Zoo Tycoon: Marine Mania is the second expansion pack for last year’s Zoo Tycoon. The first, Dinosaur Digs, had numerous of problems. The dinosaurs were big, boring and annoying, and caring for them was almost identical to caring for regular animals, and so the expansion pack didn’t offer anything new to do. Well, developer Blue Fang Games corrected that problem in Marine Mania. Marine exhibits work much differently than regular exhibits, you can combine marine and regular exhibits to create “combo” exhibits, and you can connect special tanks to marine exhibits so that some of the marine animals can perform shows for the zoo guests. In other words, Marine Mania offers many new things for people to do, and that, combined with solid visuals, makes the expansion pack lots of fun to play.
At the forefront of Marine Mania is a whole slew of new animals you can add to your zoo. The theme, obviously, is marine animals, and the inclusions range from humpback whales to tuna fish, from great white sharks to bottlenose dolphins, and from mermaids to walruses. There are 23 new animals in all, and Blue Fang Games did a nice job with the visuals, so you don’t just see them swimming languidly in their tanks. They dive and roll, and some can even come to the surface to chitter at the spectators.
Plus, creating exhibits for the marine animals is different than creating exhibits for the Zoo Tycoon animals. First and foremost, the exhibits are big tanks of water rather than cages, and so not only do you have to worry about how much horizontal space the animals should get, you also have to make sure the depth of the tank is correct. You even have the option of controlling how much of the tank is above ground. So should the zoo guests be able to look into the tank (good for tuna) or look down onto the tank (good for dolphins), or do you want to get really creative and modify the terrain around the tank so guests can do both?
Moreover, the marine animals get a whole new set of foliage for their tanks, including everything from kelp to barnacles to sand dollars, and you don’t have to worry about the terrain of the tank bottom (it’s always sand, and the game sets it automatically). And since the animals are pretty forgiving, you can put most any foliage in the tank and make them happy, and so creating exhibits in Marine Mania is friendlier than creating exhibits in Zoo Tycoon.
Or, let me rephrase, creating some exhibits is easier, because Marine Mania also allows you to create “combo” exhibits, where part of the exhibit includes land and part includes a water tank. That is, you essentially get to combine a Zoo Tycoon exhibit with a Marine Mania exhibit, and Blue Fang Games did a nice job of not only including new animals who use this feature (like the walrus) but they went back and modified many Zoo Tycoon animals (like the penguin and hippo) so they can use the feature, too. The result works very well visually -- it’s fun to watch penguins swim around now -- but for some reason guests don’t seem to think much of the exhibits, possibly because the game still considers a combo exhibit to be two exhibits.
The other main addition in Marine Mania is the show tank, where certain marine animals (like the orca and dolphin) can put on shows for guests. The expansion pack comes with dozens of tricks for the animals to do, with flips and jumping through hoops and playing with balls and more, and they’re fun to watch. The downside to the shows is that they tend to reduce guest happiness (guests spend a lot of time walking to the shows), they don’t make a lot of money (upkeep and staff wages eat away most profits), and they make the exhibit tank of the performing creature almost worthless because the animal spends so much time in the show tank. That’s a lot of downside, and it’s too bad because the show tank should be the center of attention in a marine park, but as it stands now you don’t even want to use it. However, Marine Mania hasn’t had a patch released yet, and maybe Blue Fang games will do something to make shows more beneficial (controlling the number of animals who perform, and removing the upkeep on grandstands would be a start).
There are also many new marine-themed objects and buildings in the expansion pack. Most are only cosmetically different from objects in Zoo Tycoon and Dinosaur Digs, but others, like the swim shack, which allows guests to swim around for fun, are completely new. (A side benefit to the swim shack is that it tires guests, and so now guests actually use benches.) Overall, the new objects are nice and help to make marine zoos look and feel more like marine zoos, and, better yet, they fit in well with Zoo Tycoon objects, and so it’s easy to create zoos with Marine Mania and Zoo Tycoon exhibits.
Lastly, besides the additions, Blue Fang Games also modified the Zoo Tycoon engine in some subtle ways. For example, you can now select which jobs you want your maintenance workers to do, and so you can have some workers dedicated to repairing fences while other concentrate on picking up trash. You can also pick up guests now, which is great because it allows you to drop them in, oh, shark tanks and watch them get eaten. No park simulation is complete until you can kill off unhappy guests, and so now Zoo Tycoon is complete.
In all, Marine Mania is a nice little expansion pack. It gives you lots of new things to do, plus new ways of doing old things, and it looks nice to boot. Plus, it includes the Dinosaur Digs expansion pack, for those who might have missed it before. Of course, Marine Mania has a few balance issues that will hopefully be corrected in the future, but Blue Fang Games has shown they’ll stay with the game (just this week they released another bonus creature and scenario for Dinosaur Digs), and so I expect a patch will come out eventually to correct the majority of the problems.