Puzzle games have come a long way since the days of Tetris and Klax. Variation, however, is far from endless, as clones of puzzles have appeared on the scene, gotten together with other clones, and had little clone babies. Every once in a while, though, a clone comes along which merges a classic puzzle with just enough original kitsch to stand out above the crowd. When I first ran across Kiteretsu's Zoo Keeper Quest, I thought, "oh no, not another Bejeweled clone!" But much later that night, as my wrist cramped and my eyes watered from a puzzling addiction, I decided this one was something special.
The game is, indeed, a clone of the Nintendo DS version, which is a clone of an earlier shockwave version, which was essentially based on the popular Bejeweled formula. The objective of the game is to line up three or more identical animals to remove them from play. Move the animals by switching or sliding adjacent tiles. New animals will fall into the free spaces in a Tetris-like fashion.
In a normal game, you are advanced to the next level once you remove the required number of animals from the board. On the first level, three of each animal is required; on the second level, four are required, and so on. A rabbit is thrown into the mix on level seven, making things even tougher. (Rabbits may reproduce like mad, but never where you want them to, here.) If one type of animal is left out, or the last to be removed, you may notice a distinct change in temperament.
While the moody animals are a nice touch, it is the Quest mode which makes this game enticingly addictive. As the zookeeper, you are set to 10 different tasks by your angry little boss. Your progress along the way is graded in Xs, triangles, and Os (A double 'O' being the best, and an X the worst) which are tallied up at the end of the game. Since the game is mostly written in Japanese, here is the goal for each of the quest levels:
- Catch 20 lions, leaving the other animals.
- Catch 15 more giraffes than pandas, or 15 more pandas than giraffes.
- Catch 30 groups of animals by cause and effect. (Eliminate rows or columns underneath to cause a chain reaction, a process which boosts your points in normal mode. You can keep matching groups as the reactions take place.)
- Catch only one group of each animal. If you repeat any one, you have to start your selection over.
- The slot machine: Click the flashing box to win a prize.
- Now, don't click the flashing box. (Usually, if you do, it will clear all the animals of the chosen type.) Instead, get it to fall to the bottom of the screen.
- Catch seven groups of animals without causing a chain reaction.
- Catch five groups of four or more animals.
- Catch ten groups in columns, not in rows.
- Score as many points as quickly as possible to fill the timer.
Mastering just a few of these levels can be quite challenging, as habits often don't carry well to the next level.
In each mode, your progress for the level is displayed across the top of the screen. If you get stuck while in normal mode, you can click the binoculars on the right for a hint. In the quest mode, however, you're on your own. In either mode, don't worry if you run out of moves. You won't lose, as in the game Bejeweled. Instead, the level will reset itself, and you'll score a bonus.
With clever variations, an emotional lot of animals and an uppity, cigar-smoking boss, Kiteretsu's Zookeeper will keep you busy and entertained for hours on end.