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The game is comprised of several missions. Each mission starts out on a blank lot, where the player must construct his theme park from scratch. This includes placing various rides (like a Haunted House or Rollercoaster), shops (food, drink and gifts), lavatories, decorative items, and the roads connecting these things to one another (and the front gate). Once the gates are opened, visitors begin arriving and will meander around the park to enjoy themselves. The objective is to maximize the amount of money your visitors pay during their stay, which is primarily achieved by keeping them as happy as possible for the duration.
The player has no control over the park's visitors, so the key is to lay the park out in a way that it would be easily navigable, making sure to put all the amenities within reach at all times, and generally drawing visitors towards the more expensive rides and shops.
Despite being the first of its kind in many ways, probably the most interesting feature of this game was the ability to create complex rollercoaster designs from scratch using various segments. This idea later evolved into the game's Spiritual Successor Rollercoaster Tycoon, where this game-mechanic took the center stage.
Theme Park was soon followed by an important (and much more successful) sequel called Theme Hospital. It also sparked a whole genre of Space Management Games revolving around similar ideas. Theme Park was also remade 5 years after its original release, using 3D graphics, and called Theme Park World. Shortly after, EA bought Bullfrog over and re-christened Theme Park World as Sim Theme Park (the game has no relation to Sim City, indeed it wasn't even designed by Will Wright).
Tropes in the game include:
- Artificial Stupidity: Guests will get stuck by walking into a U-shaped area in the Water Tubing ride, despite having to go off the paved area and try to get stuck.
- Awesome but Impractical: The Monorail ride. It looks cool, but it provides the worst entertainment out of all the rides.
- It's meant to be one of those tame deals which lets you get a brief tour of the whole park, so completely justified.
- A Winner Is You: What do you get for beating the DS version of the game? All four advisers appearing on screen at once and a message that says "Thanks for playing!" It only stays up for about four or five seconds, so don't expect to look at it that long.
- Building Is Welding: The engineers repairing the rides.
- Difficulty Levels: As with many other similar games, Theme Park features two different difficulty axes. There is the simulation complexity setting, ranging from Sandbox (most features outside building the park are hidden) to Business (all features unlocked). Simpler settings remove the need to manage certain aspects, making the game easier. In addition, there is the traditional Easy - Medium - Hard difficulty axis.
- It's a Wonderful Failure: In the event of bankrupcy... well, as it says in the manual, "there's only one honorable way out". The bankrupcy ending sequence depicts the player avatar attempting suicide by defenestration while gloomy music plays in the background. In most versions, the cutscene was animated and was relieved a bit by the fact that the suicide attempt fails - however, in the non-animated versions, there is only a still image of the character jumping to his apparent death. Especially potent Nightmare Fuel as the rest of the game has a fairly child-friendly image.
- Informed Attractiveness: Crystal.
- Product Placement: The UK version, at least, was sponsored by Midland Bank. It prominently displayed the Midland Griffin at various points of the game.
- Sprite Polygon Mix: Theme Park World had full 3D rides and scenery, but used sprites for the visitors and staff in an attempt to maintain a playable framerate.
- Understatement: Occasionally utilized by your adviser in Theme Park World.
[Sound of strained machinery]
Advisor: Erm... no need to panic, but there's a little problem with one of the rides.
[Sound of exploding machinery]
Advisor: ...Make that a somewhat larger problem.
- Useful Useless Employee: Any "Entertainer" employees are only good at the front of lines, as most guests won't stay around them enough to exploit the employee to their fullest. The Guards also qualify to some extent, as they're only useful in the rare scenario that the Theme Park is attacked by vandals.
- Vomit Chain Reaction: Possibly one of the first ever games to feature this. If a customer goes on one of the more risque rides, or eats too much, they can vomit. If anyone sees them vomit, there's a good chance they'll join in. If it happens in a particularly crowded part of your park, well, time to hire more janitors.