Hands-on with Theme Park for iPhone and iPad

How does the fun fare?

Hands-on with Theme Park for iPhone and iPad
| Theme Park

Look away now, all ye faithful followers of the church of Bullfrog, because Theme Park on iOS is not the game you remember.

There are no salt levels, staff negotiations, world domination, or losing track of the man dressed as a dinosaur because the path-finding went wrong - this is not 1993, and you are not a teenager any more.

Things change, people change, Theme Park’s changed. To make things a bit easier to swallow, at least it’s changed into what’s looking like an attractive and approachable freemium game.

Park life

The first thing that strikes home about this new iteration of Theme Park is its much-improved 3D graphics.

Each ride is fully animated (be it the punters bumping into each other in the dodgems, or the snake rising up from the ground on the helter skelter), and the bigger your park gets, the more it teems with (hopefully) happy punters walking along your paths.

Go up a level (out of an initial 50) and you’re treated to fireworks and a marching band, complete with people dressed up as one of the creatures from Spore (one of many little references to other EA franchises dotted around the game), trumpeting your achievements to the world.

Even the menus look better than almost all other freemium titles out there. I know that sounds like an odd compliment, but it’s just another element that contributes to an authentic theme park - if not quite Theme Park - atmosphere.

Timed ride

The game follows the Sims Social rule of harvesting, so despite there being timers aplenty for you to wait for (shops and rides generating cash / being built), once you do click the icon, tons of colourful icons leap out (that then need to be claimed). It genuinely feels like you’re being rewarded.

During the Theme Park 'downtime', there are mini-games to engage in and to earn a bit more cash. These take the form of simple interactions that have to be tempered in order to get the most cash out of the customers. So, while a bouncy castle and cowboy show involves tapping, the helter skelter and telescope-thing calls for rotating.

If you overegg it, as I was deliberately doing during the hands-on, you can break a ride, make your customers sick (sadly just an icon, rather than a visible ‘attraction’), or just enjoy watching a fairly sedate teacup ride look like it’s about to explode after a serious speed injection.

Unlike the original game, Theme Park comes with a huge array of rides and shops to dabble with. Each new section of your theme park - opened up as you work your way through the levels - can have a completely separate theme from the others: a clever way of introducing a bit more variety to your selections.

Join hands

In terms of friendship options, Theme Park lets you assign your friends (on Origin only, of course) to various positions in the park, as well as earn a few bonus tokens for doing so.

These tokens represent the real-world money portion of the game, although they can also be earned by levelling-up (the familiar drip-feed to get you used to buying in-game cash).

Levelling-up brings its own problems, though, as you’ll also be balancing the general happiness level of your punters.

This is determined by empty spaces (which are quite prevalent when you first expand out) and the rides-to-shops ratio. Get all this right and you gain a handy XP bonus.

So, yes, this isn’t the Theme Park you remember playing on the Amiga all those years ago. But, while I am a naturally cynical soul afraid of change, this new Theme Park looks like it has enough charm and disarming little touches to make me grudgingly admit it could be pretty good.

We’ll see if it offers freemium fans the ride of their lives when the game launches later this year.