An otterly amazing puzzle game
Do you remember Zoo Keeper for Gameboy Advance/PS2/Nintendo DS? If yes then you already know this game is good (and you're old like me). If no then don't worry, as long as you have Apple Arcade then you still meet all of the koalafications to enjoy this stellar puzzle experience from developer Kiteretsu.
Zookeeper World isn't monkeying around, as it brings back a nearly forgotten game from the early 2000s and spices it up in all the right ways. At its core it's a match 3 (or more) puzzle game where you have objectives such as matching x number of a specific animal or revealing zoo tickets that are hidden behind grass. The game takes the match-3 gameplay and adds a ton of interesting mechanics that are gradually introduced throughout its ~200 stages. You might start off having to clear boxes by matching animals next to them, but pretty quickly the game throws in conveyor belts, bottles, cages, and much more. As you work through the game's puzzles you also earn coins every step of the way, and those coins can then be spent upgrading your zoo. It's a fun loop that throws in plenty of twists along the way.
No lion, puzzles are the mane attraction
This match-3 style gameplay has been around for a long time, and it's just as fun as it's ever been. That said, I occasionally found some of the puzzles frustrating as their randomly generated starting point could feel like it either gave me an advantage or a hinderance. I also sometimes had to retry levels many times until I fully understood the best way to beat them. Maybe that says more about me than the game though.
The game does provide a few tools to help however - You can use a boxing glove or crane claw, both which cost gems, to sparingly remove puzzle tiles when you're in a desperate situation. If you clear enough of the stage's featured animal (in the bottom right corner) you can also earn a star which will remove all of one animal depending on what you match it with. Finally the game also gives you the option to skip a stage entirely if you lose enough, but it costs precious gems which I never wanted to give up.
Oh and also your boss looks vaguely like Hitler and is always angry for some reason? More on that later.
You bet giraffe there's more than puzzles
Not only are you solving puzzles in Zookeeper World, but you are also building a zoo. This includes control of where zoo habitats will go and the placement of many amenities ranging from vending machines to food stalls to playground equipment. While it's fun to decide where things will go and customize colors, what really makes this zoo come alive are seeing the visitors walk around. Every visitor will eventually give you a request to install specific equipment (trash can, bench, a panda exhibit, etc.) and if you help them out you'll be rewarded.
But what other elements from a traditional zoo does this game add? Well occasionally the zoo will be attacked by a giant robot that looks exactly like your boss:
I have questions about where this robot came from and why it looks exactly like your boss. When it shows up you then have to defeat the robot via a unique version of the puzzles where either 1.) you need to clear the entire board in just 1 move (which is repeated multiple times and timed) or 2.) you need to help a rabbit reach the end of a path by clearing the tiles in its way. Regardless of which task you need to complete, these robot attack stages culminate in a third stage where you can fight back by matching tiles next to the evil robot's face.
The robot attacks are just one of the ways in which Zookeeper World is constantly throwing varied mechanics at you.
So charming I can bearly contain myself
So ok yeah, it's kind of weird that your boss vaguely looks like Hitler and then once in a while robo-hitler comes in to destroy the zoo, but that character has been part of Zoo Keeper since the initial release in 2003. Mustache aside, the game is gorgeous. The puzzle tiles are cute and when you're walking around the zoo the entire thing runs at a glorious 60 frames per second. The 3D graphics are pretty simple, but they're stylized to the point where the charm oozes through the screen. The music is also great, although I found it pretty repetitive by the time I was 50 puzzles in.
The game also has one other charming aspect to it - As part of Apple Arcade, Zookeeper World has absolutely zero in-app transactions. It's so incredibly refreshing to play a match-3 puzzler, which actually even includes two types of currency (a popular trick among "free-to-play" games), and not have any way to spend real money.
Rhino someone who is super into this game
That someone is me. Clearly Zoo Keeper was onto something back in the early 2000s, and I would have never guessed that the series could be revived into such a masterpiece of a puzzler on Apple Arcade.
Yes I found some of the puzzles frustrating when I either got punished by random tile placement or I didn't understand the way that the developers intended for the level to be beaten. But what sort of puzzle game would this really be if it didn't include some amount of challenge from time to time?
The loop of solving puzzles and upgrading the zoo is incredibly fun, and the cuteness really pushes things over the edge to make this game one of my favorite puzzlers on mobile. I really hope that developer Kiteretsu continues to expand on the game in a sequel, or at least port the game to other devices so that it can receive the love it deserves.
Addictive gameplay loop
Absolutely no microtransactions on Apple Arcade
Your boss has a Hitler mustache