NimbleBit has released yet another game for the increasingly crowded casual mobile market, hot on the heels of Tiny Death Star comes Disco Zoo. An unusual offering at first that quickly becomes more of the same.
Most mobile gamers have played some NimbleBit game or another, Tiny Tower, Pocket Frogs, Pocket Trains and NimbleQuest being some of the more popular titles. The “Tiny” series of games have a very distinct retro style that adds a certain charm to the game and immediately remind you that it is yet another of NimbleBit’s offerings, and Disco Zoo is right up there with style and charm to spare. In fact while writing this review (even though the game was developed by Milkbag Games) I continually had to check myself to make sure I wasn’t calling the game “Tiny Zoo”. For some, this paragraph has been enough to turn away forever, and others are already hitting the “download” button in the app store.
See this is how NimbleBit’s “Tiny” games get people hooked. They give the player quite a bit to do in managing their airports, Zoos, Trains or Towers. Enough to keep you busy for more than a few minutes in a session, but at the same time falling back on the typical Free-to-Play timers and constant notifications to ensure you don’t forget about their game.
Disco Zoo puts you in charge of a quite-empty zoo that is reminiscent of a horizontal version of Tiny Tower in some respects. You need to go and hunt down animals to put into your zoo and earn lots of coins to hunt down more animals in new areas so they can help you make more coins which in turn let you hunt down more animals…….you get the point.
The clever part of the game is the “capture” part of the game, since it is the only part of Tiny Disco Zoo that really can be considered a game in the traditional sense. You have a 5×5 grid of tiles and 10 attempts in a very battleship-feeling way to find some animals to add to your Zoo which will generate more coins as you capture more animals, which you spend to hunt down mo… (Stop That!! -editor)
The animals are all different shapes and amounts of squares so using the powers of logic, you can quickly get a huge amount of animals in your zoo without much real difficulty until the later stages.
Every 5 animals of a type that you capture, levels up that type so they generate more coins for a longer period of time before needing to be “woken up”. Suggestion: Turn off the notifications so you aren’t constantly bothered by the tiny cries of your animals needing to be woken up with a tap, just like Tiny Tower’s restock mechanic.
Then after you capture so many animals, your zoo automatically is declared a larger size then you can spend many coins to repeat the process and hunt down new animals in a new region, and so on and so forth.
The odd thing is I didn’t hate this game. Sure it is repetitive but the constant little rewards for finding an animal are surprisingly habit-forming. You want to just get a few more animals for your zoo because they really take only a minute or so at most to hunt that 5×5 not-quite-battleship grid. So you feel like you are constantly making progress in an otherwise flat game experience. By flat I mean there is very little learning curve or challenge to the game. You basically do the same thing every time you play with no surprises. Some animal patterns are unusual and slightly tricky to figure out at first, but that quickly ebbs as you gain familiarity with the occupants of this tiny disco zoo.
Why is it called Disco Zoo? Because you can spend Discobux (as usual, purchased with real money or earned at a snail’s pace in-game.) to throw a “Disco Party” for a determined amount of time where your animals will give double coins and not need to be woken up. Great for people who really care about the leaderboards, but only if their friends play. Currently the leaderboards are full of people with a few billion animals captured, but it seems either NimbleBit or Apple are trying their best to police it and take down obviously fraudulent results as the top places switch between hacked scores and theoretically legitimate high scores, but it is obvious it is a losing battle like most games. People will cheat and hack the scores just because they can.
My favorite part of the game had to be the Unicorns. I was surprised to see mythical beasts in the game like Unicorns and Sasquatch, so it was entertaining to make it my personal mission to get a Unicorn Statue in my zoo. After all everyone knows that Unicorns are best ponies. Right Lyra?
I suppose the game can be a lot of fun if you have many GameCenter friends to challenge and drive you to unlock all the zones and all the animals, but the game just became boring to me and something I was doing because it was there and no other reason. I never felt compelled to purchase any in-game bux or currency since they came just frequently enough to not be frustrating and you really don’t need them to enjoy the game. That said, while some may hail this as a great feature, I don’t know how NimbleBit (or Milkbag Games) expect to make a profit when there is no incentive to spend money. I hope they do since they have made some excellent titles in the past and maybe some update will come along and change this Disco Zoo into something more exciting but until then it will be collecting virtual dust on my iPhone until I need the space for something else.