Theme Park is all about money. Your customers carry enough spending cash to buy five duck shoots and a couple of burger vans of their own, so the only way to protect your business is to relieve them of as much cash as possible before they wise up and start a dodgy fun fair by themselves.
To begin with, you draw a few footpaths - because the theme in this park is concrete - and open the turnstiles. Before you’ve even built a single attraction, everyone will be forking out their hard-earned to admire your pavement-laying skills. Then you place the odd bouncy castle and teacup ride around the place - filling in the gaps with fast food stalls - ramp up the price of everything according to the hints the game keeps dishing out, and wait until you’re rich.
Well, that’s how we thought it would work. We kept on thinking it, too, even while the business was hemorrhaging money, because no matter how much we charged for the experience, the queues were always huge and the vomit laid on the pathways in carroty abundance.
As it turns out, there’s a lot more to the game than simply sitting and watching - as you’ll be aware if you’ve played any of the other versions of this strategy classic. The level of micro-management can be intense, depending on the difficulty setting. At its most basic, new attractions become available to purchase at regular intervals, and you just plunk them wherever you like. The middle setting requires you to spend money on research even if you just want a snack shop or something slightly more exciting than a hedge maze, while the most advanced option puts you in charge of ordering supplies and negotiating with unions.
Little icons over the customers show what they’re most in need of, and there are menus full of stats and surveys that the conscientious player can use to tailor the park according to demand. It’s a rewarding moment when you finally see your bank balance climbing, and you’ll only get there by paying constant attention to the patterns of activity on the screen.
There’s little difference between this and the original PC version, and even the descriptions of the rides will be familiar to a certain generation of gamers. The bouncy castles still spew black smoke and explode if you don’t keep them maintained, and confused customers can still spend six months trying to find the exit if you don’t put in enough signposts.
On DS, the upper screen shows the map overview, messages from your adviser (you can choose from four different ones - not that any of them can recommend a realistic price for burgers) and info about any ride, customer or staff member you touch on the lower screen.
When you want to adjust settings, tapping the pen icon makes the screens switch places, allowing you to salt those fries and decrease the chances of winning on the sideshows. Other menu items are held in a strip of icons along the bottom, which is convenient enough. Get into the menus, though, and you have to draw a circle or a tick on the option you want to select. Simply touching the menu items highlights them but won’t activate them, which is pretty irritating.
The game runs very smoothly, which is a bonus when you consider that Theme Park made even the most advanced PCs chug a bit back in the day. Playing it on a fast, slick system is very nice indeed.
It could definitely have done with a zoom option, if such a thing is technically possible, because it’s way too hard to pick out individual staff members among the melée of honking customers. We suffered quite a few unnecessary fatalities because we were unable to select one idle mechanic who was hidden behind a busy queue. If you don’t send somebody to repair rides when they start shaking violently and belching fumes, you’ll be left with a pile of rubble that you can never, ever demolish or build over. And a handful of corpses.
The stylus controls are good for designing pathways and making your park look as organic as possible. The D-pad or buttons are used to scroll the screen, since you can’t fit more than a tiny fraction of the park’s area on there at once, and it’s all reasonably simple and intuitive to play. If you’ve done Theme Park to death in one of its previous incarnations then this may be too familiar to merit another $30. Otherwise, go for it - it’s still a great game.