You can build any kind of theme park you want--so long as it's SeaWorld--in this budget strategy game that's a bit thin on content.
When Chris Sawyer and MicroProse published RollerCoaster Tycoon in 1999, virtually no one could have imagined the impact it would have. While there were earlier games built around the idea of constructing roller coasters or theme parks, Sawyer brilliantly merged the two ideas into an addictively simple game that sold a gazillion copies. It also launched a wave of competitors, from Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon to the latest takeoff, SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon. It's probably a good thing that SeaWorld is published under Activision's budget label, because it comes off as an extremely lightweight imitation of the original.
If you've played any of the recent games with "tycoon" in the title, you'll instantly recognize the interface and mechanics of SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon. Your job is to create a moneymaking theme park, from scratch, by designing everything from the layout of the park to which rides and amusements are available. You control everything from ticket prices to concession prices, and you can even charge customers, known as peeps, to use the bathroom. Once it's all set up, just sit back and watch the peeps enjoy your park while you tweak and fiddle along the way.
It turns out that it's a good and bad thing being the only game to bear the official SeaWorld Adventure Parks license. While you get to use most of the rides and attractions found at SeaWorld's three main parks, including Shamu Adventure and Shipwreck Rapids, that's all you get. You can't design your own coasters, and, as SeaWorld has a limited number of rides and attractions, there's not a lot to choose from. After a few levels, it begins to feel like you're reconfiguring the same park again and again. To paraphrase Henry Ford, "you can build any adventure park you want, so long as it's SeaWorld."
The game comes with 12 levels that are split into three groups of varying difficulty, so it's easy for new gamers to ramp up to more difficult challenges. Most of the levels have objectives that are fairly easy to reach, though some of the latter levels put you under considerable time constraints to accomplish your goals. These time limits can be frustrating, as you've got to build an almost perfect park to reach your objectives. There is a sandbox mode that allows you to build to your heart's content without worrying about objectives or time limits, though, once again, the limited amount of content doesn't allow for a lot of variation in park design.
SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon retains the traditional 2D look and feel of most tycoon games, and it does look very pretty. There's an excellent level of detail in the graphics, though there are some maddening omissions. You can't rotate the map in 90-degree increments--a feature that's almost standard in every other game in the genre. This makes it almost impossible to fine-tune construction behind large buildings because you can't see what's going on. In addition, you can't rotate certain buildings at all during construction, so you're forced to place them as they are.
Some of the animation is well done; for instance, you can actually see the dolphins leaping out through hoops. The peeps, however, don't exhibit the same amount of emotion and interaction as they do in other games. Like a virtual person in The Sims, an individual peep just walks around looking to satisfy a current need, whether it be going to the bathroom or finding something to eat. Additionally, it's hard to tell your customers apart from your park staff since zooming in is of little help, as the graphics are a bit pixelated up close.
Musically, the game's soundtrack seems to consist of a few colorful tracks that capture a nice Caribbean/nautical mood. The sound effects are adequate, though there's a lot of background chatter as your peeps walk around. Overall, though, they're par for the genre.
SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon packs about 15 to 20 hours' worth of gameplay, and it's not a bad game for younger gamers. And with the slim amount of content, it's a good thing that Activision is only charging $20 for it.