The Friday Game: Dinosaur Zookeeper
I have no idea how I missed this. Last June, Vlambeer, the genius creators of Radical Fishing and Super Crate Box, released an Adult Swim browser game named Dinosaur Zookeeper. I’ve only recently come across it on the micro-studio’s extremely yellow website, and I’ve just lost an entire morning to it.
The game’s been made under Vlambeer’s brilliant “Not-Vlambeer” label, but, thankfully, it features all the slapstick comedy and hyper-violence that fans of the developer know to expect. If I was to generalise rather brutally, I’d say that Dinosaur Zookeeper’s a blend of Theme Park, in that you’re perfecting layouts to maximise profits and minimise wasted space, and Rampart, since you spend each evening frantically trying to rebuild your shattered infrastructure and repair all the damaged fences. The brilliant twist however – as the name suggests – is that you’re working with dinosaurs, and dinosaurs aren’t very easy to work with.
What emerges is a game filled with spatial challenges: you have to pen your growing collection of dinosaurs together so that they remain relatively calm in captivity, and you have to monitor the layout so that visitors can come and see the animals without being killed. Complicating matters is the fact that each dinosaur species is governed by certain behavioural rules: Stegosauruses need space, for example, while a Triceratops prefers a small cage. Velociraptors, meanwhile, go crazy at the sight of a herbivore, and Pterodactyls are just an absolute nightmare however you approach them. I’m quite glad they’re extinct, really.
Being one of the smartest developers out there, Vlambeer is well aware that most people are playing Dinosaur Zookeeper in order to watch things go wrong, and there’s a wonderful cumulative kind of chaos that bubbles up when one animal gets free and starts accidentally letting out all the others, too. Daily challenges, meanwhile, try to impose a little order to proceedings, encouraging you to meet certain criteria with each cycle – don’t get any animals killed, perhaps, or get visitors to drive through three fences before they leave.
Levelling up allows you to pick between some neat abilities, such as a gun for blasting escaping dinos or a magic balm for bringing your less fortunate visitors back from the dead. In the main, though, this is simply a wonderfully reappropriated logic puzzle that enhances the cold brilliance of its design by flinging in prehistory’s greatest monsters. Don’t let it pass you by, eh?