Planet Zoo Console Edition Review – Entertaining and Educational

Planet Zoo Console Edition Review

My favorite coaster-building sim of all time is Frontier’s Planet Coaster. Released in 2016, and supported by a huge amount of free and paid DLC, Planet Coaster also has a massive fan base, with an immense presence on the Steam Workshop. I was equally delighted by 2019’s Planet Zoo. But it was, pun intended, a very different beast. While its theme park cousin has the same appealing, detailed visual approach, Planet Zoo includes significant conservation and education components. Now Planet Zoo is available on current-gen consoles. Just like Planet Coaster on consoles, the two biggest questions are around content and controls.

Feedin’ and Breedin’

Planet Zoo brings together four types of simulation and management. First, there’s the building sim, where players can build animal enclosures, habitats, concessions, and attractions like zoo trains. Closely related is the economic sim, where the player has to balance income with guest happiness, zoo expansion, and animal acquisition. There’s also a deep layer of animal genetics, research, breeding, and welfare. This ties into the educational component, because learning about the needs of the zoo’s animal residents is the key to success.

Depending on how you play Planet Zoo, keeping all these spinning plates going can be a pretty daunting task. The game’s lengthy campaign/career mode is essentially an extended tutorial. It becomes pretty clear, pretty fast that you can’t just buy a bunch of animals and stick them in cages. Planet Zoo’s sandbox mode removes a few guardrails, but it doesn’t take away most of the need to care humanely for the animals. The franchise mode is based on creating a series of zoos around the world, trading animals, and setting up optimal genetic pools.

Whereas Planet Coaster was focused on creating detailed attractions — with real-world physics — Planet Zoo’s campaign and complexity can take a little longer to appreciate and get into. I suspect that many players will skip right into the Sandbox mode, learn as they go, or use the game’s tooltip references.

Behave Like an Animal

It goes without saying that there are way, way too many animal species in the world to include more than a fraction in the game. Still, the base Planet Zoo features a pretty wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles, and other critters from the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The PC version now offers over 16 add-on packs, each with new animals and habitats. These are available on the console or will be as part of a season pass plan. It is just a bit disappointing that the console release wasn’t a bit more generous at launch.

Planet Zoo does a remarkable job of recreating animal movement, behaviors, and interactions. The animals are suffused with personality in a way that feels authentic. Without exception, all the species look great and, left to their own devices, are entertaining to observe. Of course, the baby animals are adorable. When it comes to park details, building styles, and architecture, it’s possible to create some very realistic structures. Just like the PC version at launch, thematic options are a bit limited. Still, there are several biomes to choose from, with appropriate weather effects.

As noted, Planet Zoo goes out of its way to be an educational tool. Information cards about each species, their habitat, needs, and place in the environment are explained in detail. The education part is largely optional. It’s there if you want it. Part of running a thriving zoo is educating the public, however.

Under Your Control

Really, the biggest question isn’t whether Planet Zoo is a good game. The console version is a pretty faithful port of the PC original. The issue is whether all the game’s systems and complexity translate to the controller and the console experience. Generally, the answer is yes. Frontier figured out how to marry the adapted UI to the controller in Planet Coaster, and many controls are the same. There is a learning curve to be sure. Using the controller to build complex structures isn’t an entirely frustration-free exercise. In particular, deleting misplaced walls, paths or other items is a more fiddly task than simply highlighting and hitting the delete key.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t choose to use the controller but it works well enough. On the PS5, the graphics are crisp and vibrant. The Frontier theme park sims are known for catchy, attractive music, and Planet Zoo is no exception. There’s a fair bit of cheesy voice acting in the campaign tutorial, but it’s done well.

Animal Land

There are quite a few zoo sims out there, ranging from pixel art constructions to Planet Zoo, which is definitely the ultimate game in the genre. For those without the requisite PC, the PS5 port does a generally outstanding job of translating the Planet Zoo experience to console. It’s genuinely educational, engaging, and addictive fun. I wish the new edition was just a bit more generous with content at launch, but there’s plenty there to work with. Animal and sim lovers should rejoice, Planet Zoo has arrived on consoles at last.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Excellent building tools
  • Detailed animal simulations
  • Lots of depth
  • Looks great

The Bad

  • Can be pretty complex
  • Building with controller can be fussy
  • A little light on content at launch