Developer: Milkbag Games Publisher: NimbleBit Platforms: iOS
NimbleBit has pretty much mastered the art of making things tiny and pixelated for its mobile sim games, but one place the studio hadn’t visited until recently is the zoo. Thanks to Milkbag Games, we can cross that one off the list with Disco Zoo, a light sim mixed with a bit of strategy and occasional random doses of disco. No, really.
The core gameplay loop is a simple one. You’re in charge of a zoo and looking to expand from simple farm animals like pigs and cows to more exotic inhabitants from different environments. The more animals you rescue and take in, the more guests want to visit your zoo. Coins generated by your animals allow you to go on more rescue missions, and you can probably see how this all just feeds back on itself.
The difference between this game, and, say, Tiny Death Star is that there’s actually a game within the game. Rescuing animals means playing a Memory-type game on a five-by-five grid. You pay your coins and get a limited number of spaces to uncover on the grid. Each space can have part of an animal pattern, coins or nothing, and each animal pattern has either three or four spaces to complete. It’s part luck and part skill, as memorizing the patterns — the pig, for instance, is in a two-by-two square — can help you find the other parts and possibly figure out where other animals might be on the grid.
When you run out of guesses, you have several options. You can watch a 15-second ad for another mobile game (only so many times per day though) or pay one unit of Discobux, the game’s premium currency, to get five more guesses. You can pony up more coins and start a brand new rescue game, or you can simply head back to the zoo.
As with any of NimbleBit’s sims, there’s a direct correlation to how far you have advanced and how expensive things get. That means while you might be earning more coins all the time, it’s also getting more expensive to go on rescue missions. That keeps things acceptably balanced but also leads to some pacing issues at times.
Fortunately, there are a few things to keep you occupied within the zoo itself. Every animal exhibit earns a certain amount of coins per minute, but only while the animals are awake. You get a countdown timer to let you know when they’ll need to sleep next, and you’ll get push notifications as well if you want to go that route, but it only takes a tap to wake them and get them earning again. For every five of the same animal rescued, that exhibit will level up for increased coin yield and more time before the next sleep. It also just packs more animals into the exhibit, so don’t tell PETA.
Occasionally, animals will escape into other pens for you to locate; doing so gets you either coins or Discobux. Other zoos will make offers to buy your animals, which is helpful when saving up for the next addition to your hangar. Every different environment (Farm, Outback, Savanna, Northern, Polar, Jungle and Jurassic) requires a new type of aircraft, and they’re pretty expensive. Fortunately the guests also help out by dropping random tips that can range from one to 1000 coins, and less often, some Discobux.
I’ve somehow made it this far without mentioning why it’s called Disco Zoo. Let me correct that right now: by spending Discobux, you can start a Disco Party from the zoo’s front gate. Doing so drops a disco ball from the top of the screen, replaces the usually serene music with a pulsating dance track right out of the 70s, and gets everyone from the animals to the guests to the workers building new pens to start dancing. Aside from the obvious fun factor (though granted, it may wear thin eventually), a Disco Party doubles your coin yield from all animals and ensures your animals stay awake from the duration. If you’ve got 80 Discobux to spare, you can throw a 24-hour Disco Party, meaning your animals will move and groove for an entire calendar day. Definitely don’t tell PETA that!
While some gamers are sure to find Disco Zoo a bit of a two-trick pony, others are sure to be sucked in by the random premise and the usual NimbleBit touches. The easily impressed guests make a variety of humorous comments, and the animals either make appropriate sounds or joke about the uncertainty over what noises they make, a la a much less annoying, non-musical version of “The Fox.” It’s kind of a surprise to see everything in pixel graphics instead of the more realistic background used for Pocket Trains, but it works.
All told, this is a game that sticks pretty close to the usual NimbleBit playbook but manages to win you over anyway with its charm and general silliness. It’s suitable for just about any age (though kids ask your parents’ permission, as there be microtransactions here) and a wide range of sensibilities, and it may get your head bobbing while it helps you pass a few minutes of spare time — and not that many free-to-play mobile games can say that.
+ Adds a memory game to the usual NimbleBit light sim
+ Full of humorous touches
+ Fairly generous with premium currency
– Relies on in-game ads to continue playing
– Some pacing issues mean longer wait times as you advance
= Disco! Unless you don’t like disco …