Super Exploding Zoo, from Hohokum developer Honeyslug, should be a cute, light-hearted game: it's got cartoony animals, bright colours, and a peppy, happy soundtrack. But there's something about leading animals to their death that's slightly sinister – the hard stare in a dodo's eyes as he walks his last steps is unnatural and almost unsettling. Then again, that is expected – after all, Hohokum had its own dark moments.
Still, despite the gloomy undertones, this is a fun, simple puzzle game with a straightforward goal: collect animals, protect the egg, and kill the monsters. The tutorial does a great job of introducing you to the basic mechanics of the game, and the first ten levels or so seem almost too easy. You'll know that, to break through walls, you'll have to sacrifice an animal; to get across some water, you'll have to send a crocodile in to act as a bridge; to climb over walls, you'll have to use a monkey. It seems like your average puzzle game. That is, until you reach the second area.
This is where the game distances itself from the crowd and shows shades of genius. At this point, you'll have around six to eight monsters to fight and huge packs of animals to fight them with, but thanks to the sheer number of animals that you'll be controlling and the occasionally clunky controls, these levels can be frustrating. So how does the release combat that? Well, by introducing Tactics Mode, a mechanic that is definitely the highlight of the game.
Here, the game pauses and allows you to take control of individual units which you can assign paths to follow; on one occasion, this reviewer collected a trio of lions and employed them to slow down the monsters while he recruited some crocodiles to finish them off. It's a great addition to the game, and it transforms it from a middling puzzler into a challenging, cerebral release.
For a cheap digital download, it's got astounding replayability, too. There are tons of stickers and other small collectibles to find in the 100 or so levels present, as well as a scoring system; each stage has a certain amount of objects to blow up, and it's pretty addictive (and time-consuming) to try and explode them all. It'll take you upwards of ten hours to finish the title – and likely double that if you intend to do everything.
Said stickers and collectibles are available in the main hub world (a zoo, funnily enough), which is a really nice touch to the game. In it, you can visit a variety of buildings and sections that house different modes and options: there's an enclosure for each mission area, a collectible sticker house, and, possibly our favourite place, the hatchery (more on that later). Of course, there's also tons of stuff to blow up. Exploding is kind of the game's calling card, if you hadn't noticed.
But what about the animals themselves? They're insanely cute, to say the least, what with their big heads, cute eyes, and rounded features. There's a huge variety of them, from dodos to monkeys to elephants, all with their own abilities and attack damage. Sometimes, these stats can create dilemmas: will you use the lion's roaring power to slow down foes, or use his four points of attack damage to kill a monster?
You'll unlock these different animal types organically throughout the game, but if you want to acquire new cosmetic skins for these types, the hatchery is the place to go. Here, you have one simple goal: break a giant egg by flinging animals at it until it cracks. Every animal that survives a mission will be available to use in the hatchery, causing the amount of damage that they would normally inflict in a mission. Unlockable animals include geckos and turtles, which both have the cutest sound effects.
Speaking of sound effects, the audio in the game is the perfect balance between noticeable and not distracting: the peppy soundtrack acts as a nice background filler, adding a happy quality to the game, without ever being overwhelming. The voice acting (?) for the animals is really nice, too, with each critter's cuteness being upped a couple of notches to really exemplify how cruel you're being for exploding these innocent bundles of fun.
Last of all, how does the game perform technically? We've received no framerate drops, which is refreshing these days, but the game has crashed on us on three separate occasions – an irritation which will need patching sooner rather than later.
For such a cutesy, cartoony game, Super Exploding Zoo has a lot of gameplay depth and a surprising amount of tactical knowledge is needed to succeed in it. For a cheap downloadable title, it offers a lot of replayability and longevity, and while it's not exactly mind blowing, it's a fine follow-up for Honeyslug – a studio which has already exploded onto the scene with Hohokum.