Reviewed November 2007 by Edmund Wong
If you are sick, you go to the doctor. If your pet is sick, you go to a veterinarian. If a zoo animal is sick, you can send them to Zoo Hospital, but only if it has minor ailment, because Zoo Hospital does not cater for anything more serious than a broken leg.
There is little plot in Zoo Hospital. Your aunt, Lucy, is a veterinarian at a zoo, and you are helping her out during your summer holiday. There will never be a boring day at the zoo hospital because one animal somewhere will always be sick at any one time and you will have to help your aunt to diagnose and treat it. There is no concept of time in this DS game, nor money nor being happy or content like in some other simulation games. So you do not have to worry about any of them.
A 2D map of the entire zoo is displayed on the top screen, while a small mug shot of the animal appears on the magnified view of the zoo areas on the bottom screen. The zoo is roughly divided into four sections, but every time you finishing treating an animal, it will always move back to the entrance of the zoo which is located on the bottom right corner. The navigation is somewhat annoying, but luckily, you don't have to scroll very far to where you were before.
There are 40 animals in total, with only 10 of them unlocked at the start. You do not really need to do anything to unlock animals. Any animal that is sick will have a flashing icon. To start treating it, it is as simple as clicking on it. You can click on any animal to check status, regardless of whether it is sick or not. Aunt Lucy will, annoyingly, remind you about sick animals every 10 seconds if you are just scrolling around the zoo.
Once you have clicked on an animal, the bottom screen will display some information about the animal, such as name, age and mood, though none relates to the illness they have. If you want to learn more about the species in general (and they are real life fact, mind you), there is also a short description. The top screen displays a rather realistic animated 3D model of the animal.
Treating the animal is basically divided into two parts, diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis involves dragging one of the seven diagnostic tools to an applicable area on the animal. It could be X-raying the throat, stomach or leg, or checking its heart beat or temperature. You might need to use more than one tool to determine the exact condition.
At the end of each diagnosis, Aunt Lucy will ask you if there is anything wrong with the test results and whether it needs to be operated on. If you answer correctly, you will start the treatment. If not, Aunt Lucy will look down on you like you are a stray cat by saying that you are not experienced enough, but instead of treating the animal herself (like all veterinarians would do in real life), she will put it back in its enclosure and throw you back out to the zoo map. The animal is still sick, so you will have to start the diagnosis again.
Treatment could be as simple as giving it a shot or a five-step process of sewing up a wound. Sometimes you don't even need to treat the animal. During the operation, a heart meter is displayed that indicates how the animal is feeling, you must finish the operation before it is filled. If you are unsuccessful, you will have to calm it down before continuing with the operation. After successful treatment, Aunt Lucy will give you a grade, and if you have treated the same sort of animal long enough, you will be rewarded with a medal. Then the process starts all over again with a different random animal that has a different random ailment.
At first, it sounds interesting, but soon you will realize that it gets old very quickly. Some ailments are easy to find, like red eye; others are subtler, like antisocial behavior. But when you have treated enough animals, you will know what instrument to use to find what ailment. It gets repetitive fairly quickly.
Treatment is a bit more exciting than diagnosing, but not by much. You need to finish your operation before the heart meter is filled. So it relies on speed more than anything else. Take needle injection as an example. It is meant to be a slow and careful process, as anyone could tell you. But in Zoo Hospital, you just need to jam the needle in and drag the needle as fast as you can to inject the medicine into the animal which would make bad bedside manners in real life.
The symptoms are the same for all animals as there is no distinguished symptoms from say a koala to a hippo, a monkey or a panda. And the same treatment is used for any animal with the same symptom. No animal has unique illness. The developers might as well just have one animal in the zoo and with all the bad luck in the world, have all the illnesses befall on it. OK, that might be a bit cruel. There are mini-games in Zoo Hospital, interesting but fairly easy and finish all too quickly.
One thing that the game does well is the graphics. The 3D model is quite detailed, and the animation, though short, is smooth. There are a variety of animals in the zoo, and each has its own short animation. During treatment such as sewing up a wound, the background reflects the animal in question. You can tell the skin of a king cobra from that of a rhino.
There are just two BGM tracks (background music) as far as I can tell, one for the main zoo view, and another one for the operating theatre. Definitely a lack of music, but then again, they are the only two places you can go. Each animal has its own sound, which is interesting for the first few times. Since music is sparse, after a few times of treating each animal, you will find yourself muting the sound.
A sims game often has built-in replayability as repeating tasks are often the main gameplay. Though treating sick animals is a noble deed, the game does get repetitive. Other than collecting all the medals, there aren’t many things that will keep you going for too long.