Who hasn’t wanted to run a zoo? Sure, there’s lots of upkeep involved, and actually doing it would probably be a lot less rewarding than in our fantasies, but running a zoo – getting to meet all of the adorable animals and contribute towards their continued survival – would feel amazing. Luckily, we have games like Zoo Tycoon to help us do that. What happens, though, when you run out of steam with Frontier Developments’ series? What happens when you want a different experience, but you don’t want it to deviate too much from the core Zoo Tycoon experience? Luckily, we’re here to help with just that. Here are some of our favourite games like Zoo Tycoon to check out.
Planet Zoo (PC)
What better way to play a game that’s just like Zoo Tycoon than to look to the original developers of that franchise? Planet Zoo is the spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon, so it’s basically the same management gameplay but with more depth, complexity, and strategic breadth. Unlike Zoo Tycoon, Planet Zoo also has a pretty clear conservation message at its core; you’ll need to consider how to keep animals happy and healthy if you want your zoo to do well. If you adore animals like we do, you might struggle when things aren’t going well for your little critters, but that’s just all the more incentive to make sure they’re all doing okay.
Jurassic World Evolution (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
Frontier Developments really does have a monopoly on simulation-style games (or, at least, it can feel that way). Jurassic World Evolution allows you to build and maintain your very own dino park, and much like Planet Zoo, you’ll need to make sure your dinos are happy and healthy if you want the park to thrive. Evolution is a less deep experience than Planet Zoo, but that doesn’t make it any less fun; it’s just amusing to watch your Indominus rex wander around its huge pen, clearly fantasising about eating the patrons in your park.
Viva Pinata (PC, Xbox consoles)
We’re going a little leftfield with this one. In Viva Pinata, your goal is to attract different pinata species to your garden. In order to do so, you must ensure that your garden has the features they like. For example, if you want to attract the bird pinata, you’ll need worm pinatas for it to eat, and so on. While this game is undeniably a little less relaxing and a little more brutal than Zoo Tycoon, it still has keeping animals happy at its core, and you’ll need to be smart with the way you construct and maintain your garden to maximise its potential.
Cities: Skylines (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
Unfortunately, the list of honest-to-goodness zoo sims in the gaming world is pretty short, so if you want games like Zoo Tycoon, you’re going to have to look further afield. Case in point: Cities: Skylines, an excellent Paradox city development sim that takes up the torch SimCity dropped back in 2013. Anything and everything you could possibly want from a city management game is here; it’s got in-depth stats, management on a basic infrastructure level, and even an in-depth traffic control mechanic. There are also dozens of expansion packs and DLC pieces to pick up if you love the game.
Two Point Hospital (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
As you might have guessed from the title, Two Point Hospital doesn’t have anything to do with managing a zoo, and so calling it one of the best games like Zoo Tycoon might be stretching the point a little. However, if you love management gameplay, and you’re not hung up on whether or not you’re running a zoo, Two Point Hospital can be great fun. It’s similar in style to Theme Hospital; you’ll run, maintain, and occasionally bail out a hospital, dealing with fictional diseases and trying to juggle management and patients as you build your reputation.
Planet Coaster (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Planet Coaster had been out on PC for a little while when it launched on PlayStation and Xbox consoles late last year, but it’s still an undeniable classic. Developed by the same team behind Zoo Tycoon, Planet Zoo, and Jurassic World Evolution (yes, them again), Planet Coaster transposes Frontier’s signature management sim gameplay to a theme park environment. You’re still going to have to manage the desires of your visitors and your staff, but this time, you’ll also get to watch your patrons ride wacky, inventive creations you can customise yourself.
Stardew Valley (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
We’re moving a little further out beyond Zoo Tycoon territory here, it’s true, but Stardew Valley should be perfect for anyone who likes the more serene, Zen-like aspects of that game. Here, you manage a farm, and must make sure that your crops are harvested on time and that your animals are happy (see, there’s still some Zoo Tycoon in here!). There’s also a fairly robust dungeon-crawling minigame you can use to farm crafting materials, as well as a whole town of inhabitants to get to know. Stardew Valley even has a storyline if you look hard enough!
As you can see, there really aren’t that many experiences akin to Zoo Tycoon out there in the gaming world. After a certain point, you have to start looking pretty hard if you want to find something with the same feel as Frontier’s series. Perhaps this could be a niche you could fill when you make your first foray into game development!