Genre: Simulation Developer: Bullfrog Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1995
A fair few years ago now, while browsing through the second hand section of one of my local game emporiums, I stumbled across a copy of Theme Park for the Mega Drive for £20. Knowing that Theme Park was thought of as a PC classic, but at the time not having a PC, I thought this would be a real bargain: £20 for a game where you could create and run your own theme park (hence the title of the game) seemed a great deal, so parting company with my 20 notes I left the store with the game in my sweaty palms and rushed home to play it.
The word that comes to mind is disappointment.
The Mega Drive version of Theme Park is riddled with niggling flaws. The graphics have more judder than a bottle of Metz, the music grates to an extent that pop music today can only aspire to, and the whole game contains about as much AI as a dissatisfied toaster.
Visually, things are a mixed bag. When the screen is not being moved, the graphics are actually quite reasonable. While they don’t reach the level of games such as VectorMan– arguably the graphical pinnacle of the Mega Drive – Theme Park is colorful enough; you can tell your members of staff from your customers and the rides and attractions are bold and distinctive. However, move the screen so that you can look around your park and- oh dear, headache alert- the graphics glitch and slow down so much that at first I thought that my beloved Mega Drive was dying. If your park is at an advanced stage it even appears at times as if you are taking your rides around the park with you: they stay on their part of the screen while you look around the park, even if they are firmly planted on the other side of the park, and only return to their rightful place when you stop the screen moving. Not a great start, really.
The music, well the less said about that the better really. It plays the standard carnival tunes, but the Mega Drive doesn’t do a great job of recreating them, and the tunes are in a constant loop. Trust me, play the game for more than fifteen minutes and you will be reaching for the volume control on your TV.
The game also has an infuriatingly bad AI level: your staff (especially the handymen) for the most part do no work unless you force them to do it, meaning that you spend most your time directing your workers instead of creating an Alton Towers-beater. As mentioned, the handymen are the worst. Despite the insistence of the game that they have worked 100% of the time, they just wander around unpopulated areas of the park like right Muppets. The Mega Drive version of Theme Park doesn’t have the zoning feature of its PC cousin, so the handymen just scuttle around the park going wherever they choose. This means that more often than not you have to pick them up and forcibly put them down on every single piece of trash in the park to get them to clean up, although just selecting them for this task is a challenge of it’s own. The staff also show a ridiculous amount of stupidity when negotiating their wages. The negotiations take the form of a handshake – you extend your hand to show how high you are willing to go with regards to their pay rise. However, when your hands reaches a level they agree with, their hand will blindly follow yours, so you can drag it back so far that when they agree to the deal they’ll be getting LESS pay.
However, for some reason this game isn’t a disaster. Despite its many, many, flaws, at its heart Theme Park is a good enough game, and you’ll come back to it every few months for an afternoon’s play. It’s just a case of the publishers’ ambition getting the better of them: Theme Park is a PC game ported to a machine that just wasn’t powerful enough to do it justice.
SCORE: 4 out of 10