NimbleBit has garnered somewhat of a legendary reputation around here for being one of the few outfits that consistently releases free to play games without the predatory IAP mechanics that surround typical free to play games. If you haven't played one, in NimbleBit games, IAP truly feels optional. Thankfully, it seems that this vibe persists through their new publishing effort, as Disco Zoo [Free] (Which was actually developed by Milkbag Games) perfectly fits on the App Store shelves next to Tiny Tower [Free], Nimble Quest [Free] and their other titles.

I've been streaming the game quite a bit on the TouchArcade channel, but if you've missed the many explanations of how the game works, here we go: You're a zookeeper responsible for collecting new animals and keeping your existing ones awake to generate money to buy additional aircraft to fly to increasingly exotic locales to bring a wider variety of animals to your zoo.

dz1Starting out, you'll have a hot air balloon, and with this hot air balloon you'll be able to fly to the farm and start rescuing farm animals. This costs a small amount of coins, and seems to reliably increase in cost the more attempts you make to collect farm animals. Flying to the farm brings you to a five by five grid which you'll get incredibly familiar with the more you play Disco Zoo.

Collecting animals involves playing a shape-based guessing game that at times feels oddly reminiscent of Battleship. At the start of each excursion the game will tell you which animals are available on this particular outing. For instance, there might be a rabbit and a pig hidden that you need to find. A pig is a two by two block of pig tiles, while a rabbit is a four tall block of rabbit tiles. You've got ten taps you can make to reveal individual tiles on the game board to collect 'em all and doing well in the game involves memorizing each animal's unique tile patterns.

So, knowing the shapes of the animals, there's a bit of strategy you can employ. Knowing that the rabbit's tiles will be arranged in four vertical tiles means you can start tapping across the middle row horizontally to find the start of the grouping. Once you do, you shift course to revealing tiles up or down until you've hit all four rabbit tiles, resulting in one rescued rabbit for your zoo.

In our example, the other animal we need to find in this sample outing is a pig. As mentioned, it's a two by two block, so you can intelligently disregard any space on the game board that wouldn't allow a square of pig tiles to reside. If the rabbit we revealed was in the fourth column over, for instance, we know for certain that the pig tiles can't possibly be in the fifth column, so we disregard those tiles.

dz2But, as I said before, you only have ten tiles that you can reveal with each run, so if you burnt a bunch of moves trying to find the rabbit, you might not have enough to hit all four of the pig tiles even if you're lucky enough to find them all on the first try. At this point, it seems smarter to actively go for tiles you know the pig won't be at, as each "missed" tile has the chance to reveal coins, or the premium currency, Disco Bux.

Sometimes you find yourself really needing additional moves, and this is one of the ways that Disco Bux come in to play. If you've got an animal you really want on an outing like a mythical rarity creature, and you don't find them in your ten attempts, you can trade one Disco Bux for five more moves. Alternatively, watching a short advertisement also grants the chance to reveal another five tiles.

And that's basically the core puzzle element that powers the game, which you'll be grinding away at hundreds of times as you fill your zoo with animals. With each new animal you collect, a new coin-earning exhibit opens in your zoo. Collect enough of the same animal, and you'll level up that particular exhibit, which keeps your animals awake longer and increases the amount of coins they earn while they're awake.

The asleep/awake mechanic is the requisite timer element of this free to play game. To maximize your income, you'll always want all of your animals awake, which means responding to notifications and checking back often to tap some buttons to wake up your sleepier animals. It's not that bad though, as the animals with very short awake timers also don't make that much money. So, even though your sheep will be asleep after ten minutes, it's not like having them sleeping and their exhibit earning you no money is putting you at much of a handicap as they earn so little anyway. Apparently, sheep just aren't that interesting to zoo visitors.

dz3While fiddling around inside of your zoo to wake up your animals, a couple different things will happen: Coins spawn randomly from your visitors which you'll need to tap to collect and (much more rarely) they'll leave Disco Bux behind that you can snag. There's also a search element kind of like Tiny Tower's "Help find this bitizen!" where you'll need to tab through your exhibits searching for animals that escaped. Finding them also results in free coins or Disco Bux.

