Super Exploding Zoo is a weird puzzle game that puts you in command of a menagerie animals fending off an alien invasion. Most puzzle games like this might have you manipulate units to form a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption to kill the invaders before they reach the zoo's precious eggs. Instead, these animals commit themselves to senseless suicide, their bodies exploding with great force when they come in contact with the black, bulbous creatures. The idea of saving eggs by killing your army sounds hilariously senseless and should be great fun. Unfortunately, Super Exploding Zoo is about as fun as watching paint dry.
There is little setup needed to stir the player into action. The game drops the player in the thick of things, a short and sweet tutorial identifying the abilities of each available animal type. Not all animals are created equal in this zoo and each has a unique skill that aids in fending off alien attacks. Penguins can destroy red walls, alligators can form bridges across rivers, monkeys can trigger TNT plungers to blow up purple walls, and lions can roar at the aliens and slow their movement. The idea is to use each animal's ability to navigate obstacles and build a massive army of exploding zoo denizens before the aliens can reach the nest. The monsters take six hits to kill and can be taken out by simply kamikaze-ing your units into their large bodies. Although the zoo denizens take on the role of suicide bombers, there is incentive to ending a level with a few of them alive. Any left over units are used to bust open eggs that offer new unit types. However, many of these units are nothing more than re-skins. Turtles behave the same way as alligators and the Dodo bird blows up exactly like the penguins.
Blowing up animals that look pulled from a Pendleton Ward cartoon should be fun, but Super Exploding Zoo lacks excitement and thrill. The tension built from the race against time feels artificial and not that big of a motivator to succeed. Part of the reason is because later levels get so huge and complex that there's an expectation that you'll be unable to complete the stage on the first try. Trial and error puzzle solving creates a repetition that fails to entertain and makes the game's 80 levels all the more daunting. The length of the game is a double edged sword. It's great that there is a lot of content, but after growing completely bored with it all after level 22, the last thing I wanted was to play the remaining 58 stages. New animals and skills are introduced in each new zone but they're not to keep me glued to the screen. And the soft, soulless soundtrack doesn't do much to help the matter.
Technical issues were also negative contributors. The controls do not feel as responsive as they should be when trying to activate a creature's special skill. Even though there's only one button to press, the game has a hard time reacting to the player's input. An example of this problem is the act of commanding a lion to sit on a platform. Even with my group of lions standing directly on top of the platform, pressing X wouldn't command the lion to hop on and start roaring at the aliens to slow them down. The event seemed to trigger after the second or third press and by then, the damage was done and I reset the level to start over. In a game where speed is of the essence, such control issues are kind of unacceptable. Lions weren't the only animals to cause problems - monkeys, and their skill in activating TNT plungers, gave me the same kind of grief. Inconsistent load times were also a concern. Some level transitions are quick while others took almost a minute to move on. And why does Super Exploding Zoo keep checking for any cross saves? It couldn't find one when I started the game, why would it ask me an hour later?
If there's one area where the game earns praise, it's the visuals. Everything, from the look of the environments to the design of the zoo animals and aliens are charmingly goofy and off kilter. The characters convey a lot of personality, even when they're asleep, and the aliens, despite their simplistic designs, are wonderfully menacing.
Super Exploding Zoo would have been a good way to kill an hour or two if it were fun. Instead, it's trying, boring and a chore to play. There's a noticeable lack of energy and spirit, and without it, there's little to no drive to push forward. At the end of the day, it's a very middle of the road puzzle. It's not bad, but not good either.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.