Only you can save the zoo. It’s time for some gambling!
The zoo is facing tough economic times and might be forced to close. What to do? Why, make the zoo animals race and gamble on the outcome, of course. That’s the plot of Pechanga Zoo Derby in a nutshell, and though it does combine slots and a zoo sim in a unique way, it ends up as a bit of a jumble.
You first learn the backstory for Zoo Derby via a hilarious if completely politically incorrect YouTube video. Because of the downturn in the economy, the Louville Zoo is on the verge of bankruptcy. If the zoo goes under, Billy Buck has designs on buying all of the animals and placing them in Billy Buck’s Shoot-A-Rama, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
To avoid that fate, the animals end up racing to save the zoo (and their own skins). That’s where you come in. Starting with the zebra, you’ll enter the animals in races, hoping to make enough money from their winnings to save them all. You can also wager on races you aren’t entered in – presumably because every zoo in the land thought this might be a good way to boost their bottom lines.
Racing doesn’t require you to do anything but spin a slot handle, which should come as no surprise since Pechanga is a casino company. Every spin costs one slot token, and you’ll have enough time to spin four or five times during a race. The symbols that come up on the reels control how fast your animal runs: A bullhorn or monkey is nice, three lightning bolts produce maximum speed, and Billy Buck actually slows your animal down. The goal is to finish in the top three to earn some P-Dollars.
Wagering on other races means selecting one of five animals in the running and an amount of P$ you are willing to risk. It’s completely a matter of luck, and it would have been nice if there was a pari-mutuel aspect to it, or really anything to spice it up a bit.
Once you have the basics down, it’s simply a matter of racing and betting enough to save the rest of the animals. There’s a rhino, a kangaroo, a camel and a mystery animal all awaiting some good news, and they can also be entered in races once you bail them out. Zoo Derby keeps individual race stats and achievements for each animal, though there’s no difference between them out on the track. The Gamezebo fact-checking intern tells me a rhino and a kangaroo have roughly similar top speeds, so maybe this isn’t a big deal. What does matter is that there’s nothing else to do in the zoo for now.
The artwork has some cuteness to it, yet in a quirkier way than in other zoo titles. You don’t notice it at first, but the animals and characters are actually flat, a la games like Paper Mario, giving them an extra sense of playfulness.
It’s unfortunate that there’s not more of that feeling in the overall game. Pechanga Games promised an unfolding storyline, and the areas of the zoo marked as “Under Construction” make it appear that more is planned. Until then, it’s fun to poke around in Zoo Derby, but unless you get hooked on the slots-based racing, you may not stick around long enough to keep some of the animals away from Billy Buck’s BBQ. Anyone for some grilled camel?