This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about.
The animal-themed freemium builders just keep on coming, with Animal Park Tycoon being the latest in a long line of games giving you the opportunity to build your very own dream wildlife sanctuary.
Given the crowdedness of the genre, it's difficult not approach this latest entry a degree of apathy. But we're always happy to be proved wrong. After all, Bulkypix may have revolutionised the genre with a spanking new hook.
There's only one way to find out: play Animal Park Tycoon for seven days, and report back with my findings. And that's what I'm going to do.
After loading up the game I'm treated to a pop-up advert for a different game, and then a Christmas-themed loading screen in which a lady in a "sexy Santa" outfit is standing about in the snow with a group of oddly human-looking wild animals.
It's not a great-looking game, but it's not awful either - just wholly uninspired. The 2D buildings, decorations, and animals are viewed isometrically. You swipe the screen to move the camera around, and big chunky buttons give you access to every facet of the game you'll need. You know the drill.
I've been tasked with growing and expanding my zoo so that more visitors attend it, and I've been promised that I can raise the entrance ticket fee if it's attractive enough to punters. I also need to lay down paths in the game to guide visitors to the exhibits, and give each asset I have my full attention, lest it starve/wilt/fall ill.
So far so ordinary, but perhaps there's a bit more strategy to be found here than in the run-of-the-mill freemium builder. I'm cautiously optimistic as I move into the next few days of play.
Day 3: Theme Animal Park
Well wouldn't you know it - there certainly is a bit more strategy to Animal Park Tycoon than is immediately evident.
You start by deciding where and how your attractions and enclosures will be built, to maximise how efficiently you use the space given to you. It's a relatively small plot of land that you start with, and though you can expand the cost rockets upwards for each new segment you purchase.
You also need to take into consideration how much you're willing to charge punters as they walk through the turnstiles: set the fee too high and people won't visit. Set it too low and you're not making enough profit. Each animal you have costs money to maintain, so finding the right balance is crucial.
Interestingly, there's no waiting time involved in anything you do, and therefore nothing that you need to spend premium currency to speed up. If you close the game down, the zoo does not continue by itself. You need to be playing to earn money and advance time.
This ensures that you stay in the game a little longer than you might normally with this type of freemium builder, which will appeal to those who enjoy traditional strategy games like Theme Park.
The biggest issue with the game so far has been its controls. Selecting the right animal or decoration quickly is an imprecise business, you'll often go to tap on one creature and select the immediately adjacent one instead.
You often find yourself zooming in on the map, selecting the right beast, and zooming back out again for a better view, and though that's a decent enough workaround you shouldn't have to find a workaround in the first place.Day 7: Managerial quality
By day seven, Animal Park Tycoon has changed its tone somewhat, placing less emphasis on day-to-day running - feeding animals, keeping decorations in top condition - and more on general management.
As you add more animals to your park you unlock staff that can assist you with the menial chores, allowing you to focus on maximising profits and keeping visitors happy.
They're a fickle bunch, and your popularity plummets if you don't pay heed to their whims. "I want to eat hamburgers" they cry, "where's the gift shop?" You'll know when they're peeved as an assistant pops up to warn you, allowing you to react quickly.
Leave the visitors to simmer in their own disgust at not being able to have an ice cream as they toddle about the zoo and your ability to charge a decent amount of money for entry will diminish. Keep that price too high and their happiness will continue to dwindle - a vicious cycle that must be avoided at all costs.
Though many of the issues with the game's fiddly controls are minimised due to this hands-off approach, when you do need to get stuck in it's a pain. Adding a new enclosure and animals to it is just the wrong side of a hassle. You'll also see one too many pop-up ads, but at least there are ways of earning premium currency through them.
Animal Park Tycoon is a genuine surprise. It sets itself up as just another freemium builder with a zoo theme slapped on it, but it's much closer to the city management games of the past. There's not nearly as much depth as a SimCity, but it's definitely approaching a Theme Park.
Lacklustre presentation and imprecise controls assuredly hold back the title, but if you can look past these issues you'll find an entertaining, family-friendly strategy game.How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG Community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below.