Written by  :  Mr. Eight-Three-One (1638)
Written on  :  Jul 19, 2014
Platform  :  Windows 3.x
Rating  :  4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars4.29 Stars

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Welcome to the zoo, zoo, zoo...

The Good

Previous review: Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds

Info and discussion: http://www.mobygames.com/forums/dga,2/dgb,5/dgm,197698/

Humongous finally had their first hit accomplished. They were known for making using computers a popular pasttime for the youngest ones. Riding high, they gave us the topic of discussion today, Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo. Everything seems to point to the higher ups looking at this as the magnum opus of the Junior Adventure line; Nimbus Games especially adored this one, making it the first game to get the mobile treatment and marketing it more than any other game. So, wow, this game must be the best one, right? RIGHT!? Umm...

Okay, before you go sending your hate mail towards me, I'm not at all saying this game isn't great -- it is. I just don't know if I'd say it's their best work, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This time, the new Cartown Zoo is scheduled for a grand opening. The game begins with Putt-Putt being asked to deliver some zoo chow to the zookeeper, Outback Al. Once he arrives, though, things aren't quite going too well -- six baby animals are missing from their homes, and Outback Al has had no luck finding them; it wouldn't matter anyway, seeing how he has a lot more to worry about. Putt-Putt, being the kind car he is, volunteers to help out. Certainly a step backward from the outlandishness of going to the moon, but it still manages to keep your interest alright.

Since we're now in the hand-drawn era, Putt-Putt gets a complete makeover. He is now much shorter (length-wise) and slightly taller compared to his last appearance, and his eyes are now vertical ovals. I wouldn't doubt it took a lot of time on the drawing board to get his appearance right; I'm quite satisfied with what the end result was, especially after getting nightmares from the original boxart illustrations of the DOS era. The animation is still a bit rough around the edges; the closeup scenes can be a real eye sore at times, particularly Baby Jambo the elephant's. For the most part though, it's gotten a fair amount better compared to Freddi Fish. It still baffles me how they were able to animate everything in this game by hand.

Of course, the hand-drawn graphics wouldn't do the game justice if the environments weren't done well, and man are they ever. There are three very unique areas of the zoo to explore: Arctic Land, Grasslands, and Jungle Land. Each and every one of them are well put together and contribute to the zoo atmosphere tremendously.

Gameplay-wise, most things are the same. Putt-Putt's dashboard still has all the functions of the DOS games, with the only addition being an ignition key that serves as a quit button. Putt-Putt controls the same here as Freddi and Luther did; instead of free-roam, he now moves to a fixed location on the screen with full animation. Thankfully you can now skip the transition scenes using Escape, making long trips a whole lot less painful.

The puzzles are still geared towards the younger ones in this case. Just like Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon, they encourage you to poke around with your surroundings. There are still no item chains, but some puzzles cannot be solved without first finishing another one. For instance, even if you know how to rescue Kenya the lion cub with the proper item, you still have to figure out how to cross the river first. I don't have any real complaints with any of the puzzles this time around, as I think they got the difficulty balanced quite well with no real frustrating moments.

The Fat Man is here for a third time now to compose this game's music, and it's just as good as it ever was. Each area gets its own style of music, and they all accompany the game great. I still don't know if I found it as memorable as the music in Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon, but I do think it's a step up from Freddi Fish. Of course, special mention has to go to the musical number provided for this game, The Zoo Song. It's an upbeat, lively, and at times humorous song that provides a fantastic idea of what the tone of the game is. While a lot of people have said it's ear-wormy and incredibly catchy, I don't think I'd go that far; the chorus will probably stick with you, but I never found myself humming it all the time. Nonetheless, it's a great display of effort that is well-animated and well-composed.

The characters are a huge step up compared to the last two Putt-Putt games. Most of them breathe more life in the game, particularly the baby animals who all have a backstory and a few with a personality (Baby Jambo is probably the most memorable with his easily scared trait). It's fun talking to the characters just to hear what they have to say, even more so than in Freddi Fish.

Minigame-wise, this game unfortunately falls flat. There is one called Animal Tag where you are given a number of animals to find, and they pop up one by one, and you have to click them quickly enough. It's hard to describe, but the best way to put it is that it's a kid-friendly version of those shooting galleries. The problem is that, even at the target audience, it's too easy. I remember being five years old and still getting bored by it, even on the hardest difficulty. There is also a hockey minigame that plays a little like four-direction Pong. It's certainly more interesting than Animal Tag, especially with the announcer and crowd added in for more fun, but it still gets old fast.

There is another just-for-fun area, though, that may not exactly qualify as a minigame, but is very memorable in its own right. In Jungle Land, as you cross the river, you can choose to shoot the rapids, and what we get is a break from the typical relaxed nature of the game and something that is akin to quick time events, complete with fast-paced music. Instead of Putt-Putt stopping at every intersection, you have to click which way you want to go before the game picks the default path. What makes this part interesting is the many different branching pathways to take and all of the shenanigans Putt-Putt gets into as a result. Freddi and Luther even make a cameo here! This may even be the most memorable part of the game, which says a lot seeing how it has no bearing on the plot.

Attention to detail is Humongous's middle name, and this game is no exception. One of my favorite additions to this game is the camera. Towards the beginning of the game, you can pick up a free camera from the gift cart and take pictures of any of the animals or characters throughout the game. The fact they went through this sort of trouble is a real testament to the hard work they went through to make this game possible; each and every animal gets a funny picture. Even the animals in the background have a photo to be taken. The click points are always fun to mess with as well, and I love the addition of speakers near the six main animal homes, as they give kids a chance to learn real-world facts about each of them. The other things to keep you occupied are common as well, including dancing penguins and rhyming monkeys. You may also change Putt-Putt's color, and it thankfully requires no hassle this time; just go to the paint shop in the Grasslands and pick your color.

One thing that I don't like about this game, though, is the lack of changing paths on each playthrough. Unlike Freddi Fish, the puzzles do not change each time. This severely limits the lasting appeal of the game, which is really a shame. It's one of the main reasons I don't point to this as my favorite Putt-Putt game when people ask me.

The Bad

(I have nothing witty to say this time, sorry)

The Bottom Line

You probably think from all my praise I absolutely love this game, and I certainly love a lot about it. Unfortunately, the lasting appeal is what keeps me from saying it's the magnum opus. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly a fantastic game and I enjoy playing it to this day, but did it deserve to get re-released and publicized up the wazoo? In my opinion, absolutely not. I think there were a lot more worthwhile games from the Humongous team that deserved more respect, but by all means, if you ever come across this game, check it out and see for yourself. You may like what you see.

I can most certainly say this is where Humongous grew their beard though. They finally got the hang of what their games were mostly about and ironed out most of the issues that were in the past games. Despite all of this, the next game would end up being more or less a footnote. See you then.

(Up next: Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse)