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Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa

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From the vantage of their hot air balloon, Dr. William Willoughby and Miss Julia Carrilou take in the beautiful sights of the African savannah, where herds of zebras and hungry lions play their roles in the ongoing circle of life. As they float along, the Victorian-era explorers share observations about African wildlife—in verse, no less. But it’s you, as the invisible but omnipotent player, who must use this knowledge to build and maintain the delicate balance of life and death to help this rich African ecology thrive.

That is the basic idea behind Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa, a new 3-D simulation and strategy game from Pocketwatch Games, and published by MumboJumbo. The game, which instantly grabbed and held the attention of my own kids, is simple enough for even younger players to learn and master—but challenging enough to keep things interesting.

The game puts the circle of life on ready display. Herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat meat, and all life needs water to survive. How well you’re able to balance the ecology of the Serengeti determines your success in the game.

Each level starts out around a watering hole, river or some other body of water. You then drop in various forms of life (determined by what level you’re playing). There are 11 different animals in all , including zebras, elephants, crocodiles, lions, flamingos, and hares .

Each level comes with a specific goal. For example, you may need to create an ecosystem that can sustain four lions. To do that, you’ll need to make sure the zebras, which the lions feed on, have enough to drink and eat. You’ll also have to make sure the hungry lions don’t thin the zebras’ herd too much, or the lions will ultimately starve.

When you complete certain challenges—such as having a specific number of flamingos flock to your watering hole—you earn Combo jewels, which you can then cash in to plant new shrubs or grasses for your herbivores to eat, or to make sure your watering holes are full of drinkable water. As you add new watering holes or plants, you can guide creatures to them by clicking on the animals with your mouse. They’ll follow you to the new location—just make sure they don’t die of starvation or thirst before they get there.

Challenges quickly change and grow more complex. There are also three levels of difficulty that help keep pace with your increasing abilities. As you successfully complete missions, new missions await. You’ll also unlock variations on the game’s sandbox mode, an open-ended game mode that lets you work on your ecosystems for as long as you can sustain them.

Despite the game’s modest 3-D graphics, which were created using GarageGames’ Torque Game Engine, the game manages to bring the creatures of the African savannah to life, whether it’s the high-pitched whinny of the zebra or the roar of the lion. Pleasant background music also helps set the mood.

As I said, my kids—all of whom want to save endangered animals when they’re older—instantly glued themselves to my side whenever I fired up the game. And the developer’s heart is clearly in the right place. Pocketwatch Games promises to donate a percentage of proceeds to wildlife habitat preservation programs.

One cautionary note: the game doesn’t include any printed documentation, although a read me file on the CD does give you some instructions.

The game recomends having a 400MHz G4 or faster Mac with at least 40MB of free hard drive space.

The bottom line

Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa is a strategy game that places an emphasis on understanding nature, not destroying things. It’s a nice change of pace!

Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa
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