The "disco" part of Disco Zoo comes from the disco party functionality. By dropping a single Disco Bux (or more if you want the party to last longer) all of your animals will wake up and you'll earn more coins from all your animals as long as the party is in progress. The additional income is nice, but the way I've found myself preferring to use disco parties is to wake all my animals up in the morning. Disco Bux are reasonably easy to come by, at least in small quantities, and just letting a Disco Party run for a minute seems preferable to the somewhat tedious process of waking every single animal in your zoo up.

...Aaaand that's pretty much the game. Keep your animals awake to earn coins, spend those coins going on excursions to rescue animals, reveal the right tiles, level up your exhibits, and eventually you'll have a large enough zoo and enough coins to unlock the next aircraft to get to the next area to rescue animals in. Repeat.

dz4While Disco Zoo totally nails the "virtual ant farm" feel that Tiny Tower did so well with, it feels like you hit a point that there's just not that much to do aside from grind away at searching for animals to level up the size of your zoo to unlock the next aircraft and subsequent search area pretty quickly. Outside of the loop of waking up your animals, earning coins, and spending those coins getting new animals there isn't much more to the game.

Aside from iCloud save syncing, there isn't any online component to speak of, so you can play the game without any kind of internet connectivity (even in airplay mode) but this also comes with the significant drawback of there being no social element to the game to keep you playing in any kind of competition with your friends. Checking out other farms in games like Hay Day [Free] provides a strong motivation to keep playing, as you can see what other people are up to and how much your farm is lacking in comparison.

Disco Zoo not only lacks anything like that, but there isn't really any customization to speak of. You just collect as many animals you can, and... earn coins. The puzzle element is fun, but without having some uniquely customizable high level zoo or other unlockable goodies to clearly work towards eventually having to show off in your zoo it seems like you sort of just play it until you get bored of the gameplay loop and that's about it.

To be fair, the whole "minimum viable product" strategy is a thing in free to play gaming, and something that a large amount of free to play titles shoot for on their first launch. It's very typical for these games to start out small and add in more features as the playerbase matures and reaches the point where they need new content or features to keep players coming back to the game. It might be premature to judge Disco Zoo on the "Now what?" vibe it gives you, but the game does feel disappointingly shallow at times.

Regardless, playing until you hit that "Now what?" point is pretty fun, particularly without the feeling of required IAP, which still makes Disco Zoo pretty easy to recommend checking out. I just hope that NimbleBit and Milkbag games can keep up with features and updates before the "Now what?" leads players to moving on to different games instead of waking up their sleepy animals.

TouchArcade Rating

  • CzechCongo

    Spot on review.

    Like all nimblebit games, this seems like one I'll be really into for a while and then drop completely when boredom sets in.

    • Kevin897

      Yeah, I feel once I unlock the "North Chopper",I'll be done with the game. Unlocking new regions takes way to long after you get Savannah.

      • Slothwerks

        It's not that bad. The game came out on Thursday and I'll probably be in the Jungle (after North, after Polar) by mid-week.

  • SpacePenguinBot

    No mention of the $3 ZooPedia?

    • Eli Hodapp


    • hakamhakam

      Yeah, that one seem unfair especially when you already know how they look like, why do we have to pay for information too. Seem really weird.

      • MattRix

        you don't have to pay for it, that's the point 🙂

      • drlemon

        Trainyard. Widescreen.

      • Eli Hodapp

        The puzzle mechanic in the game is entirely focused around learning and finding patterns though...? By that logic is it also unfair that you have to even find the animals instead of them just being given to you?

