My favorite PS5 launch game just got a sequel — and I’m hooked

Planet Zoo screenshot
(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

When the PS5 launched in November 2020, most early adopters spent their first few weeks with the console dying endlessly in Demon’s Souls, swinging around a snow-covered NYC in Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales or platforming through PlayStation history in Astro’s Playroom. But not me. I was busy building the theme park of my dreams in Planet Coaster: Console Edition. 

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To this day, I still find myself regularly returning to Planet Coaster just to tinker with my meticulously designed parks or attempt one of the harder career mode levels. This criminally overlooked game has never once left my console’s hard drive even more than three years after the PS5's debut. It’s easily among my favorite games of this console generation to date. 

So, naturally, when its spiritual sequel, Planet Zoo was confirmed for a console release, via the aptly named Planet Zoo: Console Edition, I was thrilled. And now after getting hands-on with the game, I can confirm it’s as charming and engrossing as its predecessor, and it even manages to take things an extra step further.

Planet Zoo Console Edition: $49 @ PlayStation Store

Planet Zoo Console Edition: <a href="https://store.playstation.com/en-us/product/UP2514-PPSA18027_00-PLANETZOOOOOOOOO" data-link-merchant="store.playstation.com"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">$49 @ PlayStation Store
From the makers of Planet Coaster and Zoo Tycoon, comes a fresh take on the wildlife park management sim, Planet Zoo. After being locked to PC for more than five years, Planet Zoo: Console Edition brings this critically acclaimed zoo-builder to PS5 and Xbox Series X with a whole safari worth of animals and modes. Plus, the controls have been fully reworked for console play. 

Let’s build a Zoo

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

If you’re not familiar with the “Planet” games, they’re management simulations from Frontier Developments, a British studio that previously worked on the beloved Zoo Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon franchises. As the name indicates, in Planet Zoo, your job is to build and maintain an animal park keeping your guests and the animals themselves happy.

One of Planet Zoo’s biggest strengths is its variety of modes. Whatever type of experience you’re looking for, you’re almost certain to find a mode that appeals. Career mode drops you into a series of pre-made scenarios and tasks you with completing various goals that range from constructing a set number of animal habitats to getting your guest satisfaction score above a certain threshold — and trust me, Planet Zoo guests can be pretty darn demanding.

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

On the other end of the scale is sandbox mode, which gives you a completely blank canvas, access to every single item in the game, and unlimited funds to build your ideal zoo without any restrictions. Well, there is one restriction, the “zoo complexity meter” which limits how many objects you can place in a single zoo. But this is to keep performance consistent, and is fairly generous with how much you can place. 

Planet Zoo also offers a challenge mode which is a hybrid of career and sandbox, you still start with an empty plot of land, but you have a budget to work with, and must unlock new items by completing research tasks. Finally, there’s a franchise mode that allows you to build zoos within a shared online economy, forcing you to work towards community goals in order to succeed and earn rewards.  

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

I’m very much a goals-orientated player, so career mode is where I’ve spent pretty much all my time with Planet Zoo to date. An improvement I noticed straight away compared to Planet Coaster is that you can now customize your level of difficulty in each career mode level, which is an appreciated touch as it’s allowed me to make the intro stages harder, as those are otherwise a cakewalk if you're familiar with the genre. 

Perfectly crafted for console 

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

To be honest, management sims such as Planet Zoo are usually better when played with a keyboard and mouse. Because your interactions with the game are almost entirely tabbing through a vast network of menus and submenus, it’s easier when you can quickly click across the screen rather than having to thumb through every option first. 

But, I must give Frontier a lot of credit for the control scheme they created in Planet Coaster, which has been replicated (with a few very minor tweaks), in Planet Zoo. Navigating the game’s mesh of menus is a breeze even on a joystick, and smart decisions have been made to ensure the player experience is not hampered even when played on a console controller. Plus, Frontier avoids utilizing the dreaded on-screen cursor which is always cumbersome on a controller, so extra kudos there. 

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

Perhaps the one area that does suffer on console is construction. It’s definitely still possible to build intricate structures and symmetrical animal pens using a controller, but some of the precision that comes with using a mouse is lost in translation. Fortunately, Planet Zoo: Console Edition supports keyboard and mouse, so players have that option if they find that a controller just isn't getting the job done.   

Lions and tigers and bears… 

Having played dozens of hours of Planet Coaster, I’m naturally feeling a great sense of familiarity with Planet Zoo. The menus and UI are almost identical, and the visuals are too with many assists reused or repurposed. Plus, the general gameplay is roughly the same as you seek to build an impressive-looking park with all the amenities your guests could ever want — after all, happy guests spend more money! 

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

Of course, the key difference in Planet Zoo is that instead of designing adrenaline-raising roller coasters, you’re constructing luscious habitats for a whole herd of animals ranging from African Savannah Elephants to Asian Small-Clawed Otters. To be honest, before playing Planet Zoo myself, I wondered if caring for animals would be a little less engaging than building coasters, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how compelling I find keeping my creatures content. 

In Planet Coaster, once you’ve designed your perfect thrill ride, you open it to the public and move on to the next, but in Planet Zoo, your animals need constant care. It’s not enough to just build them a nice habitat and then forget about them. Neglect any of your animals for too long, and they will become unsettled, get ill and eventually can even die. Being required to constantly check their needs has led me to create actual bonds with these digital beasts, and want to see them thrive. 

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

During one of the early career mode levels, I accidentally placed two incompatible animals in the same habitat. This lead to them clashing, and one of them mauled the other to death (don’t worry, Planet Zoo is a family-friendly game, there was no blood involved). After discovering this, I wasn’t just annoyed because my in-game progress was impacted, but also because I felt that I’d failed my duty of care. That’s a feeling I never had during all my hours with Planet Coaster.  

Goodbye, spare time 

Even after just a few sessions with Planet Zoo, it’s already very clear to me that, just like it’s predecessor, it’s going to be stealing an awful lot of my free time in the weeks ahead. Much like Planet Coaster before it, I expect it’ll become a permanent fixture on my PS5’s hard drive for years to come. 

Planet Zoo screenshot

(Image credit: Frontier Developments)

Frontier has once again done a phenomenal job bringing a game that was clearly designed for PC initially over to console with almost no hiccups. The controls are extremely intuitive, and the level of content on offer is vast, and there's even a Season Pass if you want even more animals to care for, and extra career mode levels to enjoy. However, it costs an eyewatering $69, which is more than the base game! 

Planet Zoo is a game that you can very easily lose an almost frightening amount of time playing. Just last night, I sat down to "quickly" create a habitat for a pair of Grizzly Bears, and an hour later, was still perfecting the placement of each plant, and making sure that my guests would have the best viewpoint of the bears possible. 

Planet Zoo is a very special game, and while it’s taken a little longer than I’d expected for it to make its way over to console (the game originally launched on PC in 2019), I’m thrilled that it’s finally arrived, and it’s just as brilliant as I hoped. Now, I’m off to go check on my zoo, it’s almost feeding time and the animals are getting hungry. 

Planet Zoo is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X and PC.

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.