The game is comprised of several missions. Each mission starts out on a blank lot, where the player must construct his theme park from scratch. This includes placing various rides (like a Haunted House or Rollercoaster), shops (food, drink and gifts), lavatories, decorative items, and the roads connecting these things to one another (and the front gate). Once the gates are opened, visitors begin arriving and will meander around the park to enjoy themselves. The objective is to maximize the amount of money your visitors pay during their stay, which is primarily achieved by keeping them as happy as possible for the duration.
The player has no control over the park's visitors, so the key is to lay the park out in a way that it would be easily navigable, making sure to put all the amenities within reach at all times, and generally drawing visitors towards the more expensive rides and shops.
Despite being the first of its kind in many ways, probably the most interesting feature of this game was the ability to create complex rollercoaster designs from scratch using various segments. This idea later evolved into the game's Spiritual Successor RollerCoaster Tycoon, where this game-mechanic took the center stage.
Theme Park was soon followed by an important (and much more successful) sequel called Theme Hospital. It also sparked a whole genre of Space Management Games revolving around similar ideas. Theme Park was also remade 5 years after its original release, using 3D graphics, and called Theme Park World. Shortly after, EA bought Bullfrog over and re-christened Theme Park World as Sim Theme Park (the game has no relation to SimCity, indeed it wasn't even designed by Will Wright).
Tropes in the game include:
- Artificial Stupidity: Guests will get stuck by walking into a U-shaped area in the Water Tubing ride, despite having to go off the paved area and try to get stuck. Guests can also get stuck by deciding to walk into ponds, ride exits, and, well, just about anything.
- If you don't assign your handymen a patrol route, they may engage in activities such as: A) ignoring trashy areas of the park and run around in circles in clean areas B) patrolling queue lines, which don't even get trash, or C) deciding to go mow the lawn miles away from where everything is. Oh, and even if you do assign them a route, they may ignore it anyway.
- Mechanics can also get stuck running in endless circles while a ride is breaking down. The only way to break them out of it is to fire them.
- Awesome, but Impractical: The Monorail ride. It looks cool and the reliability of it is generally very good indeed, but it provides the worst entertainment out of all the rides.
- Though to be fair, it's meant to be one of those tame deals which lets you get a tour of the whole park and transport guests from one place to another easily with multiple stations, so completely justified.
- Building is Welding: The engineers repairing the rides.
- Bungled Suicide: In most versions, when attempting to commit suicide due to going bankrupt, the attempt fails since the owner jumps from the first floor.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Parody: The Advisor is a blatant Expy of Willy Wonka.
- Classic Cheat Code:
- In the Super NES version of the game, entering your password as TH.L.RCH..... with any name gives you 100 million cash and everything researched immediately for the first area you choose.
- In the MS-DOS version, it is possible to play the demo (starting with a large amount of money and a huge complement of rides) by using "DEMO" as your name. This doesn't corrupt the demo, as saves are done under a different name.
- Take the username "HORZA" when playing the regular MS-DOS game and you can enable further cheat codes to win extra money.
- Difficulty Levels: As with many other similar games, Theme Park features two different difficulty axes. There is the simulation complexity setting, ranging from Sandbox (most features outside building the park are hidden) to Business (all features unlocked). Simpler settings remove the need to manage certain aspects, making the game easier. In addition, there is the traditional Easy - Medium - Hard difficulty axis, which affects how much money you start with, how happy the guests are, and how willing they are to spend money.
- Downloadable Content: World featured a large collection of rides and other features for sale on its website.
- Escort Mission: If (when) a guest wanders off the pavement, be prepared to delete everything in his path, or else the Advisor will never stop telling you about how your poor planning got him stuck.
- Genki Girl: Mocca, the youngest of the advisors in the DS remake of the game, is one of these.
- His Name Really Is "Barkeep": The Advisor. When he introduces himself to the family in the opening cutscene, he straight-up says he's "The Advisor".
- Informed Attractiveness: Crystal, one of the advisors in the DS remake of the game is called sexy...which would be true if she were 40 or 50, not 26.
- It's a Wonderful Failure: In the event of bankruptcy... well, as it says in the manual, "there's only one honorable way out." The bankruptcy ending sequence depicts the player avatar attempting suicide by defenestration while Chopins Funeral March plays on an organ in the background. In most versions, the cutscene was animated and was relieved a bit by the fact that the suicide attempt fails - however, in the non-animated versions, there is only a still image of the character jumping to his apparent death. Especially potent Nightmare Fuel as the rest of the game has a fairly child-friendly image—
- Non-Indicative Name: The only theming item available for purchase (assuming you have all the items) is the spooky tree, so although you can build one themed area for your Ghost House or Haunted House, you can otherwise only build a bog-standard amusement park, not a theme park as such.
- Overhead Interaction Indicator: Speech bubbles with icons for food, drink, rides, or their mood appears over the park guests' heads.
- Pictorial Speech Bubble: The visitors have this kind of bubble hovering over their heads to show how they feel about your park or what is bothering them.
- Product Placement: The UK version, at least, was sponsored by Midland Bank. It prominently displayed the Midland Griffin at various points of the game.
- Sprite/Polygon Mix: Theme Park World had full 3D rides and scenery, but used sprites for the visitors and staff in an attempt to maintain a playable framerate.
- The Television Talks Back: How The Adviser introduces himself to the family (and the player) in the opening cutscene.
- Understatement: Occasionally utilized by your adviser in Theme Park World.[Sound of strained machinery]Advisor: Erm... no need to panic, but there's a little problem with one of the rides.[Sound of exploding machinery]Advisor: ...Make that a somewhat larger problem.
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: You'll occasionally be thrown into a negotiation minigame to deal with employee raises and supplier prices. If you're awesome at it, you can get your employees to agree to a wage reduction.
- Useful Useless Employee: Any "Entertainer" employees are only good at the front of lines, as most guests won't stay around them enough to exploit the employee to their fullest. The Guards also qualify to some extent, as they're only useful in the rare scenario that the Theme Park is attacked by vandals.
- Vomit Chain Reaction: Possibly one of the first-ever games to feature this. If a customer goes on one of the more intense rides, or eats too much, they can vomit. If anyone sees them vomit, there's a good chance they'll join in. If it happens in a particularly crowded part of your park, well, time to hire more janitors.
- A Winner Is You: What do you get for beating the DS version of the game? All four advisers appearing on screen at once and a message that says "Thanks for playing!" It only stays up for about four or five seconds, so don't expect to look at it that long.