It’s very easy to be dismissive of Super Exploding Zoo. The colourful animals and seemingly simple mechanics encountered in your first few levels belie some real depth and charm, the kind that you have come to expect from HoneySlug, as well as a long lasting challenge. Anyone that has played Hohokum will know what I am talking about here.
The aliens are coming, and they are hungry. After spying a world with a plentiful supply of animals to consume, you would think that they would be set for world domination and mass extinction. They made one fatal mistake; every animal where they invaded has explosive capabilities!
Starting with a solitary penguin your objective is simple; recruit more living bombs and slay the aliens before they reach the egg that you are tasked with protecting. Initially it’s quite easy as the enemies have a certain amount of hit points. Grouping enough animals together and swarming into the extra-terrestrial invaders however will result in success, and subsequently progression to the next of the total of eighty missions. The snag is that you must ensure that at least one of your critters survives, or you’ll be doing it again!
The game is charming and looks very catching – with a an incredibly colourful, cartoon style and very endearing characters (until you rather graphically detonate them in a flash of explosives and body parts that is). The animal noises are bound to make you smile and it’s hard not to be captivated as you move your horde of portable explosives about, but it’s not exactly one for pushing the system.
Speaking of movement, the controls are rather simple with the stick maneuvering your collective around, and the square button manually arming your chosen animal or activating it’s special skill. Using the shoulder buttons in tandem with the analogue sticks will cycle through your available animals and direct them to various parts of the world, enabling you to micro-manage the situation at hand. This handy if you don’t want to waste a creature you will later need, or need to set multiple things in motion simultaneously.
The strategy comes into play via the different animals and the situations you will encounter. Penguins have no special abilities and serve as your standard fodder. Crocodiles can be used to bridge water and Monkeys can climb vines and detonate charges. Meercats can also activate charges, as well as dig through holes into new areas or to set off mines, which are set off by Elephants. There are also Lions, which when set up on a pedestal can slow down the progress of the aliens. Still with me? Llamas can also climb up on the same stands, but in typical fashion spit towards their foes. Towards the end of the game you will also discover Jellyfish, which slowly poison the enemies. Rounding off the selection you have Rhinoceroses, which are propelled across the area for a limited time, decimating all that they touch and Pandas, which execute a similar action once they have eaten some bamboo. All of the characters available also have differing amounts of damage which they can deal, so effective planning is needed to raise the amount of hits required to complete the level before moving onto the next.
With over eighty missions available, you will be playing for some time – but I was a bit frustrated with how some of the missions were laid out. You would think that the difficulty would increase as you progressed, but for many of the levels it seemed that there was no real structure or organisation. Aside from these spikes and drops in difficulty throughout, it was mostly enjoyable and fun; with most levels taking only a few retries if I was stuck.
It’s not all a single player affair though, and the game also packs a versus mode where two opposing players have to group together as many animals as possible and wipe out the other player. At points the game will activate “rampage mode” for the player with the biggest army and the lower leveled creatures will start exploding, but in exchange for a faster movement speed. If the other player can survive, it will then be their turn. It’s quite comical and a welcome addition to the main game.
With collectible stickers strewn throughout the various missions and over twenty different skins to apply to the basic characters there’s a little longevity to be had with the game in addition to the multiplayer, and the game also packs a very manageable platinum trophy, which is worth mentioning if that sort of thing is important to you. Excluding the multiplayer you are probably looking at upwards of around five hours (depending on how hard you find the last few levels).
I did experience a few crashes with the game, and since I started playing there has been a patch which rectifies that. I am also aware that many gamers did experience some late game save issues, so make sure you have the latest patch version and/or utilise the cloud save function with PlayStation Plus if you want to make sure everything’s smooth and risk-free.
I have really enjoyed my time with Super Exploding Zoo, so it’s really difficult not to recommend it. Packed with charm, it will keep you occupied without really testing you too much – and if you are looking for something simple to play there is no reason not to get this.