Theme Park
for PC (DOS)

Mr Creosote:Popular Vote:
Company: Bullfrog
Year: 1994
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Business / Cartoon & Comic / Humour / Promotional
Language: English, Deutsch, Français
Licence: Commercial
Views: 45330
Review by Mr Creosote (2022-12-03)

Theme Park! Wow, just wow! This one was huge back in 1994. It seemed like Bullfrog and Molyneux were at their popularity peak. Which usually occurs when someone's artistic peak is already behind them, but they are already living off past fame. Yes, easy to say in retrospect, but how to know that at the time? One way or another, the world was blown away by their latest game.

Happy visitors

In a number of respects, this was for good reasons. The extent of micro level simulation in this virtual amusement park was just breathtaking. Every single visitor having their own needs, their own mood, or so the marketing slogans went. And indeed, all those little visitor figures walking around the park could be individually selected and their stats looked into.

A theme park, in real life as in the game, is of course designed to squeeze as much money from each of these visitors as possible. The Sim City style construction of walkways and structures allows for a lot of optimization in this respect. That is, compared to the alternative of simply managing everything through abstract menus, which could still have been a viable approach at the time. Of course, you'll put your souvenir shops where everyone just has to pass by. Ideally, when they are in a good mood. Like at the exit of a particularly popular ride.

Yes, buy those overpriced balloons, you tools!

The sandbox approach, coupled with the colourful cartoon graphics, just works. The first hours of playing are a truly wonderful experience. There is so much to try out, so much to discover during this initial exploration phase.

Though then, it is a Peter Molyneux game, and maybe the first to very clearly show those signs which would make his increasingly bad reputation over the years which followed. Specifically, Theme Park simply feels unfinished. And I'm not even talking about the frequent, never patched crashes here.

This unfinished state really becomes apparent after longer playing times. The draw, as discussed, really lies in the perceived depth of the simulation which, after all, turns out to be completely shallow and at the same time hardly manageable. How do those two observations come together?

Needlessly decorated haunted house

Much of the tinkering offered to the player turns out to be trivial or meaningless. The default example you will read in any coverage of the game is to make the fries more salty so that you will sell more drinks. There is no downside and as such, there is no actual decision to be taken. Very salty fries might as well just be the unalterable default setting. Same for the caffeine, the burger fat etc.

Players can spend countless hours optimizing their parks according to intransparent criteria in order to make visitors happier. Put up signs where to go, keep toilets clean. Don't just drop rides, walkways and shops, but put some nice scenery around so that everything looks nice. Though none of that will actually have a relevant impact on visitor happiness, finally. Of course it looks much nicer to surround the haunted house with some swamp, dead trees etc. But in gameplay terms, it is meaningless. The game offers all these options, but it's only in the player's mind. What really helps instantly, on the other hand, is two things: fast rollercoasters or just enabling fireworks. The latter will make everyone happy regardless of any other factors, so far that it almost feels like cheating.

Soda stock is running low

As far as the unmanageability is concerned, the completely awful artificial intelligence must be considered. Visitors have the tendency to just get lost or even stuck, no matter how many signs you put up. Worse, unsupervised handymen default to mowing grass, a completely useless activity, while the park is buried in garbage. Assigning fixed routes to them is a theoretical possibility, but the interface for it is an abomination working about 15% of the time. Likewise, mechanics will sit idly munching their sandwiches while defective rides will explode right next to them. Entertainers apparently prefer spending their time chatting with each other instead of staying put where they have been assigned to. OK, the last thing may be realistic, even ;)

On top, several meta game features amount to nothing. Higher difficulty levels introduce aspects like supplies management for food and drinks. If not ordered on time, considering delivery delay, your shops run out. But let's be honest, this is just busywork. There is absolutely no interesting decisionmaking, no actual player consideration attached. Therefore, it does not increase difficulty or complexity.

High resolution mode

There are other parks located somewhere around the world. Every year, players receive a ranking of the parks according to several criteria, such as “most popular”, “best rides” or “friendliest park”. Though what's the point? You cannot even see these other parks, so why would you care whether another one is considered “more friendly”? The only “interaction” comes through the stock market, enabled on highest complexity level. A feature maybe inspired by Railroad Tycoon? Though if it was, it was copied without understanding its purpose. In the other game, trading stocks of companies which act in the same game world, on the same map, made for an additional strategic layer of actual competition. In Theme Park, you trade stocks of parks which you don't see, which you are not in any real competition with, as all of them can turn highly profitable at the same time.

Meaning Theme Park is chock full of mechanics and features which go nowhere. They just exist for their own sake. The design is incomplete, as it doesn't nearly manage to tie all those things together. It seems complex at first glance, but the simulation is finally laughable. It doesn't make Theme Park into a horrible game. As in Sim City, the appeal really lies in fulfilling objectives you have set for yourself rather than “succeeding” in ways suggested by the game. Thanks to the appealing visual style, parks can become quite nice to look at, the busy moving about of the little persons beautiful to watch. How long will this appeal last? At most through one park, or until a frustrating, unrecoverable crash. I've never heard of anyone who then moved on to another country, as suggested by the game.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2000-12-18)

Your rich aunt has just died and you are her heir! Overpowered by joy, you go out to tell off your boss. But then you notice a silly sidenote in the testament: You are only allowed to spend the money on building Theme Parks, and the profits can only be spent on additional parks. So you give in to your fate (you can't go back to your old job anyway after what you've done to your former boss) and start planning!

After setting several things like the difficulty level, you're taken to a world map. Here you can choose the location for your first park. But you don't really have much of a choice as the only decent and affordable place is England. The Antarctic would also fit to your financial situation, but the number of potential visitors is not too high there. Later, you can also open parks in all the other parts of the world!

No matter which country you chose, the amount of land you get is always the same. It's a flat square which ends with a fence. In this area, you can fulfill your dream of a working park. Visitors arrive via bus and go straight to your main gate. There they have to pay to get in. But that's not the last time you've seen some of their money! While all the rides are free, you only build them to attract visitors and keep them happy, i.e. make them stay, most of the money is made with the shops you've (hopefully) built.

Each visitor's needs and mood are constantly recalculated individually. So if he's happy and he sees a gift shop, he'll be more than willing to buy your overpriced crap. If he's hungry, he'll go to one of the fast food temples or restaurants. You can set the prices for everything sold in the park. Every visitor is buying a baloon? Why don't you make them a bit more expensive then? Maybe this dumb cattle won't even notice - hehe.

But there's also another customizable component in some shops. How salty should the fries be? Better make it much, so that they get as thirsty as possible. Oh, what a surprise: just next to it you can buy cola... This is a pretty obvious example. But what about the amount of coffein in the coffee? Or the fat in the burgers? The water in the alcohol? Find it out for yourself!

You also have to manage your staff. This consists of cleaning people who collect the trash and remove the vomit stains from the ground, mechanics who repair rides and entertainers who entertain (oh really?) bored visitors. Depending on your difficulty level, there are also some more options (or not ;). For example, you don't have all the rides and shops from the beginning but you have to research the more advanced things. Another field you have to spend money on. Or you have to make sure there are enough stocks of food to satisfy the needs of the customers. Not to forget the stock market where you can buy the opponent's parks. Oh, and of course negotiations with the labour unions, including strikes.

So Theme Park can be played as a simple sandpit-game, but also as a serious economy-simulation. It's something for everyone! The only negative aspect is that it lacks a bit of change. Most of it becomes routine after some time. But until that happens, you can spend many weeks with it!

Comments (2) [Post comment]

This is one of the greatest games ever. Love it.