There’s a million-dollar grant on the line for the best-run zoo in the country, and a plucky young animal lover named Zulu is determined to win it. With her tender loving care, and your help, she’ll restore a run-down zoo to tip-top shape and snag the prize. That’s the premise behind Zulu’s Zoo, a hidden object game from Little Games Company.

In your role as supervisor of the rehabilitation effort, you’ll visit the various zoo habitats (such as the arctic pavilion, North American habitat, and bird sanctuary) and perform clean-up and other chores. Zulu has her work cut out for her, because the zoo is littered with all manner of junk, including phones, gardening tools, musical instruments and even stereo equipment that must be picked up and put in the trash. Other chores include taking pictures of the animals, finding animals of a certain type (such as 10 bears that need to be weighed, or 20 birds), feeding animals by dragging grass, meat, fish or insects onto them, and removing flies from the terrarium.

Each task you complete earns stars, and once you earn enough of them you can take a test that will increase your rank and allow you to access new pavilions. During the short test you’ll get to show off your knowledge of the animal kingdom by arranging animals into their proper place in the food chain, matching animals with their correct habitat, giving them the correct food, and so on.

These stars also serve as the game’s hint system. You can use a star to reveal the location of an item, and if you use too many to be able to take the test, you can always earn more by finding them in the scenes, or playing mini-games.

The game is untimed, and the penalty for random clicking is light (the screen blurs for a few seconds).

The ability to earn stars and then spend them on tests and hints is an interesting new twist, and anyone who’s ever dreamed of working with animals will likely get a kick out of the trivia questions and variety of zoo-related tasks. However, Zulu’s Zoo lacks the polish required to really stand out from the crowd.

The scenes aren’t terribly well put together. Sure, the animations on some of the animals are fun (like fish that actually swim through the scene, an owl that flaps its wings, meerkats poking their heads out of the grass, and a seal leaping through a hoop), but not all of it impresses, such as an image of a koala sliding up and down a tree which was supposed to represent climbing. Needless to say, the amount of random junk in the scenes makes a lot of them look more like a hillbilly’s front lawn than a zoo, and some of the animals are too hard to find thanks to making them almost transparent, hiding them almost completely behind something else, and other rather cheap tactics.

The mini-games are thoroughly lacklustre as well. There are four of them: memory matching, guess the animal, channels and jigsaw. Memory matching (turn over two cards to match all the pairs of animals) and jigsaw (put together a small puzzle of an animal photograph) are innocuous enough, but the other two can be downright frustrating.

The guess the animal game involves trying to guess the animal depicted in a photo by turning over tiles one by one. If you turn over too many, however, you fail the game. The problem is that not all of the photos are zoomed in enough, so you could waste all of your clicks turning over sky, rock or grass and not get a single glimpse of the animal itself. The channel game is a poorly conceptualized arcade game where food arrives in trucks and you must change the direction of conveyor belts so that the food travels to the appropriate animal (fish to the penguin, and so on).

Finally, although not a deal-breaker, the game’s grammar is strange at times. Expect sentences like: "We found out that the temperature of the water isn’t optimal. We must check if the animals don’t have any health problems." Another small gripe is that although Windowed mode is a menu option, I couldn’t get it to actually work for me.

Zulu’s Zoo is a perfectly playable hidden object game with a decent length (perhaps 3-4 hours), but it suffers from a few quirks and it doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowd. If you’re an animal lover or die-hard hidden object buff, by all means download the demo.

For similar games, try 3 Days: Zoo Mystery, Bob the Builder: Can-Do Zoo, and Australia Zoo Quest.