Back in August, we learned that EA would be bringing the classic Theme Park franchise to iOS as a freemium (free-to-play) experience. While the game has yet to be released in the US iTunes marketplace, Canadians can get their hands (or fingers, as it were) on the game via their store. We've taken the chance to play the game ourselves, and have found that while the transition to mobile has been a smooth one technically, it's a much more limiting experience than fans of the franchise would have hoped for.
To start, you'll be given a small theme park where the pathways, garbage cans and more have already been placed for you. You'll tap on squares of varying sizes to choose attractions and shops from a list, which vary in size according to the size of square you tapped on. For instance, the smallest squares can house many of your food and drink stalls, along with small rides like the series' famous Bouncy Castle. Items like the Ferris Wheel or Pirate Ship Ride go in "medium" sized boxes, while roller coasters require the largest boxes on the map.
Unfortunately, many of the game's attractions are locked based on your level, with leveling up being a fairly slow process of repeatedly tapping on existing attractions to earn a few experience points every few seconds / minutes / hours. As you play, you'll unlock other large areas in your theme park (complete with their own templates for item placement), with each area being themed according to your choice (a list of options like Knights vs. Cowboys and Pirate are available). However, the process of filling each area in your park is a slow one, due either to the aforementioned level-locked items and the fact that the rest of the "cool" items cost Tickets, or premium currency, to purchase. For instance, a Skull-Train roller coaster costs the equivalent of more than $60 to purchase. That's, again... $60 for a single ride (and it's one of the cheaper ones!). This doesn't appear to be a misprint, as the vast majority of the game's rides cost Tickets and are just as overpriced.
You can complete missions to earn extra experience points, helping you to level up faster, but either way, what we're ultimately left with is a set of rides that you'll likely need to build duplicates of, in multiple sections of your park, just to fill things out, unless you're willing to shell out Tickets to really make things "fun."
While there are some social features available, like the ability to visit your friends' parks, it doesn't look like you can actually do anything while you're there. You can also hire your friends as staff in your park, but, again, this seems to have little purpose in the grand scheme of things (and if you don't have enough staff to fill every role in your administration building, you'll be left to do so with even more Tickets).
Unfortunately, Theme Park's transition to the mobile platform is a bit of a disappointing one. While you are given a roller coaster for free after finishing the game's tutorial, the simple fact that so many items cost (lots of) Tickets to purchase puts a really negative feeling on the entire experience. Sure, playing around in Bouncy Castles and Hedge Mazes was fun as a kid, but what if that's all your theme park contained? Would you still want to go there? Perhaps, but only because it was free. That, I'm afraid, is the same deal with this launch version of Theme Park on iOS. As a free-to-play experience, there's a bit of joy to be had here in the short term, but it definitely loses the grandeur of past series installments.
Are you excited to try Theme Park on your iOS device once the game launches in the states? Would you pay as much as $60 or more for a single ride in a game? Sound off in the comments.