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Theme Park has been around for the majority of my games playing life, and it’s appeared on numerous platforms over the years. None of these ports felt as good as the PC original though, with the good old mouse being key to the game’s simple but addictive gameplay. With the DS we finally have a video game system that can do justice to the classic management sim, but has EA tweaked the game enough so it seems made for Nintendo’s dual screen handheld?
Sitting on the fence slightly, the answer is “kind of”. The DS’ touch screen makes running your park a doddle, with menus and item placement extremely simple once you’ve been shown how to do it. This is all taken care of in a quick and easy tutorial, and an advisor is on hand to offer thoughts on park growth if you require it.
The goal in Theme Park is simple: build a park to a certain size and then move on to something bigger. The problem is that once you’ve completed your goal and moved on to your next project, you can’t return to any previous parks. You’ll also be doing the same thing throughout the game, with all that changes being the odd new ride or amenity, and these do little to alter how the game plays. The one game save slot is also rather a strange decision, meaning numerous players can’t each have their own save.
Your main difficulty will come early on, when you need to experiment in order to find the right balance between rides and shops, prices and quality, and general visitor happiness. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but once you’ve sussed it, things are pretty plain sailing from then on. Later projects require you to build up bigger and more successful parks, but the core to it all is the same.
Other problems lie in the accuracy of the touch screen, which is at times more than a little temperamental. On simple items like paths it doesn’t matter too much if you have to erase a misplaced build order, but on expensive items like coaster tracks it costs you over and over again. You can’t rotate the map view either, so at times you’ll need to guess where you’re building, often resulting in even more wasted expenditure.
Other problems crop up too, such as visitors getting stuck in queues, forcing you to demolish that section and building it again. It’s not a huge issue, but crops up so frequently that it does irritate after a while. More experienced sim and strategy fans will also be left wanting, as the complexities go little beyond setting prices and ordering new stock. It’s no bad thing if you’re new to the genre, but be aware that Theme Park probably won’t be as challenging as you remember it all those years ago.
Visually Theme Park is nothing to get too excited about, but the simple graphics still have a certain nostalgic charm, and the on-screen mood icons do a good job at informing you of what needs to be done. The menus are clear and well organised, with the small viewing area of the screens never becoming a problem. You don’t get the option to take a 3D tour of your park as in previous games, but it’s not a hugely missed feature.
DS specific features are rather thin on the ground, but you do get the ability to visit the parks of any DS players in the local area. Online park sharing is sadly not an option, so this limits the appeal of the mode rather substantially. Still, if you do have some friends with the game, you can check out their park building skills and maybe get a few management tips.
Overall, Theme Park on the DS is a faithful version of the original PC classic. Its depth is fairly lacking by modern standards, so genre veterans may want to stay clear, but management sim newcomers will find a well designed and fun little game. If you want to build and run a Theme Park, and nothing more, this DS port should do you nicely.