As soon as I saw Theme Park, whenever and wherever it was in my youth, I knew I wanted to play it. You make and manage a theme park of your own creation - why wouldn't that make for a great game? It's like city building on a smaller scale, and yet just as complex.
Nearly twenty years later and I'm finally able to see what all of my fuss was about...
For a business simulation game, Theme Park sure looks cartoony and colourful. With options of play ranging from sandbox to simulation, with rival theme park owners of varying difficulty vying for your customers, the game seems far from relaxing.
The short tutorial gets your park up and running by showing off how to create paths, plop down attractions and clean up after your customers have littered everywhere, but after that, you're left to discover the ins and outs of theme park management by yourself - and there's a lot to take in.
Information screens of all kinds will show you just where your income is coming from and how much of it you are losing hand over fist in an attempt to keep the visitors happy.
These screens are so detailed that you can see which rides people are using the most, how they feel on their walk around the park, what they need, like food and toilets and so on, and you can even tinker with things to the point of upping the sugar content in the ice cream you serve so that people keep buying it. And then micromanage its price to squeeze every penny out of the suckers.
But The Cavilcade is run by an incompetent manager who doesn't really get the whole theme park business, and soon enough it's clear that the money should have been spent on the inside of the park than the half arsed moat around the outside.
Within a few years of operation - which go by lightning quick, so adjust your game speed accordingly - I had slipped down the rankings compared to my AI neighbours, with no hope of expanding into different countries like the Disneys of our world.
It might have been a better idea to start small. Very small. No opponents, no pressure, sandbox mode kind of small, but then I might have found myself spending more time on the layout of the footpaths than the content of the park to have ever opened to customers in the first place.
Theme Park is more in depth and detailed than I thought it would be, and I already knew going into it that it wasn't just a game where you slap down bouncy castles and hope for the best. The sheer amount of stuff you can tinker with in order to turn a profit, and use that profit to expand your theme park empire into new territories is vast. When you're on a roll, you'll be doing so well that rivals will start to come to your park just to trash it so you look bad, it's that detailed a game.
But, do I have the time and energy to get that far? Do I just want to play around in a sandbox and forget about what makes Theme Park an actual business simulator? I mean, I can, that's certainly an option for each and every game you play here, but you're not getting the full experience, really.
Should you play it? Sure - it's the first of many of the genre, it broke new ground, and it makes the struggles of managing a theme park humourous. Should you stick around with it for the long haul? I just can't answer that.
Maybe just stick in some cheats and half a laugh?
Despite the visuals, which were chosen in order to appeal to a wider audience, Theme Park was designed to be as realistic as possible. Which is why you can screw with the food in order to have visitors buy more drinks to wash it down with, one would assume...
Theme Park, developed by Bullfrog Productions, first released in 1994.
Version played: MS-DOS, 1994, via emulation.
Version watched: MS-DOS, 1994 (GameSpot)