Tap Zoo: Christmas brings the Tap Zoo experience to the North Pole.

If you’ve ever dreamed of being Santa – flying through the air in your sleigh, bringing joy to children everywhere, able to eat mountains of cookies and milk without fear of heart attack – then you also have to dream about all that upkeep of the reindeer and any other creatures near your Canadian North Pole home. Tap Zoo: Christmas lets you have all the fun of taking care of the animals, but without all the back-breaking work and smell. It’s too bad that the game has less longevity than Christmas pudding.

It’s not that the game is inherently bad, per se. Tap Zoo: Christmas has all the right components to it. Creating your very own Christmas-themed zoo is a very straight-forward social game with lots to do. As you earn more experience, gold coins and snowflakes (the premium currency which you use to buy important things like special animals), your zoo gets larger and larger. The animals that live there produce money you collect at regular intervals, and tending to them while building new parts nets you experience.

There is a lot of depth to the gameplay, in that there is a lot to do once your animals are there. Certain animals can be cross-bred to get new, exciting additions to your zoo. You can also hire specialized helper elves that make building your zoo faster and easier.

The structures, like fences or vendors like the Christmas Rum stand are equally varied. The menus for building are easy to navigate, and have lots to choose from. With enough money and experience, there are enough options to make your Tap Zoo: Christmas experience truly unique to your taste.

 Christmas

The social aspects of Tap Zoo: Christmas are effective as well. You are able to visit friends’ zoos (usually found through Facebook Connect, but there are some random zoos available without enabling this feature) to help tend to sick animals and collect money and experience. Connections to Tap Zoo: Christmas‘ servers are lightning fast, which is a nice change from the usual loading screens.

But all this solid social gaming is marred by some serious drawbacks. Aesthetically, Tap Zoo: Christmas looks like last year’s leftovers. Sure, it may have looked good at one point, but nowadays we tend to expect more. The graphics are tiny and relatively low-detail. Some of the animals have sparkle to them (particularly the reindeer and some of the buildings), but most are bland. The one music loop will have you selecting the mute option in no time, unless hearing jingling bells non-stop appeals to you. After ten minutes, it probably won’t. Like Tap Reef, Tap Zoo: Christmas suffers from abysmally-small text, which is a real strain on your eyes.

A major issue with Tap Zoo: Christmas is its sheer greediness and obvious cash-in status. For example, in order to progress, you are forced to work within Tap Zoo: Christmas‘ affiliate download program. What this means is, if you want to get anywhere, you’ll have to download several of their affiliated apps and launch them once in order to receive those important snowflakes (unless you feel like shelling out real cash for them). This isn’t an option; once you level up once, a pop-up appears basically forcing you to download and run the original Tap Zoo to receive enough snowflakes to buy what you need in order to progress to level three. This is simply shameful. And if you want your zoo to flourish before Christmas 2017, you have no choice but to jump through this hoop.

 Christmas

This game is nothing more than a re-skinned Tap Zoo, and makes no effort to hide this. The original game’s premium currency was stars rather than snowflakes. If you go to the in-game store to purchase more snowflakes, the banner at the top guides you to purchase stars – nobody bothered to notice that it hadn’t been changed in a cursory way.

The ultimate problem with Tap Zoo: Christmas is its limited-time appeal. As a player, will you really be wanting to tend to Rudolph and Cupid next July? Special editions of games are great (see Angry Birds Seasons) but social games rely on having a long tail to them, a reason to keep playing. Somehow, asking players to spend their real money and countless hours on something that realistically has one month of life in it seems too much to ask.

The skeleton underneath Tap Zoo: Christmas is decent enough. Players intrigued by the gameplay should definitely check out the original Tap Zoo for something a bit more long term. But Tap Zoo: Christmas is hindered by its own gimmick, and can be easily dismissed as a holiday cash grab.