One of the questions you get asked ad nauseum as a small child is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” There are some fairly standard responses children give: vet, teacher, celebrity…caterpillar, perhaps? However, there was one specific profession that grew in popularity during my final year of infants’ school: theme park architect. The boys (and the tomboys, like moi) wanted to build astonishingly vertiginous, loop-de-looping montrosities with a blatant disregard for G force and spilled brains. The other girls often played with Barbies and Polly Pockets, but that was totally lame, and besides, Barbie’s hair reminded me of worms. Stuff the dollhouses – I wanted to build my very own Flamingo Land.
Part of my fascination with theme parks from the age of 6 onwards came from my aunt owning a copy of Theme Park for the Playstation 1. I’d stay at my grandma’s house every other Saturday night while my parents went out for dinner, and during this time, me and my aunt would often play video games together. Theme Park was one of those games which my aunt would helm, while I sat back and watched; however, unlike Theme Hospital, I felt much more comfortable about having a stab at it on my own. While a lot of the variables which could make or break the success of your park (such as the content of salt in the fries and ice in the soda) were very demanding on such a youthful and tiny brain as my own, I managed to be described as a “shrewd businessman” by the in-game advisor often enough to withstand at least a couple of fiscal years. My time managing “Potatoland” was quite laid-back, as opposed to the panic and disorientation that came from being far too young and stupid to play Theme Hospital (yet taking the reins anyway).
I got my own PS1 in October 1999, and a couple of Christmasses later I asked for Theme Park World. I felt like I’d played Theme Park to death at my grandma’s house, and I wanted to play a game from the franchise entirely on my own. When I unwrapped the shiny jewel case that Christmas morning, if memory serves correctly with Anastasia blaring in the background (looove that film), I couldn’t wait to boot it up.
So once upon a December, the next chapter in my Bullfrog journey began. Was it as joyous an experience as I’d expected? Or did 9 year old me break out the scented gel pens to write hate-mail to Peter Molyneux, for palming the series off on an incompetent team?
On the whole, Theme Park World was an absolute blast to play, and I would even perhaps recommend it above the original Theme Park. However, it depends a little on what type of “rollercoaster sim” fan you are as to which game I would recommend. Furthermore, there is a definitive edition of Theme Park World that you absolutely MUST play, if you’re going to go for Theme Park World and expense isn’t an issue.
Theme Park World (Sim Theme Park across the Atlantic) was released in PAL regions for the PS1 in February 2001; there were also releases for the PC, PS2 and Mac OS. Theme Park World is best described as Theme Park‘s little brother: a little brother who shotguns sherbet packets, runs headfirst into walls and shoves crayons up his nose. It’s a little more cartoonish, a little more playful and a little dumbed down in comparison to the original, but I embrace it and love it exactly for what it is. It’s an intense shot of fun, while the original Theme Park can come across as a bit too stern on occasion; I find this a little grating at times, because if I wanted a less silly rollercoaster sim experience, I’d simply boot up Rollercoaster Tycoon. Bullfrog sims are at their best when they can have a good laugh at themselves, and Theme Park World did this with gusto.
As you can see above, the Theme Park intro was also quite funny, but also a little bit on the creepy side and a little unsure of itself. From Theme Hospital onwards, Bullfrog started to really nail the humour in the Theme series.
Theme Park World is a little less sandbox than its predecessor, in the sense that there aren’t a list of countries to buy planning permission in. Instead, there are 4 distinct park areas, which are unlocked by acquiring Golden Tickets. These Tickets are earned through completing various objectives in your current park, such as attracting a certain number of visitors. This is similar in many ways to the progression path in Theme Hospital, as completing tasks in one hospital will unlock your next choice; in both games, you can approach the forthcoming stages in many different orders, though the last level is always the same. However, the number of stages is considerably greater in Theme Hospital. No matter: there is plenty of content rammed into each stage of Theme Park World, meaning that the game doesn’t feel empty.
Each park has its own distinctive style: your starter park has a jungle theme (with a very catchy theme tune which is still burned into my brain a decade on), while later parks are built around spooky, futuristic and fantastical themes (the latter being like something straight out of a Lewis Carroll tale). My favourite by far was the fantasy park, with huge ladybird ornaments and grass fronds as decorations and bouncy castles shaped like strawberry jelly. While you could unlock fantastic rides and shape your parks around a variety of different landscapes in Theme Park, there was no variation in theme from country to country. For those of us who were permanently strung out on E numbers from overdosing on Percy Pigs and Yazoo during the early 2000s, the change of pace from park to park held our attention and was heartily welcomed.
