Forgotten Gems of Gaming: THEME PARK

In the good old days of 1994 a small developer from UK, responsible for a stunning array of titles, released an absolute classic into the video game world.

In the good old days of 1994 a small developer from the UK, responsible for a stunning array of titles, released an absolute classic into the video game world. That game was Theme Park. The brilliant Bullfrog Productions created a broad catalogue of high quality games from the late 80€™s and through out the 90€™s with several games worthy of the title; forgotten gem. Bullfrog crossed genres, from high paced racing in Hi-Octane to the hellish simulator Dungeon Keeper, Bullfrog maintained their attention to detail, excellence in game design and a trademark brand of unconventional humour. Console exclusivity is a very modern problem, Theme Park was released on the many platforms at the time, some are fondly remembered and some less so; Atari Jaguar Amiga, CD32, Sega Mega Drive, Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn, Super Nintendo, Macintosh, Sega CD and MS-DOS. Some ports were better than others, mainly based upon the control system of your chosen console; the mouse and keyboard are the better choice for simulation games. It might be worth noting that this game writer had the pleasure of playing the game on that most user-friendly of operating systems; MS-DOS, with its black on white text that was replaced by the splash of colour when the game loaded.

In Theme Park the player is given a blank canvas, in the form of a field somewhere in the UK. The player has all the tools to create a profitable park with the aim of attaining enough cash and value to relocate to another park of the world. The player would have to put up with all the stresses and strains that come with running their park, from dejected staff demanding a pay rise to budget allocation. Each ride would need a queue put in place, paths would need to be laid. Rides would break and a handyman would need to be called out, closing the ride to the public for a short time. Toilets needed to be distributed around the grounds and enough cleaners had to be hired to keep the park tidy. It wasn€™t all-bad though, the player was able to pick from a selection of rides, restaurants and shops, even allowing the player to custom build roller coasters after researching into the subject. Research was a key part of the game; it allowed the player to make advancements in each aspect of the game. To get bigger and better rides as well as to extend the capacity of the bus, from which punters were dropped off at the entrance. Research was represented by a series of pipes that contained green liquids, the concentration of research was determined by turning wheels to allow the flow of more liquid, a random yet memorable format.
Customers would flock to the park, in search of the perfect day out. The colourful little pixel people would wander round the park, buying merchandise, eating food and go on the rides. But it wasn€™t just the in games characters that could enjoy the rides; one of the highlights was the ability to try out your rides for yourself. At the push of a button the player was treated to a first person cut scene of particular rides... at the time, this was mind blowing. The game does feel dated by today€™s simulation game standards, with other, more complex titles taking control of the amusement park construction game market. Before Bullfrog Productions effectively met their end in 2001, they made an attempt to revive the series in the form of Theme Park World and Theme Park Inc., both of which failed to capture the feel of the original. The Roller Coaster Tycoon series is a worthy successor in the simulation department, but the game aims for realism and lacks much of the charm that made Theme Park such a great game. Theme Hospital is €˜Parks spiritual successor, although based around the running of a medical institution instead, the game captures the tone, charm and endearing humour of its older brother. If it is not possible to boot up the old Amiga and play the game again, the title was re-released on the Nintendo DS and the port does a fairly good job of replicating the original game experience. Also more recently ported to the Playstation Network, but the controls for the DS are far more practical for the games style.

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