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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: December 8, 1999
Like a fight between two heavyweight boxing contenders, Electronic Arts/Bullfrog Productions and Hasbro/Microprose are battling it out to see who will be king of the hill in amusement park construction simulations. Over four years ago, Bullfrog released Theme Park, then last March, Microprose published RollerCoaster Tycoon. At the same time, EA announced that Bullfrog was developing a sequel to Theme Park, culminating in the release of SimTheme Park last month. Microprose simultaneously released a RollerCoaster Tycoon add-on called Corkscrew Follies. Only the consumer will ultimately decide who wins this clash of the titans, and so far in terms of sales, EA has some catching up to do.
Despite the name change for distribution in North America, SimTheme Park does not attempt to be a realistic simulation of amusement park management or of the dynamics of any of its attractions. The “sim” prefix has previously been applied only to Will Wright’s Maxis offerings, yet Maxis had no involvement with this title. Indeed, these attractions are wacky and fanciful, rarely reflecting the laws of physics or the type of rides found in real-world theme parks. I am really impressed by the originality of the non-roller coaster rides, with new rides and upgrades appearing continuously as you play, and would have to say this is the most outstanding aspect of the product. In this respect, there is a ton more creativity in SimTheme Park than in RollerCoaster Tycoon.
Four different theme parks are included in the package, including Space Zone, Lost Kingdom, Land of Wonders and Halloween. Each has a completely different motif for all its attractions, with similar types of offerings in each park but with distinctive sounds and sights. Unfortunately, you do not have access to all of them at the outset. In Instant Action mode, where you begin with a small pre-built park, only Lost Kingdom is available; in Full Simulation mode, where you begin with an empty plot of land, only Lost Kingdom and Halloween are open from the outset. This is quite a different arrangement than in RollerCoaster Tycoon, where you have 21 empty and pre-built parks from which to choose and five initially accessible, but where none has a completely different unified theme.
The one feature of SimTheme Park that I was looking forward to the most–and that represents its biggest innovation–is the ability to walk through theme parks with the same perspective as the customers and actually ride the rides. In the final implementation, however, this turns out to be a decidedly mixed bag. When walking through the park using a first person perspective, the other people look like fuzzy two-dimensional cardboard cutouts and you have little sense of participation at all; while you can participate in sideshows featuring games of chance, you cannot enter most of the booths you encounter, but must simply watch forlornly from the outside. When actually on one of the rides, you do see the background scenery whizzing from side to side or up and down, but it does not even approach the real thing. While the designers claim you can use this first-hand experience of being on the rides to get not only the thrill of the fun but also ideas for how to modify and improve rides, I do not find it a huge contribution in either area. However, even with these flaws, having the first-person perspective is a real plus for connecting you with the perspective of the visitor and for giving you some sense of vertigo.
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