Tedium, thy name is Zoo Tycoon DS.
I thought that Zoo Tycoon DS was a novel idea at first. What I remembered of the Tycoon series' gameplay from the PC seemed well-suited for play on the Nintendo DS. Why, then, is Zoo Tycoon completely counter-intuitive?
The top screen displays a constant view of your zoo. You use that, the d-pad, and the face buttons to rotate, zoom, scroll, and place things in your zoo. The bottom screen is your infodump. It's where you go to select the animals to buy, their enclosures, their treats, and their trainers. There's a wide variety of things to toss into your zoo, and you can definitely make some great exhibits... but why would you want to?
You see, the biggest problem is the interface. It works against itself. When you have a notice on the upper screen that mentions that, say, "African Lion 3 is unhappy," you need to first move to his exhibit with the d-pad, then click on the trainer on the touch screen, read the laundry list of things that the prima donna feline wants (more water, less dirt, more trees, less grass, etc.), then hopefully remember all that information as you navigate to the various menus that you have to duck into to do what's needed. It's frustrating to have to do it this way, when a simple popup on the upper screen would've done twice as well.
It's also faintly ridiculous that the menus that tell you what your creatures need simply say "Animal this" and "Animal that" as opposed to actually saying the name of the animal. It's a minor irritance, but it's a shortcut that probably shouldn't have been taken.
This isn't even the only set of problems the game has. The tutorial is very helpful, yes, but playing the game feels distinctly like work. You have a period of constant resource management as you set everything up, then a few minutes of having literally nothing to do. Once you get your park equipped, the customers come in, enjoy themselves, and leave without any input from you. You can add things to make them stay longer, spend more money, or follow around tour guides... but it isn't any fun.
That, in and of itself, is unforgivable. Zoo Tycoon DS feels like a PC game that's been mashed down to fit into the DS. A few obvious gameplay elements are turned on their head and made intolerable (the menu to lay down grass, for example, is maddeningly vague when you first experience it, and annoying every other time) and the touch screen is wasted on simple menus. Being able to scroll, rotate, and zoom in on the park using the touch screen would've made quite a bit of difference here. Swapping the two screens, so that you use the d-pad on the menus, would've made even more. Instead, everything you do in the game feels backwards and just wrong.
What're we left with? Not too much, to be honest. It'd take a special kind of gamer to stick with a game that makes you work simply to have a little fun. This could've been a fun game, but the poor touch screen implementation, annoying menus, and tedious gameplay do a pretty good job of shooting it in the foot. Give it a miss.