Gourmania 3: Zoo Zoom, from Alawar Games, takes a few common casual gaming genres and breaks their molds all to pieces, creating a game that's one half hidden object game, one half time management simulation. How do you combine a sit and think genre with a frantic click-fest genre? Easy! You hunt for ingredients in a crowded restaurant to cook dishes for impatient customers!
Victoria wears a lot of pink and is more than a bit spoiled in her rich girl life. Her father sees it fit to cut her off from the family fortune, challenging her to earn her own cash if she wants frivolities like a pedicure for her puppy. Using some of her family's half-built restaurants, Victoria sets out to earn cash as best she can, one restaurant, one zoo, and one ghost of a chef at a time!
Gameplay is pleasantly split between hidden object and time management genres, allowing you to work with customers and foods in a timely manner while searching for items in a crowded scene. Here, each area is a restaurant fully stocked with food. The problem is, those foods are scattered around all helter skelter, forcing you to go on a bit of a hunt to find even the most basic things.
Customers enter your restaurant and ask for a meal. Click on the customer and the first ingredient will be revealed. Search it out in the messy scene below, click it, and the next piece of food will be shown. One by one you assemble a dish, then, at the end, you cook it using the appropriate method. When all is complete, collect your tip and move on to the next level!
Between levels you can spend the cash you've earned to upgrade the zoo, an attraction Victoria is building to hold animals from her family crest and to attract customers to the area. There are also a few mini-games between some of the levels, serving as a short, skippable break in the often-intense time management/hidden object action.
Analysis: Gourmania 3: Zoo Zoom is one of those games that will surprise you with its smart design. It's not a hidden object game, it's not a time management game, but it pulls the best from both genres to create something every casual player can enjoy. Even if playing against the clock bugs you, you can choose Casual Mode from the beginning of the game to ensure customers don't lose their patience as you sift for ingredients.
Multiple customers are always in your restaurant at once, making sure you have several items you can search for at a time. The game is smart enough to know that you can use any sort of pepper, tomato, cucumber, etc. on the screen, not a particular one. This cuts down on frustration enormously and allows you a bit of freedom in your mouse clicking.
On the down side, Gourmania 3 assumes you have a bit of knowledge in the culinary world, so if you don't know your spatula from a food turner, you could stumble a few times in this game. Fear not, though, for the hint system allows you to pinpoint the exact item you're having trouble locating, so you never get stuck, even if you don't know what a potato looks like!
It's a bit heavy on the cooking terminology and some of the ingredients can be tough to find, but otherwise, Gourmania 3: Zoo Zoom is an absolutely flawless hybrid of the time management and hidden object genres. You owe it to yourself to give it a try, if for nothing other than its unique design!