Zoo Tycoon is the latest addition to a long line of "tycoon" game titles for Windows already on the market. Like other tycoon games, you play the owner of something, in this case a zoo of course, and you attempt to grow it from seed to fruition. Money can be made through admission, concessions, or by selling animals or other assets. Zoo Tycoon is developed by Blue Fang Games and distributed by Microsoft.

During the course of a game of Zoo Tycoon, one is expected to construct a zoo from scratch, starting with a perimeter wall, a gate, and a couple of pathways. One builds enclosures, populates them with animals, and alters their terrain to suit. The player also inserts other attractions (including a primate house, japanese garden, gift shops, and an elephant ride) intended to bring in visitors or to make money directly. The player must also manage trash, food concessions, picnic seating, and so on, and finally hire people to run everything; zookeepers, tour guides, and maintenance workers.

Two expansions are available; Dinosaur Digs which allows you to insert prehistoric creatures into your exhibits; and Marine Mania, which includes various marine mammals and fish.

Like other Tycoon games, it devolves rapidly into micromanagement, though unlike others, you will get no help whatsoever from your employees. Maintenance workers will often wander aimlessly through areas choked with trash on their way to nowhere in particular. Zookeepers can be found wandering on the fringes of the zoo while animal cages fill with refuse and animals go sick and hungry. Tour guides do not clearly do anything at all, and will visit empty exhibits which are not even on their itinerary.

The AI is not only inadequate, but it is also buggy in many cases. Healthy animals will often freeze in place permanently, preventing them from reaching food. Sometimes they will unfreeze if they are placed in another cage and then returned to their own. The game suffers from a plethora of general design problems as well. As you cannot place structures down on top of people, you often must build a fence around a busy area in order to place a structure there. Unfortunately, if there is an empty exhibit in someone's way, they will often go through its gate even though the only place to go from inside the exhibit is right back out again. The amount of space available is quite limited, and a successful player will find themselves running out of space within an hour of starting a game or less.

Finally, the performance of the game is atrocious. In spite of the fact that it uses no 3d graphics (everything is prerendered sprites) drawing the screen is agonizingly slow. On my test system (An Athlon Thunderbird 1.4 GHz with 512MB ram and a GEForce 3 Ti 200 video card) the game became completely unplayable at 1,400 guests; it was no longer even possible to scroll around the zoo, and this at only 1024x768 resolution. On the more limited test system (K6/2 500MHz with 128MB ram and ATI Rage Pro LT graphics) the game is choppy from the beginning at only 800x600 resolution. It becomes unplayable around 500 guests. It was also necessary to edit the game's ini file and hard-set the resolution to 800x600, as the game did not autodetect the resolution in spite of the display type having a maximum resolution of 800x600. The game's supposed minimum requirement of a 233MHz CPU seems wholly unrealistic.

In all this game is likely to frustrate newbie and seasoned players alike. Its bugs and shortcomings make it undesirable in most situations. Even the cheap spoof of the tycoon games, Trailer Park Tycoon is more consistent and has less bugs. While Zoo Tycoon is significantly more ambitious, this game's ambition clearly exceeds its implementation.