Theme Park Reader Review
Theme Park DS
Let me start out with a confession: I really, truly, deeply and profoundly love Theme Park. I always have, and I always will. It's the first computer game I remember playing on my ancient PC, back when VGA and SVGA were the best graphics you'd ever seen. The intro video, the music, the complexity. It's the first game that ever required me to develop strategies and it taught my nine-year old self how to work stock markets and negotiate staff costs. For having created Theme Park, Peter Molyneux can do no wrong. Black and White may have been crap, Fable a disappointment, but Theme Park? That's his ticket in heaven.
So you can understand why I'd be excited to wander into my local games emporium and spot Theme Park DS sitting on the shelf. Wary, after years of disappointment at the hands of the likes of Theme Park World and Theme Park Inc., I gingerly lifted it and inspected the packaging. And lo! My beloved Theme Park, VGA graphics intact, awaited me on the back. Truly, we are blessed.
When was the last time something like that actually happened? When was the last time you saw a port that actually retained the spirit of the original and yet still managed to add something. Well, prepare to be aghast. Theme Park DS has almost managed it.
Developed by EA's Japan Studio, Theme Park DS is a faithful port of the PC original. Still intact are the original rides, shops and staff. The gaming principles are still the same - buy low, sell high. Create an exciting park, full of vomit-inducing thrill rides and sedate sideshows. Attract punters, and fleece them for all they've got. It's so much like Disney, it's scary.
In case you're entirely new to the game, the aim is to create a theme park worthy of Walt himself. Build rides, attractions, shops and restaurants to part your guests from their cash and then kick them out the door. Keeping the guests happy while you do it is the trick, and so balancing queue lengths, entrance ticket prices and even the amount of fat in the burgers will become second nature. The end result of all this is that you create a park valuable enough to be worth selling. Once you decide to sell, it's off to the next location (picked from a rather kitsch world map) and on to another park, with different challenges and rides available. If you are a complete beginner, there is a pared down version of the game that runs without research, the stock markets or supply chains to have to worry about. There are two other, harder modes, which introduce these elements, supposedly making the game more challenging. In addition, there are a choice of four advisers to help you run things, handing out advice on pricing and maintenance. However, if you were brought up on the genre, it might be best to go straight to the top.
In truth, the original game blends superbly with the DS's control possibilities. Being able to create paths, place rides and manipulate stocks with the stylus feels natural and intuitive. The lower screen shows a colourful, detailed view of your park, while the upper screen provides a map of your park or information about something you have poked. The menu system is easy to use, with selections being made by making a tick mark over the desired ride, staff member or outhouse. Placed paths and queues is simply a matter of tracing along the touchscreen, exactly where you want the path to lie.
Graphically, Theme Park DS is stuck back in the mid-nineties. This may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your addiction to 3D graphics and slick effects. The visuals are pixilated and proud of it. This is no New Super Mario Brothers. Some bright spark at EA realised that Theme Park simply doesn't need a 3D world in which to play. While this may have its drawbacks, for instance when trying to create paths behind existing objects and being unable to see where the hell you're placing your new queue, it does have a certain retro purist appeal, and anyone looking over your shoulder while you play will know for sure that you're playing Theme Park. This sense of nostalgia is reflected in the sounds. The music is decidedly old-school - repetitive, simple, addictive. The sounds of the rides are crisp, and the noise of puking perfectly captured. The only thing you'll miss is the noise of the punters themselves. Unfortunately, no-one thought to add in their screams on the roller-coasters or a general hubbub of sound as they walk along your paths. Never-the-less, the game does slowly draw you in with its ye-olde charms, and before you know it, you'll be humming along and cackling as another $100,000 piles up in your account.
What's that? Add extra salt to the chips, then charge double for the drinks? And who said a Theme Park isn't the happiest place on Earth?
9 / 10