      • hakamhakam

        I see what you mean and I agree that new animal you didn't have should keep their pattern secret but they really is no point to get information about animal pattern that you already knew. What I end up doing is write the pattern down on a paper but I feel like I shouldn't be doing that in this day and age. Just an opinion but yeah I can also see how that would destroy the experience for other.

    • OhNoItsTheVillian

      Doesn't sound too bad if there's not timers.

  • Dave Metzener

    So far, Disco Zoo has been the most engaging NimbleBit title I have played. Sure, there is a lot of dead time waiting for the coins to roll in. That doesn't bother me. I don't typically spend a large amount of time playing games on my phone anyway.

    For myself, the challenge is to fill up all the pens with the max level animals. Similar to Tiny Tower getting all the unique floors built. Yes, once that is accomplished, the game gets boring. However, that takes a while to accomplish and it's a pretty fun ride to get there.

    I was wondering why the "TA Plays" video showed seeing the animal patterns in the first area and not in the second or third. You need to ZooPedia to do that. I don't mind paying the $3 to get it. Not because I want the help, but because I want to give NimbleBit some money so that they will continue to make great games and maybe even charge some money for them instead on the ad revenue system they are currently using.

    I hate freemium titles. I thought that Tiny Death Star was ruined by the ads that kept popping up. I don't mind the ad/video to get 5 more attempts in Disco Zoo. It's my choice. TDS was forced down my throat and when they started advertising weird non-TDS related things and then the pre-roll videos, I killed the app from my phone. Hopefully, the TDS model will not happen in Disco Zoo.

    • Cheeseball

      Since release, the only ads that I've seen appear when you choose to view the ads to get more turns when rescuing animals. I haven't had any popups yet.

  • slammajamma28

    This game could benefit from
    Game Center achievements.

  • r3d5

    Oh man I love this game! The best improvement they made from Tiny Tower was that it's now all horizontal. SO GOOD! It's like a whole new game!

    But the best part of this game is the waiting. Omg it's so much fun! It's like a game that's still fun when I'm not playing it! Awesome!!!!!!!!!

  • Spyder

    As is typical for a nimblebit game, there are a limited number of ads to watch. Once you see them all you have to wait before more become available.

  • thiagovscoelho

    This is by the makers of Tiny Tower, which I did not enjoy because it was a pixelated thing that nagged you to keep managing a tower so that your tower may grow and your tower required much attention or moneys to succeed and I found that this aspect in it was awful

    So I'm not sure I can trust it

  • Ramaz1234


    • Jared Nelson

      Calm. Down.

      • Ramaz1234

        I'm sorry it's just really annoying when an amazing game like Bug Heroes two which got game of the week can't get a freaking review even afte elite 1-2 weeks. Where Disco Zoo gets a review a day after it's release...

      • Jared Nelson

        Well Disco Zoo is a much simpler game compared to BH2. Plus Eli played the beta prior to release, so was in a position to have a review done quickly. Just be patient dude. We're a small staff and we do the best that we can 🙂

  • ConraDargo

    Totally not worth 4 stars in my opinion, not with such repetitive gameplay. This game was fun for the first 5 or so minutes, but then everything went downhill after that - once I discovered how shallow the gameplay really was.

    Two days (with a total play time of around 20 minutes) later, I removed it from my phone. A real shame since I tought that it had potential, but the game is no where near as fun as I had hoped for it to be.

    Charming graphics though.

  • NovaDesign

    I initially thought Disco Zoo was super shallow, I still think that, but after playing for a few days the developers intentions are clearer. Nimblebit knows how to make (relatively) complex strategy/sim games and decided to go ultra casual on this release. An exercise in simplicity, good vibes & compulsive collecting. The lack of a substantial game or strategic options is not an accident, this is more an escape from reality than a game. The trick is you eventually have to go back to reality, and if you want to stay you pay.

