now. With false news stories about your fictional baking exploits and a disturbing side-plot featuring the imminent Nanageddon, the game remains fun. Disco Zoo plays this same card. The inane, stupid comments of the public who visit your zoo begin to grate, and your potential customers become nothing but a way of bolstering your cash supply. Adulation from newspaper reviews become secondary to the locating and capturing of new animals for the zoo. But as soon as they are captured, they too become meaningless. They’re just another way to get more animals, a way that’s slightly irksome because they constantly need to “sleep” – something you simply can’t allow to happen. You’ve got profit margins to consider.

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And so, of course, do the developers. Disco Zoo is a mobile game, and comes with all of the monetization schemes you might expect to see in such a game. However, there’s a world of difference between selling the game right and selling it wrong. I was both happy and relieved to find that Disco Zoo falls into the former category. Whilst many games try to force ratings and reviews upon you every ten minutes or so of play, Disco Zoo asked once over the course of several days. Many games have repeated ads that break the flow of game-play and become a constant eyesore for the player. In Disco Zoo, you’re given the option to watch a few ads per day in exchange for free re-tries at difficult levels. Many games try to push stupidly priced micro-transactions in exchange for being able to progress further in the game. In Disco Zoo, the micro-transaction menu is never explicitly mentioned and has a few reasonably priced items, all of which are just as easily obtained by playing the game.

Despite everything the game does right, I still feel at odds with myself. I love the humor and style of the game, but that’s very much a matter of taste. Once you take that away, it becomes flimsy. It’s just a repetition of basic tasks, ad infinitum. If the tone of the game doesn’t sit right with you for whatever reason, there’s very little reason to play at all. But if you can embrace the off-kilter madness of Disco Zoo, you’ll have a truly fantastic time. This isn’t the kind of blockbuster game that’s going to make you re-evaluate your thoughts on life and it’s not going to set the benchmark for everything that comes after it. It doesn’t want to; it’s a small game with small ambitions. But it succeeds in those ambitions superbly. It’s shallow and it’s silly. But the damn things called Disco Zoo – what did you expect?


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