How it has taken this long for DS puzzler Zookeeper to rock up on the iDevices is beyond me. It’s clear that it’s perfectly at home here and while it doesn’t do a great deal differently to the horde of similar 3-in-a-row gravity puzzlers, there’s something about it that makes it preferable to the lot of them.
So in Zookeeper you arrange coloured tiles in rows or columns of 3 (these tiles are animal faces which is obviously markedly more exciting than hexagons or other primitive geometry). Once you’ve managed to bring together three or more tiles the row disappears allowing more tiles fall into place from above. You’re free to keep lining tiles up as the others fall, creating chains that the sound effects beep-boop along to, adding time back to the rapidly diminishing timer at the foot of the screen.
This goes on until you’ve met a prerequisite target at which point you’re handed a score bonus and punted into the next level.
Puzzles last a few minutes and Zookeeper gets tricky quickly yet remains simple just long enough to dig its claws in. You invest enough time organising rowdy zoo animals that quitting becomes witless, you’re getting the hang of things, the animals have a new master! And so you keep coming back. It’s dastardly but wouldn’t work if the mechanics weren’t so first-rate.
Like the DS version, each round has its own randomly generated favourite animal and capturing this beastie rewards you bonus points. The game also features a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of binoculars. Tapping on these allows you to view all available moves on the board for a limited time, handy because all too frequently you’re left with just one move to make, although you’re limited to just two sets to begin with.
Elsewhere it tells a pretty shady story. The zoo animals have fled their homes having been abused by the zoo manager and, er, yeah. We’re coming in to rescue them all right? To put them on a plane back to the jungle or wherever it is elephants live. To save the day? Alas not, as the zookeeper it’s your job to herd the animals back into their cages. Yay animal cruelty! Or bestiality.
Still, Zookeeper is fairly brilliant. It’s beautiful (the animal facial expressions a particular highlight), and it plays perfectly on the touch screen: you either slide animals into position or tap one and then an adjacent zoo-dweller to switch them. However you choose to play, it’s an effortless process.
Both of the modes included are timed and for £1.19 you’d probably be expecting something more concrete to differentiate the two. As it is, the Tokoton mode is little more than a riff on the standard timed mode. Leaderboard support is bound to make this an addiction to those it ensnares but here’s hoping somewhere down the line Kiteretsu are going to lavish us with new modes, even if they’re at a premium. An idiots’ marathon mode akin to Hexic’s would suit me fine.
Obnoxious music and a lack of modes aside, Zookeeper is about as much fun as the 3-in-a-row puzzler has ever been and manages to fit on the iDevice flawlessly. How it’s taken this long to make it here remains puzzling but at this point that’s no longer important. Be thankful it finally has because if aligning coloured tiles in neat rows is your thing, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the genre anywhere.