  • trazer

    While not for everyone I guess, my wife is full on addicted to this game now that I told her to try it, and my daughter and two of her friends are playing non stop too. I think I've found it's target audience lol it's not me but it sure has appeal for some.

    Now if there was a way to view each other's zoo and compare and such they really have something going.

  • Funem

    The game is good but has some major issues. Firstly if you love to swipe and scroll this game is for you, The graphics are tiny but the animal cages are huge one screen each animal type and guests tip you a lot in front of each cage, which means you have to scroll to see the tips - sometimes they even disco bucks - which means you have to keep scrolling to get the tips, a lot. The next issue is the cost of playing each area seems to go up to quickly making replaying areas really costly and seems to rise to quickly. Lastly, buying the extra discobucks is fine but paying for the encyclopaedia seems to be a bit to far for me. I love the concept but the encyclopaedia should be either free or each page unlocked if you successfully uncover the animal. I cant see this holding my attention to long, but for free, I don't see that being an issue. I would have given it three stars.

    • Olip96

      There is a map if you don't want to scroll all the way to a specific area or animal.

      Also, guests only tip you on the screen you are on, scrolling is unnecessary.

      • Funem

        True but as they tip large amounts by your visiting each screen, using the map makes you miss out on large amounts of tips. You can generate more in tips sometimes than you can earn. Yesterday I had a 1k tip loads of 100 tips and two disco bucks by scrolling for a couple of min as an experiment. Also you have to scroll a lot when looking for "missing animals" so you do have to scroll through a lot of screens if you have opened quite a few animal cages..

  • Halloweenhead

    I'm enjoying it and my wife started last night and has been having fun as well. I think this is a return to form for them although I can't imagine it'll have the legs of Tiny Tower or Pocket Frogs for me personally.

  • fourfourfun

    I play Nimblebit games until quite far down the line, so feel qualified to chip in here.

    I emphatically dispute the statement in the review about predatory IAP mechanics. The Nimblebit games are the purest form of IAP driven games I have ever encountered.

    Outside of the wait and brief glimmer of memory game, there is often little more to the game other than the IAP. Decide to pay money for the game and you actually remove the entire game itself.

    IAP requires this, to ensure that there is a constant incentive for people to spend money, it needs to manage player interaction. In this instance, there is no ability to build a zoo to your designs (each slot auto allocates), as such there is no strategy to the building of your zoo. Nothing as sophisticated as, for example, a Theme Park, where your placement, development, crowd influence and management can all have an impact on your success, an actual tangible aim to test your wit and skill.

    Here, there must be no success, just a steady fixed curve progression through the game to ensure the carrot of IAP remains as alluring as possible. Anything that can be subject to flair or talent must be stifled as it reduces income.

    Sleep is there to ensure you cannot earn too much money, requiring you to pop in for your one interaction of fingerpress to keep things going, also adding a chore element to then dangle aspirational shortcut relief at the end of your wallet.

    As such, I always feel like the Nimblebit games are on the edge of genius but essentially hamstrung by their funding mechanism.

    If you are ok with this, then fine. Although I would expect it to be never returned to once you see behind the curtain. The first thing you must always do with games on mobile, it seems, is ask yourself "if I remove the waiting mechanic and the ability to purchase currency, is there a game still left underneath?". If a "find the animals in 10 guesses" game is what you are after, then that is what you have. If you want more, then I guess you have to endure more of a real life wait.

    • Anna

      It's perfect for what it is--a thing you do between other stuff that's near-mindless and fun. Sure the Battleship puzzle is simple but it's at least a game. As much as I loved Tiny Tower, there isn't really a /game/ there.

      I also like that one of the IAPs was the Zoopedia. I ended up buying it; paying to skip content is insipid (which is what pretty much all "freemium currency" boils down to) but the Zoopedia increased my enjoyment of the game. It's a smart IAP to grab people like me who see through the math of the game and have some patience, but wouldn't mind a small fee to support the game and enhance it a bit.

Disco Zoo Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 4