Granddad still got it.
Theme Park is a game that really entertained me for hours when I was a kid. In fact I wish that games these days did the same. Even the games that are in the same genre or similar never really caught on the way this game did. Hell! Not even the sequel had the same success with me.
Theme Park has a right combination of pleasing visual, sound, music and gameplay. The gameplay is quite simple to follow. Your ultimate goal is to stay above the red financially, above competition and satisfy your visitors. The first factor “finance” can be handled by buying stocks, setting appropriate prices for entry ticket and shops/stalls. To stay above competition you need to make sure your park is clean, well decorated, technology is upgraded, researching new stuff. Obviously satisfying customer and being financially stable also contributes to the competition factor. Every year a screen appears showcasing where you stand amongst your competition.
In Order to satisfy customers you need to provide necessary facilities like toilets, food & drink and good pricing. Shops and Stalls allow you to set various options allowing the game to have more of a challenge. I should mention that you can choose which country you want to set a park in, each country will affect your game on the basis of population, currency etc.
In order to get more rides and shops you need to research them. The research screen allows you to set what category you would like to research and how fast. Accordingly you are billed.
Cleanliness, Maintenance, Security and Entertainment can be handled by hiring staff. You've got Janitors, Security Guards, Mechanics and Various types of entertainers from Shark man to a Squid man. What's cool is that you can set a route for the Janitor to clean. Using this with lot of thought can ensure your park is clean at the same time can reduce the amount of Janitors require.
During the game a mini-game appears. A rather fun one which involves negotiating with a union. You need to bring the unions hand all the way towards your side before time runs out (cutely shown as a plate of pancakes stack depleting) if you want to reduce the amount of pay for your staff. Otherwise they all get a increase depending on where your hand has reached.
The visuals are perfect. Even though they are 2d sprites, it's all well animated and your visitors emotions are managed to be conveyed very well. Same can be said for the music, which changes according to which ride your screen is focused on.
Well the sound can get annoying at times. You can be driven into insanity with that repeating “EW EW EW” played when your park is messy. Minor bugs like freezing, visitors getting stuck plague the game. Honestly other than that I can't find anything wrong except for maybe the fact that the game can be a little hard for kids who don't understand much about finance. And some screens may take a while to understand, for example stocks, research and warehouse ordering.
The Bottom Line
I don't know whether it's the nostalgia that still allowed me to enjoy this game even in 2009. Or the fact that this game still has more soul than any of it's sequels and successors. While most of the modern park games decided to jizz over the “Roller Coaster” factor, Theme Park (1994) concentrates on managing a park and does it the best. I don't care how much I can customize my roller coaster in the new games but none of them gave me the challenge and excitement this game did.
Note: The game doesn't run in Windows XP and I managed to get it back off an Abandonware website which packed it with Dosbox.