We have a long history of loving Bullfrog. They were honestly one of our favourite developers of the 90s and you can see why. Theme Park, Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper, and that is ignoring groundbreaking games such as Magic Carpet. It is fair to say that at it’s eight, Bullfrog was knocking of bangers like a drunk Scottish MP (that’s topical yo!). We have had Dungeon Keeper in our Top 50 since it’s inauguration and while they are different franchises, maybe Theme Park is the game to knock DK off of its lofty perch (17th on 2018 list)?
Theme Park didn’t invent the management simulation, but it was certainly one of the first where the object was outright fun, and yes I am including Populous/SIMCity in that sweeping statement. You are tasked with building a theme park. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. But Theme Park has a surprising amount of depth to it for a game from 1994. Want to dabble in stocks? You can do. Argue over the price of ice-cream? yep. Tell a handyman he has to spend an eternity sweeping 3 square foot? Check.
You start the game with limited money, you buy your first shitty park in the United Kingdom and you learn the ropes. Us Brits are a nice bunch, so we are polite, and don’t mind queuing for a bouncy castle. Now depending on the game mode you choose to play you can either do this in sandbox where all you need to worry about is money. Or you can play the more challenging modes, sim mode and business mode. Each setting unlocks another part of the game. SIM allows for research and other features, but business is where the *ahem* business is…
Keeping an eye on the money is always important, but now you have to manage 8 Ice Cream Kiosks and order in the product. You can’t sell over priced French Fires if you run out of chips. But what’s that, your competitor just bought 20% of your park? That bastard is making money off of you, and you forgot to set your research department to work? Well, enjoy those 4 crummy rides sure the kids will love 17 bouncy castles and 5 Snake Slides. Oh and look, your engineers and having lunch instead of fixing the the exploding Ghost Ride. You see, Theme Park Shines where I think Theme Hospital fails. In Theme Hospital you spend an inordinate amount of time issues commands which are ignored, or wishing you could tell a Janitor to stick to a certain path. Here it is all customisable. Hell, you can even add one way systems to your park. TOP TIP – DO. Creating a loop where they have to pass your over priced coffee shop 18 times leads to lots more sales.
This is a feature that I only just discovered, and I have been playing Theme Park on and off since its release in various formats.
Theme Park can be as hard or easy as you like. Sandbox mode will research for you and bar catastrophic stupidity you’ll see all the game.
But for a challenge, you can choose to sell your successful park in the UK and buy a Theme Park in Antarctica. Christ those Inuits are fussy. They don’t like your rides, they are poor, and there isn’t a lot of them. You can get away with slapdash park building with the polite Brits, but other countries populations are less keen than us to buy over priced coffee. So tat TOP TIP i gave you earlier will result in visitors fucking off and leaving. You also forgot to re-setup your research department didn’t you…
It all means the game keeps going. Yes you have more money (or less), yes the Nigerian Government rose land tax by 300%, but there is progression. Theme Hospital it is start again, same gameplay loop, research the same thing and fit it all in to a badly shaped building footprint where everyone complains about the heat. Theme Park never feels like it falls into this loop. Each level comes with clear differences, and subtle ones you might not notice. But you have the same footprint to build on. You improve your techniques, you can build barriers to fix exploits of visitors avoiding your over priced coffee, you can build transportation infrastructure, ou can even plan a head and leave space for your transport infrastructure!
Other versions of note?
Apparently the Jaguar version was shite, but that’s what you get for buying a Jaguar.
I had the Megadrive version AND the PlayStation growing up, and I prefer the Megadrive version to the PS1 version. If you can get a copy of it its a pretty faithful rendition of the the PC version just in lower quality graphics.
The PS1 version chugs like a chad if you have more than 8 people in your park. It does have a nifty walk around the park mode though. Which is super shit, but it was a nice feature back in the day.
What separates Theme Park from Theme Hospital is the sense of progression. The game changes, new challenges, new settings to activate to which increase the challenge, but also a simple sandbox mode unlocks from the start to teach you the ropes. You can invest as much time and energy to Theme Park as you like, but the more depth you add the more you’ll get out of it.
Theme Park isn’t the best management sim out there, other newer stuff have more going on by virtue of the improving technologies. But Theme Park still manages to stand out. It doesn’t get boring in the long term as there is always a new challenge. The only thing it is really missing is getting to be evil.
Pros: Depth, customisable, humorous.
Cons: Some issues with crashing, the vomit noise, MR Moneybags buying 30% of your park
Back in the Day:
Theme Park won PC Game of the Month and that was it really. It scored well in the 80s so never really achieved the upper echelon scores. The ports varied between average and good.
Also available on: MS-DOS, Amiga, 3DO, Mega Drive/Genesis, Mega CD, Amiga CD32, Mac OS, Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Super NES, Nintendo DS,