Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen! Please stand in the queue and await your turn on the teacups. Waiting times should be no more than five minutes, and everyone will get their turn. This week, we take a walk around my favourite game of all time, Theme Park.
Before you commence reading, I want you to click on the video just below this paragraph. It is the soundtrack for the SNES version, although I’ll be talking about my Megadrive/Genesis experience. It’s only fitting you listen to the awesome soundtrack while reading about this game!
Now, here we go. Theme Park, created by Bullfrog Productions which was founded by Peter Molyneux, is a theme park management and building simulator. You would be the park’s owner and must place rides and shops and hire staff in order to turn a profit. The more amenities and attractions in the park, the more you could charge at the door. Not only that, but you could also decide how much salt was on the fries and how much ice was in the cola. On the PC, PlayStation and Saturn versions, increasing ice would affect your levels of stock. Salt would make your visitors thirsty and encourage more beverage sales, and increasing caffeine in coffee would make them move around the park much faster. Genius!
With the money made from door admissions, you could choose to research various aspects of the park, including bus size, more types of staff and entertainers, bigger, more exciting rides and better, more profitable shops and games for your customers to play.
As well as entertaining your visitors with clowns and tricksters, you also had to take care of your rides. For every two or three rides you planted in your park, it was worth your while hiring another mechanic. If the ride began to spew grey smoke, it was time to shut it down and wait for the mechanic to fix it up again. The ride would be closed for minutes, but it was much better than having an injury or fatality on your hands. You could also hire guards to protect the park and its visitors from bullies who would show up now and again to pop balloons and ruin the toilets. That reminds me, you always had to have enough toilets to go around. Upgrading to Super Toilets was always the best thing to do, to keep the smell fresh in the surrounding areas.
Though building parks and making money was always the priority, you also had to deal with staff and stock negotiators. Fail these, and your park would have no fresh stock of goods or your staff would go on strike. This was made possible with an interesting yet annoying minigame of ‘stretch your arm out to find the best deal’. Wherever both hands met, a deal would be struck. This could mean lower wages/stock prices or increased wages and stock costs. They popped up once or twice a year, but could be the difference between a profitable year or a red-lined one.
Each park you built would be on a different plot of land in a different country. Each country had its own fee to start off, its own economy and wealth, and sometimes a different looking terrain. It didn’t make too much of a difference, but in the snowy locations, cold drinks weren’t the most demanding product. Coffee sales would go through the roof there though! There was no real end game to Theme Park. Just build parks, wherever you wanted, and have fun. There was no storyline, just a park guide offering you advice for your parks that ran across the bottom of the screen, advising you on raising the ticket prices, or dropping the price of beer, or increasing the cost of ice-cream. Seeing your stats every year, where you were losing and gaining money, and considering selling a stall near the back of the park just to place it closer to the front door, where visitors had more money. Lots and lots of strategy, but of the fun variety.
Manually build rollercoasters with additional loop-de-loops, construct water slide routes, and build an awesome go-kart track for fans, with fences and trees on the clear sections of land to add a touch of beauty and nature to your park upped the visual appeal of your park and made the park visitors happy. At the end of the day, profit and visitor happiness were your goals.
Theme Park, to this day is still my favourite game of all time. To think back and imagine how such a deep game could have existed on the Sega Genesis/Megadrive and Super Nintendo back in 1995/96, with all the features and sound effects and music. It was a full on management title, which was a rare sight on these consoles. Even now, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, or even last gen, finding a resource management or building title isn’t easy. Sure, there’s Zoo Tycoon on Xbox One, but it doesn’t feature half the stuff that Theme Park allowed. Theme Park was magical, and it still is. The last I played it, via an emulator, I had tonnes of fun and felt like a teenager all over again, reliving my youth, laughing at the sounds of kids throwing up, and hearing the boos when a ride closed for maintenance.
Theme Park received two sequels in its lifetime, one being Theme Park World and the other being Theme Park Inc, although none were as touching as the original title. Theme Hospital was the follow up to Theme Park and was also considered a classic, replacing park building with hospital building, but that’s another story for another day.
While we now have Rollercoaster Tycoon and many other management games, including Jurassic Park Genesis, Theme Park will always be number one for me, providing me with hundreds of hours of entertainment, and making me want to open my own theme park. To this day, I haven’t. Yet!