Theme Park DS
| Theme Park DS

Much as we enjoy riding the vertiginous rollercoasters and wobbly log flumes that populate the current generation of theme parks, managing such a facility doesn't strike us as being quite so much fun.

Think about it. Sickly kids spewing up whatever, wherever they can? Bored parents scowling as they trudge around the ornamental gardens for the umpteenth time? Failed actors contemplating ending it all as they climb into their rubber suits once more to sing the 'I'm a Hungry Caterpillar' song? And the bank manager, who you can only satisfy by dragging every last penny from the punters' pockets. That's a lot of frustrated people to keep happy.

But when it comes to EA's Theme Park, that's where it finds its fun. And the series must be doing something right, as the company's been flogging various flavours of the game to wannabe impresarios since 1994.

Touchscreen controls aside, the DS version of the game isn't very different from those which have gone before. The bottomline is simple – keep the cash stacking up, by making sure the ticket booths leading to your attractions and food outlets are constantly blessed with queues the length of Blackpool's Big Dipper.

Despite this conceptually simple premise, immediately jumping in stylus first can prove a tricky prospect. Luckily then, EA has included one of the most informative and lengthy tutorials we've yet seen on a DS game.

It's needed, as the game enables you to drill down into the working of your theme park in great detail. As well researching and buying rides such as rollercoasters, bouncy castles, and snakes & ladders slides – each is distinguished with attributes such as reliability and excitement – you'll also have to decide the ticket prices, and even how many mechanics and gardeners you need.

So, after getting to grips with basics of building and maintaining your own field of fun, it's time to take on one of three modes on offer. The Sandbox mode keeps things strictly simple, enabling you to build your park as you see fit and not worrying about cash, whereas the Full mode gets you balancing the books, negotiating prices for rides, and even gambling future earnings with punts on the stock market. Simulation mode provides a mid-point between these two extremes.

At least you can always count on your trusty assistant to offer up any advice he deems fit. If you're haemorrhaging money on one particular ride, he'll chirp up and encourage you to check up on your cash flow without telling you exactly what to do; he's there to assist, after all, not to make controlling your own park, well, a walk in the park.

Also helping things run smoothly is the DS' control system. You can scroll around the park in the top-down aerial view using the D-pad, with everything else is handled via a swift prod of your stylus. Menus can be selected and sifted through with delightful ease, and rides and shops can be simply dropped into place. You can also tap any of the punters to get a heads-up on their boredom level, cash reserves, how many rides they've been on, and what unfulfilled needs they have.

With so much going on, the onscreen action can get a little busy. Some of the rides do dominate the landscape but generally it's not too hard to keep track of what's going on. If things get too hectic, you can dial down the game speed setting to give yourself more time. (You'll probably want to do the same with the game music, incidentally. Its jingly tones will start to grate after mere minutes.)

What's rather more frustrating is keeping track of the physical condition of your rides, due to their apparent unreliability. It's not uncommon to discover half a dozen rides simultaneously breaking down, requiring you to hire a whole new team of engineers to keep the damn things from blowing sky high. The latter is not only bad PR – you can't build anything on that location again, either.

Such mishaps aside, it's safe to say that pocket gamers with strategic minds are going to enjoy visiting (or re-visiting) the Theme Park world, even if it is just a smaller touchscreen version of a game many have played to death on other consoles. Like the nauseously exciting lure of the real thing, it seems we just can't get enough of rollercoaster ride that is Theme Park.

Theme Park DS

Not very different from versions on other consoles, Theme Park DS makes good use of the console, and is a neat package for those who want to think on the move