Image Source: PlanetZooGame
Outside of the likes of the classic zoo management games, namely Zoo Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon 2, there has, historically, been a lack of big-name games centred on animals, general wildlife, or involve playing as an animal. Goat Simulator managed to rise to fame through its oddity, and Tokyo Jungle was an underrated gem on the PlayStation 3, but neither were, at least initially, high-profile games. Looking at the slate of titles that have recently been released and are on the way, animal games are coming to the fore.
Just before looking into these great-looking video games, let’s venture into why developers are finally delving into the wildlife theme.
Raised awareness leading to a greater interest in the theme
One of the biggest changes, in recent years, has been the enhanced focus on the environment, the effects of global warming, and its impact on animals across the world. Another major influence has been the wide-reaching message spread by the BBC series Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. The original series were magnificent, but when they were released in 2006 and 2001, respectively, the general audience cared relatively little for humanity’s impact on the earth.
Now, the warnings about global warming are loud and clear, with more people exposed to stories concerning endangered wildlife and the environment. Mainstream news outlets and social media news feeds are also quick to jump on stories of people hunting animals, with droves of social media users, quite rightfully, shaming those who commit such acts. This has led to an audience that is much more interested in wildlife, meaning that there could be a demand or at least an interest in games within the theme. So, developers have started to delve into the theme. Some opt for a more realistic approach while some others like to explore a world where human presence has faded.
We may now be on the cusp of the golden age of wildlife-themed video games, with some very exciting-looking indie, simulation, and fully-fledged console games already here or on the way.
Planet Zoo (PC)
Created by the developers of Zoo Tycoon and Planet Coaster, Frontier Developments, Planet Zoo looks set to be the very best zoo-building simulation game ever forged. No longer bound by the restraints of consoles, Frontier is going all-out to build what they have labelled as the ultimate zoo sim.
Based on the many demos and reveal videos, Planet Zoo is going to feature a diverse roster of animals, a gigantic amount of customisation, and deep game mechanics which help people to learn about the demands of running a zoo and caring for animals while enjoying game challenges.
The ever-growing animal list features all of the favourites, like the Bengal tiger, grizzly bear, and hippopotamus but also features many more generally lesser-known animals, such as the Brazilian wandering spider, gharial, goliath frog, Indian rhinoceros, and Baird’s tapir.
Planet Zoo is available from 5 November 2019 on PC.
Bee Simulator (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
From the relatively new Varsav Game Studios, which consists of a very experienced team, comes a detailed, eye-catching game: Bee Simulator.
In the game, as you would expect, you play as a bee in various game modes, including a single-player story mode where you must save your hive from the human threat. There’s also an exploration mode where you can buzz around freely on a map inspired by New York’s Central Park. It’s also bringing back couch co-op with a split-screen mode that can be used for two competing bees or bees who want to work together.
Built to be easily accessible and enjoyable for players of all ages, Bee Simulator gives people the chance to experience the world through the micro perspective of the honeybee. Bees will be able to interact with plants, animals, other insects, and humans, featuring a soundtrack by The Witcher 3 composer Mikolaj Stroinski.
Bee Simulator is available from 14 November 2019 on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Away: The Survival Series (PlayStation 4, PC)
Of all of the animals that developers can feature as the central protagonist of their game, this may be the most bizarre. Created by Breaking Walls, Away: The Survival Series has you take on the role of a sugar glider to explore the vibrant natural world while a cataclysmic storm approaches. The developers say that the game’s story, its visuals, and the use of an animal character were inspired by watching nature documentaries.
A lot of the game is based on survival, eating insects, avoiding large mammals and predators, and gliding around the huge environment. The game mechanics look very fun, and the graphics shown so far are superb. While the sugar glider appears to be the protagonist, it has been revealed that there are some features within the game that allow you to play as other animals, including a lizard, praying mantis, and crabs.
Away: The Survival Series hasn’t been given a specific release date as of the time of writing but is slated for release in 2020 on the PlayStation 4 and PC.
Beyond Blue (PC and consoles)
Much like Away: The Survival Series, Beyond Blue is also based on nature documentaries. However, rather than merely use the programmes as inspiration, Beyond Blue developers E-Line Media are working with BBC Studios and the creators of Blue Planet II, creating a game that ties in with the awe-inspiring series as well as include the BBC team’s unused footage from the series, per Push Square.
The game takes place in the future, with the player tasked with the job of uncovering the mysteries of the deep ocean. While it appears at this point that the main appeal of the game will be its visuals and the true-to-life reflections of marine fauna and flora, it will also feature a rich story mode. The gameplay itself is said to be challenging, involve important decision-making, and feature resource management. So, it’s much more than a walkthrough adventure title.
Beyond Blue was originally set for release on PC and consoles in early 2019, with a new and official release date yet to be announced at the time of writing.
First came online browser games where you would drag a shark up and down to nibble on fish. Then came the mobile app game sensation Hungry Shark Evolution, which led to Hungry Shark World on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Now, there’s a more in-depth rendition of the classic shark game genre with Maneater from Blindside studios.
As is often the system in these games, in Maneater, you grow through eating other animals and people to get bigger and stronger, allowing you to eat bigger things and evolve to use different adaptations. Maneater, however, sounds particularly crazy – and also very, very fun – as you can unlock powerful skills like metallic teeth and mutated breathing, according to Kotaku.
While an official release date is yet to be stated, and PC being the only platform announced so far, publishers TripWire have said that Maneater should be available by June 2020. As it stands, the game is also set to be an Epic Games Store exclusive for one year, which could prove to be somewhat of a coup for the upstart computer game launcher.
Tamarin (PlayStation 4, PC)
Taking the form of a modernised but traditionally-inspired 3D platformer, Tamarin will probably be the most appealing game on this list to family gamers as well as those who still enjoy the classic game form. Created by Chameleon Games, Tamarin is a third-person action-adventure game that stars one of the most adorable and agile characters ever put to video gaming.
The trailer showcases all of the traditional adventure and action elements with exploration of the scenic islands and the use of attack moves to get rid of enemies along your journey. However, after showcasing the beautiful setting, hinting at the tragic storyline, and showcasing the gameplay, the trailer takes an odd but exciting turn with armed ants and beetles storming onto the scene.
Tamarin is scheduled for release in Q4 of 2019 and is coming to PC and the PlayStation 4.
Lost Ember (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
Lost Ember has been one of the most highly-anticipated indie games of the last few years, with its incredibly ambitious gameplay feature of being able to inhabit all of the other animals of the game being very appealing.
From Mooneye Studios, this adventure game has you take on the role of a wolf to explore the ruins of long-forgotten civilisations to uncover the truth behind the demise of humanity. But this is no ordinary wolf: it can inhabit other animals such as parrots, fish, moles, and many more to find secrets held in places out of reach for the wolf. Through playing as all of the animals of this environment, you’ll discover the fate of a fallen civilisation.
Initially expected for release in March 2018, the €326,000-backed Kickstarter game also missed its announced 19 July 2019 release date. Now, Lost Ember is slated for an autumn 2019 release on PC, with versions for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One presumably coming a little later. It is also being developed for virtual reality platforms HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and possible PlayStation VR.
If animal and wildlife-themed games are of interest to you, these look to be among the most interesting and entertaining of this new wave of inspired titles.