Theme Park is a Theme Park management/business sim from way back in 1994 made by Bullfrog Productions. It was very popular at the time and a lot of people have good memories of it, myself included. It has had a few ports, including Playstation and Nintendo DS, versions but this post will be about the original DOS version.
This is the first post I’m going to make in a mini-series about old Theme Park Sims. I’ll probably also explore some other business management sims from back in the day at some point.
Theme Park was the first game in a series of Theme and Design games by Bullfrog. The series included: Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Theme Aquarium, Sim Theme Park and Theme Park Inc.
On to Theme Park, anyway! This game has three modes; sandbox, sim and business. I started out with Sandbox and with the tutorial on to learn the ropes.
You get a few preferences when starting the game about how happy your guests are, how much money you get, how hard your opponents are etc. You also get to pick a park location somewhere in the world. The starting point is the UK, where you are given a free park (for some reason), but later you are able to sell your park and choose a new location. The locations have quite in depth detail, including weather conditions, inflation rates, cost of land tax and more.
The advisor will guide you through the game and let you know what you should be doing – to a degree, at least. In my experience, he tells you to increase the prices of your shops, then your guests will complain that you are making too much profit. Whatever I did, I could not get my guests to stay happy. I picked “happy” guests on the setup screen as well, I dread to think what fussy guests are like.
Sim and business mode unlock some of the more advanced features of the game. Sim unlocks research, which means you can choose where your research funding goes and how much to spend. Business mode unlocks the stock market and also requires you to manage your shop’s stock levels. In the stock market you can buy and sell shares and it also allows other people to buy shares in your park. This is allegedly a very good way of making money, but I didn’t try out the full mode. The business management side of this is not much fun for me and I find the game fast paced enough without having to constantly check on stocks and micromanage my shops.
Once I learn the ropes, I decided to try play on sim mode, something I never dared touch as a kid. Prepare to find a copy of the manual online if you’re playing anything other than sandbox, because I had no clue what I was doing. I ended up putting only $1 into research and wondering why I didn’t research anything because I didn’t know how to increase funding. The main advantage of sim mode is that you manage your own research, whereas in sandbox you just get your latest ride and shop offering at the end of each year. I found on sim mode, it becomes far too easy to overspend, so I just felt stuck between having a boring park in sandbox and hemorrhaging money in sim.
There’s a few other “beginner traps” that I fell into. You need to set patrol zones for your handymen, otherwise litter will pile up like crazy. You also need to place sign posts to show people where your rides, shops and exit are, otherwise they’ll just never find food and drink outlets and complain forever.
I really want to like this game, but it feels so difficult to get everything balanced, guests seem eternally unhappy and I just can’t seem to find much success with it. There’s a few strategies I read online, most of which seem aimed at the business mode of the game, but whenever I’ve tried, my shop stocks get absolutely wiped out and I get left with little to no source of income. With a little perseverance, I think I could come round to this game, but with much better offerings out there, it’s hard to recommend this on much other than nostalgia.
I did find a way to actually enjoy the game though – through shamelessly cheating to give myself free money! I also found out something funny, if you leave your name blank the game defaults your name to “IT’S YOU BUDDY” (and then causes the game to crash). With money cheats, my theme park is doing well, I’ve got some fun rides, but my guests are still fairly miserable. I don’t think anything would make them happy.
Theme Park is currently in Good Old Games’ summer sale for £1.29, ending 15th June!