Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers mixes hidden object gameplay and wildlife education on Facebook

Disney Playdom looks for a second Gardens of Time-style success in the next few weeks with Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers, a Facebook hidden object game based on the Florida theme park of the same name.

Eric Todd, VP of product and creative director, and Lead Producer Patrick Hsieh walked Inside Social Games through a demo of the game. Developed by Disney’s Studio 24, Animal Kingdom Explorers is billed as a spiritual successor to Gardens of Time (which Studio 24 also created), though it very obviously has little in common with Gardens of Time spin-off Blackwood & Bell. The new game’s story will follow players as they join the Global Wildlife Research Team, visit locations around the globe and work with different nature specialists. Each nature scene contains animals to sort through and identify, as opposed to random items. Todd explained that players enjoyed learning about history in Gardens of Time, and so Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers will use the same kinds of techniques — like lists of animals’ names and pop-up facts —  to teach nature trivia.

Playing the demo for ourselves on Facebook reveals additional animal lessons hidden within Animal Kingdom Explorers. Players are given a list of animals to identify at the bottom of the screen, ranging from well-known creatures like chimpanzees to obscure critters like okapi. Puzzle tools include the usual magnifying glass and goggles, plus a a thermometer that indicates how “hot” or “cold” the mouse is to listed animals — which comes in handy if the player doesn’t know what an animal looks like.

Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers also includes a version of the garden decoration feature from Gardens of Time. Players build a nature preserve around the Tree of Life, the iconic centerpiece of the real world Animal Kingdom park. The screens that Todd and Hsieh presented included a wide variety of plants, animals and structures to place, though there was also a nod to Disney animation with Pride Rock from the Lion King on display. The preserve also generates bonuses when players put animals in environments they would normally be in, such as giraffes appearing next to the acacia trees from which they eat.

Although the Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers loading screen logo includes a dragon and a triceratops, Hsieh stated that only real world animals will appear in the game for the time being. He noted that fantastical elements and creatures may be included later on, citing how Tibetan yetis were known to be “real” for hundreds of years before becoming a part of modern day cryptozoological lore.

Hsieh also pointed out that players might occasionally see characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse wandering through their preserves from time to time. We’ve seen Playdom implementing Disney branding to great effect in GnomeTown and ESPN Facebook games, but this is the first Facebook game that we know of to feature Disney’s most sacred mascot.

Even without the Disney name at launch, however, Gardens of Time sets the bar high for Animal Kingdom Explorers. The game hit peaks of 17 million monthly active users and 4 million daily active users since its April 2011 launch, it currently brings in 6.4 million MAU and 1.4 million DAU. Whether or not Animal Kingdom Explorers is able to see similar success remains to be seen, but the game certainly looks like it’s got the potential thanks to the elements that made its predecessor so popular.