Receiving a budget video game as kid was like using a third party off brand controller; it wasn’t ideal but it was better than reading a book. Games designed to be sold at a lower price than the $50 triple A games were almost universally bad. Today there isn’t a lot of middle ground when it comes to video game releases, they are either massive enormous franchises with hundreds of millions of dollars invested into them, or popular cell phone games ported onto a physical disc. The indie market place has taken the place of the budget games of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
My recollection of obtaining the budget game published by EA and developed by Bull Frog productions called Theme Park: Rollercoaster is lost, but I do remember it was one of my first PS2 games. Before playing Rollercoaster I had limited exposure to simulation games. I watched my sister play the PC franchise The Sims as a young kid confused to why someone would play such a game.
Similar to most kids, amusement parks were a source of wonder and fun to my younger self. Trips to Cedar Point and the local county fair were met with a lot of excitement (even if I was too frightened to ride most of the rollercoasters).
I finally understood the enjoyment my sister experienced through The Sims when I played Rollercoaster. Creating, designing, and operating a theme park offers a sense of freedom and unlimited creativity. The game provides 8 empty theme parks to build up and control. Each park has a different theme (pre-historic, Halloween, wonder, and space). Pre-historic includes cave men and stone age era designs, Halloween focuses on horror and scares, wonder is strange combination of nature and candy designs, while space delves into the world of science fiction. Simple math shows that each of the 4 themes have two parks totaling in 8 parks as earlier stated.
After choosing which park to build, the player is given a small selection of rides, shops, sideshows (carnival games), and features to build and $30,000. The money in this game doesn’t correlate to realistic costs (food shops only cost a couple hundred dollars) but that is probably a design strategy to make it easier for the player to keep track of. The $30,000 goes a long way to get a park started. Hiring a staff is essential to the early success of the park (mechanics, janitors, guards, entertainers, researchers) as they keep the park clean, safe, and develop new attractions to be built.
I still follow the same method as I did when I was a kid when starting a park. I first hire several mechanics and researchers as keeping the rides operating is important in keeping the patrons happy and without researchers new rides, shops, or ride upgrades aren’t possible. Finding the balance of sustained growth and investing in the park while continuing to make money is this games greatest attribute. Managing a staff, building new rides, checking on the salt content at the fries stand, decreasing the winning odds of a carnival game, and many other things offers a satisfying sense of control which is rewarded with a successful and alluring theme park.
As its name suggests, each park has at least one unique roller coaster and is often the main attraction of the park. One of the cool features of this game is the ability to go into first person and walk around the park giving the player the opportunity to experience what they built, play games, and most importantly ride the rides. Most of the rides are small and just spin in a circle but the rollercoasters are fun to ride. Corkscrews, huge drops, high speeds around sharp turns are all available to be incorporated into a rollercoaster. After building a coaster, the game offers a grade sheet or a statistical breakdown of the track (max speed, duration, highest drop, number of drops, and others that I still don’t fully understand) with a coaster rating at the bottom of the report. Most of the coasters I build receive a “vomit inducing” rating as they are fast and involve a lot of loops, similar to the most famous rollercoasters in real life. But to receive the “ultimate rollercoaster” rating is very difficult. I have only been able to make one coaster with the perfect rating and it was with the help of a written guide online and I haven’t been able to make another one since. I took a picture to document the historical achievement.
The coasters that receive the “ultimate rollercoaster” rating suck. They are flat and are void of any corkscrews and whiplash inducing corners. I find it odd that the game gives the best rating to the boring coasters and is very finicky in handing out the rating. As you can see in the picture above, I have one star which was awarded to me after making an ultimate rollercoaster. According to the internet (which strangely didn’t have a lot of information or a wiki page on this game) if 10 ultimate roller coasters are made, a special 9th park appears. I did try to test this theory but in the 15 or so hours I played this game I was only able to make one ultimate rollercoaster.
Also included in the picture are the number of golden tickets that I have. Golden tickets are rewarded in each park after reaching certain milestones (number of visitors in the park, amount of time staying in business, amount of profit made). These tickets can then be used to unlock the other parks. Most of the tickets are hidden and are received through winning mini games within the park, having a clean park with lots of trash cans and trained janitors, having a safe park with lots of security cameras and trained guards, upgrading all of the rides in the park, and various other ones. There are a total of 53 tickets available to be collected throughout the entire game. I was able to collect 52. The last golden ticket that I have yet to receive is in the first park. I believe it is the one that is received after completing the tutorial (which I did obviously) but for some reason was not awarded it.
Theme Park: Rollercoaster has one major flaw. The ant guy. There is a messaging system in the game which notifies the player of broken down rides needing repairs, upset staff, new research results, customer complaints, etc. These messages probably come in a little too frequently but that didn’t bother me as it forces the player to stay on top of what is going on in the park. What is bothersome is the weird ant guy that pops up with almost every message explaining what is going on in the park. He is constantly in the corner of the screen holding the hand of the player and annoyingly telling them what to do. After years of playing this game I have learned to tune him out, but most people that I introduce this game too can’t tolerate the strange ant looking abomination. To add to the annoyance, he is often wears a dumb disguise pertaining to the message he is delivering (a security guard hat, janitor hat, researcher crazy scientist hair, etc.)
The game has some broken features that are designed to stress the player out but nothing can be done to resolve them. In every park the ant dude says hundreds of times, visitors in the park are thirsty and that more drink shops should be built. No matter how many drink shops are built, the player will constantly be bombarded with this message.
Members of the staff are always threatening to go on strike as well. The only thing that can really be done to make the staff happier to is build more staff rooms for them to take breaks in, or to train and pay them more, but even that isn’t necessary. No matter how well trained a staff is and how many break rooms are in the park, they will threaten to go on strike every year or so. Shortly after learning about the planned strike, a message is sent stating the staff is happy with the improvements made and the strike has been called off even if the player makes none of the so called improvements. Another strange bug within in the game involves ice cream shops. I have never had a visitor purchase ice cream in any park no matter how I adjust the price or sugar slider.
If played smart, the game is easy. The main rule for a successful park is to spend less than what is made. There are statistical charts showing money earned and money spent giving the player a lot of information that can be used to make business decisions. There is a loan system if the player runs out of money but I hardly ever used any of these features. I made enough money and built entire parks without ever referencing that information or taking out a high interest loan.
The art style and graphics of the game are primitive matching the standards of a budget game released in December 2000. From reading the little internet presence this game has, I believe this is an enhanced version of a PS1 game called Theme Park: World. The polygons would suggest a enhanced PS1 game so that makes sense but the simple appearance works with the light hearted aura of the game. This is an upbeat fun brain stimulating game without being too difficult and complex like other in depth theme park simulation games.
My enjoyment of this game is more than just a nostalgia trip, this is an objectively fun game with some flaws. I play through it about once a year and I look forward to revisiting it in 2018.