by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Out of the park
Much like The Sims, I suspect few people had any idea that running a virtual amusement park in a game would be any fun before someone actually tried to make such a game. EA’s Theme Park was undoubtedly the first successful game in the “amusement park management” game, but it was RollerCoaster Tycoon that put the genre on the map. In fact, after 14 years the game stands unbeaten in terms of gameplay and sheer entertainment value. That has not stopped would-be champions to step up to the plate and try, but we’ve just not hit any home runs and many failed miserably. Adventure Park doesn’t do the latter, but it doesn’t exactly displace RollerCoaster Tycoon either.
Don’t get me wrong, Adventure Park is a decent enough game. It ticks all the boxes of a being a theme park simulator. You start with an empty plot of land that is begging to be developed or a park that has seen better days, and you build and repair and expand until it is a thriving park where droves of happily smiling people go on rides, eat candy and drink pop.
It sounds a little easier than it actually is, as rides go out of style if left unattended. This is closely tied with your park rating. Do well and your rating will go up steadily, unlocking new rides and shop types in a five star ranking system. With each new star comes new expectations from your visitors in terms of entertainment value and sustenance. So you plunk down new rides to quickly reach some sort of equilibrium in visitor happiness, and then you focus on reaching that next star.
There’s a slight imbalance in how difficult stars are to achieve. The first seemed mind bogglingly difficult until I realized that the game doesn’t understand a core business mechanic: investing in tomorrow’s success by running at a loss today. Despite a huge bankroll, the next star would not come unless I made a profit. Once I figured that one out, new stars came a little too easily, to the point that I didn’t have to do anything special at all.
Looks different, is the same
Visually, there is a wide diversity both in rides and themes. I mention ‘visually’ specifically because naming a Ferris wheel “Blackbeard’s Helm” doesn’t really make it any different from the same machine called “Stargazer”. Looking at it from a “type” perspective, the variation begins to look a little skimpy. On the plus side, there are heaps of objects to customize rides with and some will even interact with the rides they are placed upon. Consider, if you will, building your own mining-themed wooden roller coaster and donning it with fluorescent photon batteries, radiating blue space crystals and a huge C-3PO wannabe. It will look like it came straight out of Cowboys & Aliens, especially when adding a nice mist tunnel to complete the picture.
Ride and shop upgrades also make up for the lack of depth in rides a little by adding an additional strategic layer into the mix. Adding extra bulls to Buffalo Bill’s Ride, for instance, not only increases its carrying capacity but also adds to its running costs and attractiveness. In many cases, the attractiveness warrants a rise in price for the ride, making finding the right balance for each ride in a large park quite a challenging job.
Monitoring statistics such as visitor happiness and revenue is fairly straightforward, keeping track of your personnel not so much. Hiring cleaning and gardening staff is a simple manner of clicking the menu and placing them somewhere within the park, but technical staff come with various skill levels. Each level is always available, though technicians of higher levels demand more pay. It’s a wasted opportunity here to add another layer of depth to the game and do something along the lines of Theme Hospital where better skilled staff would simply not always be around for hire. Where it does add depth, it sort of goes wrong: more complex rides require better technicians for their maintenance. I seriously doubt anyone will be grouping the complex rides together so that they all fit in the catchment area for the same high-grade workers, and grouping the less complex ones together so that lesser technicians can work on those. The effect? You’ll only be hiring the skilled ones, completely ignoring the lesser ones.
A ride, but not a helluva
Adventure Park does an adequate job of emulating the task of managing a theme park, but it also screams of missed opportunities. Building your own coasters, for instance, can be a little frustrating. It is not always easy to gauge where the placement of a new piece of track is allowed and when something is blocking it. This is not so much because the interface doesn’t show you something is wrong, but more because it isn’t always logical. I often found myself looking at a track that refused to be laid down despite plenty of room in all dimensions. It works okay, but it is a little too finicky to my taste. Being able to add objects that interact with rides is a really nice touch but it could have been fleshed out more and adult players won’t find enough challenge to keep them entertained for very long. That said, younger generations will find plenty to like here and it’s a safe buy for Santa looking to gift some virtual entertainment to an enterprising kid.
Cool ride-customization options.
Not a lot of variation in rides, not challenging enough for adults.