I have to be honest here: I bought Zoo Keeper 3D expecting to be disappointed by it.
I know that doesn't make much sense--why would I go ahead and spend my hard-earned money on a game that I was pretty sure I'd dislike? Well, the thing is, I didn't think I'd completely hate it. I just thought it would pale in comparison to the series' first handheld release, 2003's Zooo, much like that game's DS-based follow-up did.
So, imagine my surprise when I started playing Zoo Keeper 3D a few days ago and couldn't stop. And not only couldn't I stop playing it, but I couldn't stop grinning while I was playing it.
What's so fun about this iteration of everyone's favorite zoo-themed, match-three puzzler? I've got two words for you: Encho Battle.
That's the name of my favorite Zoo Keeper 3D mode, for those of you who aren't in the know (and I'm guessing that's a good portion of you). In it, you battle to the death (or something like that) against the game's balding curator.
The general rules here are the same as they always are in these Bejeweled-esque titles: rid the game field of as many tiles as possible by placing three or more of the same design--in this case, different animals' faces--in a row.
What sets this mode apart from the others included in Zoo Keeper 3D is that here, getting rid of alligator, giraffe, monkey and panda tiles earns the player "offense" points, while doing the same to the elephant and hippo tiles earns you "defense" points.
As for why you need either of those things: at the end of every round (they only take a few seconds), you and the curator--I'm assuming his name is Encho--square off a la Punch-Out!! If he has more offense and defense points than you do, your health meter decreases. Allow it to dry up completely and it's game over.
Something I love about this particular mode: it means business. As in, I've played it about 25 times now (at least), and so far I've racked up just seven or so wins.
Speaking of challenges, the "Score Attack" mode included here is pretty tough, too. That may be because each game is limited to a single minute, though--as opposed to the six-minute games found in the other Zoo Keeper titles.
You can extend that a bit, but I have to confess that I'm not entirely sure how you do it. I've been able to eke out games that lasted a minute and a half and two minutes, but that's it--and I have no idea what I did to earn those extra, precious seconds.
Zoo Keeper 3D features a few other modes as well, of course, but I've yet to play any of them. If you want to know their names, there's "Normal Game" (traditional rules apply), "Tokoton" (rid the field of 100 of each animal), "Quest," "Puzzle" (which seems similar to games like Nazo Puyo) and "Friend Battle" (versus mode, basically).
Two last comments before I hit "publish": although Zoo Keeper 3D's soundtrack isn't as stellar as the one featured in the first Zoo Keeper, it far from sucks. (In fact, the tune that plays throughout each "Score Attack" battle is largely responsible for my continued attempts at this mode.) Also, the little animations that play out on the top screen (while the action takes place on the lower one--if you choose) are a lot cuter and a lot more interesting than they have any right to be.
See also: 'One of the many reasons I'm glad I finally picked up Zoo Keeper 3D: it comes with an actual manual'