AGH Jaguar Review: THEME PARK

by Ocean

An entire genre of computer gaming was crated with the release of Bullfrog Ltd's Populus, back in the early eighties. Populus was a "God" game in which you look down over an area and help your worshipers to move up the evloutionary ladder and kill off your opposing "God's" worshipers. Since then many games have gone onto improve upon ideas set forth by that classic game. Most notbaly the "Sim" series which took the computer world by storm. Now Bullfrog is back with its latest take on the "God" style gaming - part of their "Designer Series" - Theme Park.

Theme Park is not so much a "God" game, but more a simulation of how a theme park of your own creation would hold up in an economy with competing corporations with their own parks. The game is presented in an three quarter overhead view so you see as much as possible. You build rides, hire staff, control every aspect of the park from the price of admission to the amount of salt you put on the fries. There are far too many options like this to mention here, but if you can think about it happening in a park - it most likely will in this game.

I am one of those "let's plug the cart in and see what happens" type of players. I like my action fast and furious, but I also enjoy a good thinker (I play lots of chess when not in front of a tv/monitor tube). But in the case of Theme Park, you really MUST read the instruction manual first. It is 65 pages long and at first I thought it was a multi-lingual manual with the first twenty or so pages in English and the rest split up into French, Spanish, etc. However this was not the case. This encyclopedic tome was daunting at first, and even after several reads, it was difficult to find certain things, like the game "save" - but we'll get into that later.

Luckily there is a tutorial section built into the game. This will help walk you through the beginning part of the game. It shows you the basics on how to place rides, walkways, hire people, etc. This is very helpful even after going through the manual.

So you start up, and you've got a small park going. Now you think you can handle it so you move onto the real game without the tutorial. It gets a lot harder. You have to watch for everything from the amount of money you put into reasearch on new rides and restaurants to ordering ice cream, colas, burgers and fries when you run low.

You also have to look out for your customers. Are they happy? What will make them happy? Most people in your park have a small cartoon like bubble above their head, a "thought", which is a symbol of happiness or sadness. On the screen for crowd response there is a breakdown of which thought bubble means what. Pay attention to this.

There is also a small cartoon like figure that looks like a Carnival Ring Master who prints little notes for you on the bottom of the screen for help: "People think you make too much money." "You should raise the price on the french fries by 8." "People are having a hard time finding their way to the exit, place more signposts down." He tries to be very helpful, especially at times when your stock runs low and you forget.

Control is handled from an arrow which remains fixed in the center of the screen while you manuever around the park. While this was a bit annoying at first, it worked just fine. I can't help bit wonder how much better this handling would have been if there had been a mouse instead of the control pad. But, when you want to check on the staus of an item or move to an order/hire screen, the pointer moves freely around the fixed screen. The Status menu for anyone or thing in the game is a pop up menu which is filled with icons you press respectively for each individual item.

The staff is a very important part of your park. You need to hire many individuals as your park grows larger. First and foremost you must hire handymen to clean up after your very messy guests. They throw their garbage on the ground, their unwanted items, and even their lunch sometimes. This is followed by the appropriate sound f/x. You will also need to hire security people to watch out for those who wish to make the park less safe. Another important group to hire is the mechanics. Your rides will smoke and blow up if you don't have mechanics to fix them. The rides do this far to often for me, but... Also, there the required characters that stand around the park and entertain people. You know, the guy in the bear suit, the shark man, the buy who steals your wallet(just kidding that's not in the game).

The graphics are sharp and very well animated. Each charater has his/her/it's own animation. The colors are right on and feel like you are running a theme park. Unfortunately, I would assume, as this is a port of the PC game, that it was most likely done strait to the 68000 chip in the Jaguar. I say this because of the slow down you can get when you have too many rides and too many people and too many variables running at once. The AI on this game has to be really good and because of all the complexities of the game I am sure that it contributes to the game's periodic slow down. Also, while I am sure that this wasn't done on purpose, on some of the data screens, checking your stock price, graphs on attendance and ticket pricing, it is very difficult to read. I assume it was due to the fact that the game was most likely programmed and play tested using a computer monitor. But when played on a television, the text is very difficult to read. I have checked this on my ACER 7015 and several televisions and found that the monitor was obivously the sharpest image of them all.

One obvious ommission to the game is the lack of the rendered graphics sequences. I know that the cartridge format has limited space, which is why these were most likely left out. However, there are times I wish that they had made Theme Park a CD instead. This would have also helped with the save game feature.

Save What?

I guess this is as good a place as any to mention this. There is no "save game" feature in Theme Park. It will save the amount of money you currently have, but that's only after you auction off your park at the endof the year. This is a major pain in the ass. You play for a good hour and then have to sell your kickin' park because you have to sleep, or go to work, or something worthless like that. I mean don't people know you play video games??? Seriously, this does make any lengthy game close to impossible unless you can put aside a few days or pause your game and turn off your television to go to work. And this little note about saving games is located in the "Auction" section of the maual. This would be fine, but it doesn't tell you "Save Game Information Here." That's on page 61. If you weren't looking for it, you could skip right over it. The manual is like this at many times.

Theme Park is fair deficient in the area of sound. There is music in the game when you are looking at a ride in progress and there is amibent crowd noise while you are not, but it just seems so, flat sounding. Even the music on th rides just seems to be kinda bland. There is nothing special here. There is also no sound whatsoever from the Atari logo until the game actually starts. Then you get a few "pings" until a ride is there and the crowd arrives. The title screen is a complete deaf wasteland.

I know I have only touched the surface of the game. There are far too many aspects of the game to include in a review(but not a 65 page manual!). The game is fun if you enjoy a good simulation style game. You will need patience as sometimes there really is nothing for you to do as you wait for someting to happen that requires your intervening powers. The graphics work, but the text is not so good. And the sound is average. I know, a cartridge has limitations and you can't have a megabyte of sound samles in the game, but some tweeking couldn't hurt either.

My biggest hope about games like Theme Park is that when Ocean finally runs out of cartridges, perhaps they will think of releasing it for the CD player with the save feature re-written to take advantage of the Cartridge back up. With a large space to save your game to, this would make Theme Park a game with much long game in playablility instead of futility.

Title Theme Park
Publisher Ocean
System Atari Jaguar
Graphics 6
Sound 5
Gameplay 5
Overall 6
Reviewer Mark Santora

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