Have You Played… Theme Park?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Oh, the months of fun I had in Theme Park as a sprog! I’d spend hours creating beautiful parks with elaborate rollercoasters, places I’d dream of visiting, then force them collapse into hellscapes as quickly as I could. I didn’t have the patience or interest to play ‘properly’, see, and mostly cheated. So I’m asking you: have you played it properly? What’s it actually like? What did it do that modern park ’em ups don’t?

Whenever we post about a theme park or rollercoaster management game, I notice Theme Park is a touchstone for many. I remember it fondly, but don’t know it or other themesims well enough to say what the difference in. It was cartoony and funny yet still built on a system you could spend ages tweaking, optimising prices and layouts and whatnots, and simple enough for anyone to pick up without being pointless.

I dabbled in the management more than I pretended ↑ up there but, sooner or later, something would go wrong and I’d embrace that, filling my pockets with cheatmoney to build ludicrous coasters and hire dozens of children’s entertainers for bullies to duff up.

If I were feeling generous, I might say that understanding how a system can collapse is vital to understanding how to make it run smoothly but, well, really I just liked seeing the vomit and violence. How about you?


  1. Andy_Panthro says:

    I always resorted to cheating at some point.

    I did like the way you could alter your food stalls though, more salt in the fries and so on. Not entirely sure if any of it had a noticeable effect though.

    I mainly recall that no matter the number of bins, you always needed tons of cleaners to tidy up after the messy visitors.

    • Laini says:

      Well, I’d heard that if you put more salt in the fries they’d get thirstier quicker, thus buying more drinks.

      • Konservenknilch says:

        Yeah, the cheap salty fries – hideously expensive drinks method is a true gaming classic, and carried over to all other theme park sims.

        • TheAngriestHobo says:

          “Yeah, the cheap salty fries – hideously expensive drinks method is a true gaming marketing classic”

          Just sayin’.

        • Amake says:

          That well advertised trick was only the beginning, though. I liked to sell lottery tickets for 500 with a win chance of 100% and a prize worth 400. Everyone gets happy!

          But the sneakiest, cheatiest thing I figured out was taking the price for coming into the park down as low as people were willing to pay – too low and they’d get suspicious – and wait for the buses to arrive packed with visitors, and while they walk from the buses to the doors raise the price all the way up to 998. Apparently everyone thought it was better to pay through the nose than turn back at the door.

          Good times.

          • Laini says:

            That prize thing is genius :D

            Talking of people getting off the buses and hiking up the price reminds me of a similar thing I’d do in RCT.
            Peeps would check the price at the queue entrance, not at the ride entrance, so you could set a ride to free and then jam up the price once people were in the queue.
            IIRC unless they literally couldn’t afford it they would pay whatever crazy amount you’d set, whereas if it was set to £50 at the queue entrance they’d have just kept walking.

    • Scumbag says:

      Mark Lamport just cheated.

  2. Laini says:

    I had Theme Park on the Mega Drive and played the heck out of it.
    I’m not sure if I ever cheated or not, but I tended not to go beyond three or four parks, I just spent a stupidly long time playing each one.

    I don’t think it holds up very well though, it’s a little too basic but it had a lot of neat stuff I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else, like the staff negotiation stuff or having to buy stock.

    • Biscuitry says:

      It’s worth noting that the Mega Drive version had some of the business management aspects of the game cut. The substance of the game is the same, but the PC/Amiga versions had more detail backing it up.

      To give an example, the food stalls in the Mega Drive version just conjured their salty, sugary abominations out of the pixellated aether with nary a care. In the Amiga version, there were stock levels to be managed.

      Little things like that. There was more to keep track of, and that made it a more challenging game, at least to my feeble young mind of the time.

  3. Carra says:

    Never played this but I did spend dozens of hours with Rollercoaster Tycoon. Making theme parks is so much fun!

  4. Sin Vega says:

    One of few I never cheated at (activating Sinister Theme Park doesn’t count), but that doesn’t mean I was particularly good at it.

    Also a defining game of my childhood. The demo came with the first issue of Amiga Power I ever bought, and I got the full game for Christmas 1994, along with K240. The PC version was much better, although the A1200 version was fine.

    It was the first and the most … the most bullfrog. The faintly satirical, blackly comic undertone ran right through it. It was never centre stage, but you were more or less a villain, squeezing every penny out of the chumps who came through the door, working your staff practically to death, and ruthlessly buying out your competition just because you (hopefully) could.

    The rubber tubing ride was god.

    • Shazbut says:

      Hold everything!

      Sinister Theme Park doesn’t actually exist does it? I always thought this was another Amiga Power in-joke that I never understood.

      Please tell me. It’s my 30th birthday for another 10 minutes. This could be the present you forgot to give me, a complete stranger.

      • Titler says:

        Sinister Theme Park does not exist.

