Bringing the world closer together - with games.

World Of Stuart doesn't see why you shouldn't suffer along with the rest of us. Nintendo's recently-released handheld console, the Nintendo DS, is the most exciting thing to happen to gaming in about 10 years. Stunningly innovative, it boasts a whole raft of what look like must-play games on the horizon, many of which take advantage of the machine's unique touch-screen feature. One of the ones which DOESN'T, however, has nevertheless been keeping impatient would-be DS owners glued to the screens of other gaming platforms while they wait in line for the under-produced console to arrive. It's a game primarily involving the startling of wild animals, and it's called Zoo Keeper.

Either the animals aren't drawn to scale, or that's one undernourished lion.

This game has already appeared on various other formats (there's a Game Boy Advance version charmingly called "Zooo!", for example), but most incarnations of it are in Japanese and the game is initially very slightly hard to follow if you don't know what's going on, so in the interests of international understanding, WoS is going to briefly explain it to you.

Each level presents you with a grid of cute animals, and a target score (in the first level, for example, the target is 3). The target is the number of EACH animal you have to remove from the grid, which you do by connecting them in vertical or horizontal lines of three or more of the same creature. So on the first level you have to remove three giraffes, three pandas, three hippos, three lions and so on. A running total of how many of each type you've removed is kept at the top right corner of the screen. (Each animal's mini-icon also lights up in the appropriate colour when you've got enough of that animal.)

This zoo seems somewhat overstocked.

You line up the animals by swapping the positions of any two, either vertically or horizontally. BUT, if the act of swapping them fails to create a line of three or more, the animals will refuse to change positions, and will swap back to their original places. If you do make a line, all the lines of at least three animals will disappear, and new ones will fall into the grid to replace them. (NOTE: There is ALWAYS a line to be made somewhere on the screen. In the unlikely event that you manage to create a "locked" grid, the game will announce "NO MORE MOVE!" and give you a fresh grid for free. What it won't do is reset your timer, so don't hang around.)

You can create chain reactions in this way, and score more points - on level 1, the first line you create in a chain scores 10 points, the second 20, the third 40 and so on, doubling every time. In level 2 the first line scores 20 (doubling to 40, 80 etc), in level 3 you start at 30, and so on. Lines of more than three also score more points, and move the multiplier on a step, so if you get a line of four on level 1 you'll start the score chain off at 20 instead of 10, and for a line of five you'll start it at 40.

On reflection, it's probably best not to know what he's saying.

At level 7 the game gets more complicated, with the addition of a new type of animal to the grid. Actually, it appears to be a baby, and while this reporter is personally all in favour of babies being confined to zoos, it's hard to say quite what sort of a plot twist this represents. (In fact, looking at the screenshot above from the game's intro and the baby as seen in the shot below, the baby appears to be the child of the zoo manager. Which is disturbing.)

Finally, you may occasionally encounter a flashing block (seen in the shot below, just to the right of the centre) which rapidly cycles through all the animals. If you click on this block, it will instantly remove every animal of the type it's currently displaying, which might just get you out of a major pickle. (Animals removed with the special block count as if you'd removed them in the normal way.)

Is that blue one an elephant or an octopus?

And that's about it, except for the time limit. You start each level with a half-full time bar, which steadily decreases at an ever-faster rate as you move through the levels. You can only reverse the decline by getting lines, which each give you a few extra moments. by level 5 or 6 you can only survive a few seconds without making a line. Oh, and if one type of animals changes its expression to an angry-looking one, it means they're the last one left you haven't reached the target for, so concentrate on those.

It may also be the case that even more animal types appear later on, but it's a fairly safe bet that none of us are going to find that out any time soon. In the meantime, challenge-loving WoS viewers can set themselves an initial target of beating your reporter's current highscore of 16,710 points. Good luck with that, by the way.

Failing to wrangle the manager's children brings redundancy. Just like real life.

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