As with Theme Park, there was a lot of micromanagement to be done. All of this was carried out under the watchful eye of each game’s advisor. In Theme Park, it was a voiceless and rather stern-faced big-top ringmaster; while it felt good to be given a pat on the back from him, and it was quite funny when he pointed out how mean (accidentally, of course…) you were being to the customers, he never did much to actively add to the atmosphere of the game. Instead, it was left to the slightly twisted sense of humour buried deep within Theme Park. Case in point: the ability to let your rides break having failed to employ handymen, leading to bouncy castles flying off into outer space with customers still aboard.
With Theme Park World – at least in the PAL version – the voice contributed enormously to the bouncing-off-the-walls atmosphere of the game. Lewis Macleod did an excellent job of portraying Buzzy the ant advisor as a rather obnoxious yet gloriously punderful ally throughout the game. Not only that, but dear Buzzy really did his job well; the indications he gave concerning what I could do to improve my park were exceptionally precise and very timely. As a result, I never found getting to the end of the game a chore. However, this also meant that the game didn’t provide much in the way of serious challenges. This may be a sticking point for you if ramped-up difficulty, with a smidge of frustration on the side, is your jam.
Lewis Macleod did such a perfect job on the voice that I would thoroughly recommend that you opt for the PAL version above the NTSC version where possible. It’s perhaps analogous to the different voiceovers between the PAL/NTSC versions of Gex 2 – Leslie Phillips voicing Gex as a smooth-talking upper-crust lothario blows Dana Gould’s giddy Adam Sandler-esque caricature out of the water. The game is intended to be a riotous laugh from start to finish, so go for the version that really does it justice.
Lewis Macleod is really passionate about toilets, apparently.
Another important way in which Theme Park World differs from its predecessor concerns the opportunities to witness your very own park through the eyes of a paying customer. In Theme Park, you have the option to “experience” each ride through selecting it and manually triggering a cut-scene. If you’re about 6, and your prior theme park experience stretches to getting stuck down a helter skelter and bawling your eyes out, this might be exciting to watch; otherwise, it’s dated quite a bit.
The interaction mechanics of Theme Park World have also aged rather poorly, but at least you’re actually immersing yourself in the game, rather than sitting back and watching a cut-scene. The key difference (at least between PS1 ports) is that in Theme Park World, you can board the rides yourself, seeing out of the eyes of a passenger (though this is arguably worse than the Theme Park cutscenes, as you simply watch the environment spin around a bit to the soothing tones of girlish screaming). However, the most interesting element is the ability to take part in the sideshows in order to win bonuses. These mini-games are rather primitive but do add a whole new dimension to what would otherwise be a pure simulation game.
As with Theme Park, the variety of rides you can build in Theme Park World is quite impressive for a PS1 game, though there does come a point where you run out of new park additions to research and you’ve bought all the Golden Ticket extras. The rides in Theme Park World do have a little bit more flair and quirkiness due to the different-themed parks, my favourite being the Jelly Bounce, of course. However, Theme Park World does run dry on content around the 10 hour mark; beyond that, the replay value tails off significantly. Furthermore, you won’t be able to build the gargantuan, stomach-churning super-coasters that can be crafted within the Rollercoaster Tycoon series. If what you’re looking for is realism and endless design potential, you’re best looking elsewhere.
However, there is a clear dichotomy concerning this kind of simulation game, particularly on earlier hardware: either they’re going to be funny, or they’re going to be obsessive with detail. With Theme Park, Bullfrog had not yet perfected where on this divide it was going to fall. Theme Park was a detailed game, but it didn’t take this to the level of the Rollercoaster Tycoon series. However, Theme Park World knows exactly what its goal is – to tickle your funny-bone. Where comedy is the goal, hardware isn’t as much of a barrier, so the entire game just comes off as more focused and therefore as more polished.
However, I had a great deal of fun playing both games, so feel free to opt for Theme Park, if Scottish advisors attempting William Shatner impressions isn’t your thing. Just please don’t buy Rollercoaster World – that game is an abomination.