Simplz: Zoo combines a match-3 puzzle game with a casual simulation for a new and compelling experience. Now, you may have heard that story before when Floating Kingdoms came along, but this one has a potent blend of the genres that interconnects so thoroughly, everything you do in one directly affects the other. The result is a game that elegantly moves you back and forth while giving you the freedom to customize the experience to your liking.
Your grandfather has left you his zoo and wants you to turn it into something special. That's easier said than done, as there's only one exhibit right now, and the rest is empty grass. No matter, you've got the skills and the time to make it happen! To draw in more people, you'll need new attractions and animals. To build those attractions, you need resources. And to earn resources, you play a match-3 game similar to Jewel Quest. Repeat until your zoo is awesome.
After fiddling about with the simulation portion of the game, you can click the "play" button to move on to the match-3 puzzle. Here you earn resources for your zoo by matching tiles: food for your animals, wood and money to build new attractions, and workers to help with the upkeep of it all. Once you complete the level's objectives, you head back to the simulation portion, new materials in hand.
While viewing your zoo, you really only need to worry about a few things. Most importantly, you need to bring in new visitors, and you do that by setting up new attractions and bringing in wild new animals. Pinch and drag to look around the place, and use the mouse [wheel] to zoom in and out. Use the icons at the bottom of the screen to check out things you can build and animals you can order, but most of these will be locked until you have the cash and have met the prerequisites for them.
The matching and simulation parts of the game have more to do with each other than a one-way resource train. New power-ups can be unlocked by adding certain animals to your zoo, and if you create the ape exhibit, for example, banana tiles you match provide three times the amount of food to your zoo. You'll also discover a surprising variety in the matching portion of the game, so much that it could practically stand on its own as a casual download.
Here's the best part: Simplz: Zoo never punishes you for experimenting. Don't like where you put the lizard exhibit? You can relocate it. Didn't mean to purchase that shrubbery? Sell it back at precisely the amount you paid for it. Decorating your zoo is as much a part of the game as the simulation and matching parts, and it's surprisingly fun arranging things on this tiny playground.
Analysis: Combining genres is nothing new to the casual world, but combining them in entertaining new ways is quite rare. Simplz: Zoo has found the sweet spot between the matching puzzle and casual simulation genres, connecting the two in a very logical and rewarding manner. Just about everything you do in the match-3 part of the game has an affect on the sim portion, and vice versa. No matter what you do, you're always improving your environment and providing new things for you to explore.
By far the biggest strength of Simplz: Zoo is its ease of use. The game is designed to encourage and entertain you, not provide a rigorous challenge or punish you for making certain decisions. You always have the feeling you're moving forward in this game, and that's something many gamers will greatly appreciate. You can also expect over 10 hours of gameplay, which is considerably more than many games are providing these days.
One area the game doesn't really break new ground in are the visuals. They look nice, of course, and zooming is handled with quite a bit of ease, but the characters are a bit stiff and uninteresting, and the buildings themselves look rather blocky and drab. It takes some of the stuffing out of customizing your zoo, but not enough to siphon any of the fun away.
Simplz: Zoo is the perfect example of how to combine casual gaming genres into a new and compelling experience. Both the match-3 and simulation aspects are well-balanced to provide a game that's not only easy to play, but rewarding no matter what you happen to be doing.