You know a puzzle game has you hooked when you start seeing puzzle pieces floating before your eyes as you drift off to sleep at night. Well, over the past week or so I've had to put up with a bunch of animal heads dancing above my bed, and it's not because the zoo animals ceiling mobile I ordered from eBay last month has finally arrived. No, it's all thanks to Zoo Mania, a deceptively simple piece-matching puzzle game that pits your powers of observation against the clock while keeping the pace moving fast enough to give it that elusive "one more go" factor.
To fans of Zoo Keeper, the online puzzle game that later saw release across a range of platforms, Zoo Mania will look immediately familiar. However it's worth noting that the game takes its cues from the original 2002 version of Zoo Keeper, which means that a couple of gameplay elements found in the more recent versions don't appear here. The first is the ability to begin a new move while the current move is still in progress. I can see how this feature could have added to the game in terms of building combos, yet I don't feel the lack of it particularly hindered my enjoyment. The other missing feature is the "binoculars" button, which gives the player a limited number of opportunities to reveal any moves remaining on the board. Now this might sound like an option intended only for players who suck, but unless you have Terminator-like vision, you're going to run into times when you simply fail to see any possible moves, choke, and bomb out. Some might argue that this is all part of the fun, and it's true that it adds some interesting moments of panic, but it can be frustrating to have an otherwise excellent run prematurely cut short by one unlucky moment of "zoo blindness". It isn't a deal-breaker by any means, but if there's one thing likely to finally wean me away from compulsively playing this game, that's probably it.
The only other niggle I have is that although the two music tracks that alternate from level to level are bouncy tunes that will have you nodding along as you play, there's no option for sound effects, which is a shame as some solid, chunky SFX could have worked well here. But apart from those couple of minor gripes, I honestly have no complaints; this really is a great game. The animal tiles are nicely drawn (with strong use of colour that making it easy to differentiate between them at a glance), the control is smooth, your scores are saved, and it even offers some excellent two-player options (co-op and versus). In fact, I've been so hooked on Zoo Mania that I feel I should offer this warning: Every time I fired it up for "just one go", I ended up having at least ten goes. At least! Not only that, but there's an old man who walks his three yappy Daschunds past my place every afternoon, and lately I've had to resist the urge to run out and push their heads together to make them disappear. It's just as well they're not monkeys, or there would be trouble for sure.