This zoo business is for chumps. I can't wait for the day Tycoon-Game Tycoon is released, giving players around the world the opportunity to unleash their very own exploitation of an untrademarkable pseudo-franchise on an unsuspecting virtual public. Not only will it bring the whole tycoon thing full circle, but the potential for Charlie-Kauffman-esque existential hijinks is sky-high. Until that wondrous day, those dreaming of raking in the virtual dollars will be tending theme parks, zoos, lemonade stands, airports, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and pornography empires. With the release of Endangered Species, the first expansion pack for Zoo Tycoon 2, Microsoft attempts to bolster their flagship entrepreneurial simulation.
Last year's Zoo Tycoon 2 was a reasonably strong sequel to an amusing sandbox game that allows gamers to construct, staff, and maintain their own virtual zoo. Much like Roller Coaster Tycoon, players are primarily concerned with squeezing money out of attending patrons while keeping them entertained enough to stick around. After your zoo becomes self sufficient and profitable the game begins to run itself and the challenge runs dry, especially with the limited amount of real estate your zoo can occupy. So Endangered Species steps up to meet the challenge of prolonging and expanding the Zoo Tycoon experience.
The problem is that it seems as if Endangered Species was created because someone decided that it had to be, rather than as the result of an actual idea that merited it, and frankly, that's probably not far from the truth. It isn't that this expansion doesn't offer as many items and additions as any other expansion pack, but rather that in the case of this particular game these additions do little to extend the life of the game or broaden the experience.
The moniker-endowing feature of this expansion, is, of course, the 20 new species of animals available for purchase. Many of these are rare and expensive, which will appeal to those with successful zoos. Unfortunately, I don't really know that it's especially more fun to have a little komodo dragon on my screen than a little alligator. The only real motivation to getting these new creatures is simply because they're there. Likewise, new set pieces, many of which are functionally identical to existing items, seem largely cosmetic. The addition of elevated walkways adds a few architectural possibilities, but again, there's no real motivation beyond the aesthetic.
Somewhat more interesting is the addition of "rides" to the mix. Sky trams (something like a ski lift) and Jeep tours are now available to entertain attendees. The sky trams fit into the mix pretty well, and are a fun little toy (you can even ride them in first person), but you'll probably only ride around them once or twice before you forget all about them. The Jeep tours are even less compelling since they're so intrusive in terms of ground real estate that you basically have to build your zoo around them, and there's little reward for doing so.
Those already enamored with Zoo Tycoon 2 will likely have fun tinkering with the new additions offered in Endangered Species. However, the player growing weary of managing his zoo (and really, isn't he the target of any expansion pack?) might not find enough here to revive his waning interest. It's not that Endangered Species doesn't try and surely fans will get at least a few extra hours out of it, but none of the new features it offers really changes the experience in a significant enough way. The faithful won't need it, and casual won't be satisfied with it. Maybe this one just didn't need expanding.