        From AP2: “To become similarly famous through our alerting you to their existence were Canoe Squad, the cult television programme, and the successor to Red Bull Energy Pop, the lightly sparkling fish drink F-Max. And just because they couldn’t get the cheat to work, everyone said we made up Sinister Theme Park. For heaven’s sake.”

        Canoe Squad and F-Max weren’t real either.

        • Sin Vega says:

          Oooh, you spoiled my fun you rascal (although I did miss the deadline by plain not noticing in time, sorry). A more detailed explanation courtesy of the near-mythical J Nash exists here: link to theweekly.co.uk

          • Shazbut says:

            Ah thanks both :)

            John Nash’s explanation implies it IS real though. Unless he is being “funny”. I’ll chalk it up as a hoax

    • cpt_freakout says:

      The satire is what makes this game different from other theme park sims. RCT is arguably much better in terms of planning and variety, but it’s still about making something wonderful. TP constantly reminds you that beneath the wonder, a ruthless business ethic.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Don’t forget the vomit.

      So. Much. Vomit.

      • Mags says:

        Occasionally, when I see some of those Daily-Mail style photos of ‘BINGE BRITAIN’, I can hear nothing but a chorus of the vomiting sound effect.

  5. Rack says:

    I never really found any difficulty with the game, so I didn’t end up cheating. Part of this might have been down to the bonkers AI. I’d built the most ludicrous extravagant coaster I could think of, which caused visitors to flock to the park in droves. When they got there though all they ever wanted to do is go on the maze. They’d queue and queue and queue before going on the maze once then going straight home. They’d have a miserable time but it did mean I never had to spend anything significant on repairs or maintenance, and there’d always be new people happy to come into the park, look at the coaster then queue for 2 or 3 months to have a go on the maze.

  6. C0llic says:

    It was a great game. And I played it a hell of a lot.

    In fact, I remember the first time I saw it was on a school friends PC before our house got one. I remember being very impressed with the opening intro, despite the fact he didn’t have a sound card.

  7. crowleyhammer says:

    Loved the staff going on strike, standing outside with their placards marching.

    The negotiation for better wages was cool, a plate of biscuits in the centre as the timer and you’d reach your hand across and pull it back to get a better deal.

    Great game.

  8. Wisq says:

    Related (but not Theme Park, directly): I hear that in some version of Rollercoaster Tycoon (or a similar amusement park simulator), you could create a rollercoaster that would eject people into a deadly free-fall — but you could have them land in your AI opponents’ parks. As such, their park would receive the popularity penalty due to people dying, while people would inexplicably flock to your ‘coaster of doom.

    • Laini says:

      Haha yeah, that was RCT.
      There was one scenario that had two competing parks on either side of the street and as you say, you could launch people from your side over the road so they’d land in the other park.
      So their rating took a dive and you got paid for every punter who helped your destroy the competition =p

  9. Turkey says:

    I always ended up cheating with every Bullfrog game. Their games tended to spike pretty hard in difficulty after a few casual opening levels.

  10. Geewhizbatman says:

    Oh ya I don’t really remembering playing it properly, though I am not sure I resorted to cheat codes either. I think I would generally play it down until things exploded and then would start a new place. Thus was where I imagine my never getting too far in MMOs because always needed a new character trend began.

    I remember Theme Park World/Sim Theme Park much more because of the different themes. Between the psychotropic Wonder Land and the B-Movie Magic of Halloween World I was in heaven xD

  11. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I remember I didn’t play it much. I didn’t like the game much. I was and still am a big fan of building/managerial games, but Theme Park ranks among my least favorite simply because the theme park setting just didn’t fit with my tastes. Now, Theme Hospital… what a fun(ny) game!

  12. Gap Gen says:

    I actually bought this from GOG recently and it’s still pretty good. I played on Sim mode – as a kid I tended to play in sandbox mode until I was established then moved to Sim mode to get the extra stuff, but it’s not that difficult to get up and running playing now. The secret is still to build a really long rubber tube ride to max out people’s happiness.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Oh also it’s still funny that it passive-aggressively blames you for its bad pathfinding.

  13. Doubler says:

    This game turned me into a cynical bastard when it comes to amusement parks and fairs and stuff like that, or even just fast food chains.
    Salt the fries to make people thirsty, more ice in the drinks so you’re selling less of the actual drink, more glue on the targets so people don’t stand as good a chance of winning. In real life I’m constantly reminded of Theme Park :P

  14. racccoon says:

    What a game! Loved it. Nothing really beat it in its own class. Great game for the time period.

  15. ShadowGod says:

    Oh yeah .. demo disk in the very first PC Gamer.

  16. secuda says:

    Might check out Parkitect if you want anything new themepark game that does not suck. still in alpha though.
    link to themeparkitect.com

  17. tripmode says:

    The best part about this game was the puking – people would puke after a ride and the puke on the ground would make others puke. The best was to get everyone in the park puking over and over.

  18. Urk says:

    LOVED this game. Played it on the SNES back in the day. DAMN it was HARD!!!