Managing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sims in SimCity 2000 seems a lot less stressful now that I've been a park ranger in Maxis' SimPark. How tough could it be, you ask? Plant a few trees, feed some animals, and put in a few hiking trails...no big deal, right? Hardly. In the Maxis tradition of creating totally immersive sim games, being a park ranger is more than greeting park visitors and collecting fees - it's work, but it's also fun.
As the ranger, your objective is to create and maintain a park in the continental United States while working your way up the ranger ranks. Determining which species are compatible to the climate you've selected is simple. Each species has a color border around its graphic, indicating the species' compatibility to the climate. That's the easy part; maintaining a happy balance of plants, animals and people is the real challenge.
SimPark offers several helpful tools. First, there's Rizzo, your trusted froggy friend. He'll offer many tips on proper park management techniques, although with a limited repertoire of phrases, he quickly grows more annoying than helpful. Fortunately, Rizzo can be deactivated. The interface also includes an e-mail system (used only to receive and respond to messages), a budget screen (planting trees costs money), and a park information screen containing a current log of the plant and animal life in your park and updates on each species' condition. If the mice are being overeaten by predators, or the beavers are starving, this section will keep you informed. Monitoring this feature is the best way to keep on top of your park's health. Although just because you know the status, it doesn't mean you can rectify hazardous situations easily. How do you get rid of 400 porcupines? Very carefully!
Keep in mind that SimPark is targeted to the young and impressionable, so you'll find no National Geographic-like "predator vs. prey" takedowns in this game. Prey simply disappears from the screen when a predator passes over its meal. Also, SimPark is extremely forgiving. Even if you overrun the park with hundreds of bison, the ecology of the plant life remains fairly unscathed. It's virtually impossible to fail at park management. And while the head park ranger may send threatening e-mail messages "encouraging" you to improve your park conditions, she never makes good on her threats. As a result, you can expect hours of park play.
Curious about the status of any of your park's inhabitants? Interview them. If a plant looks a little under the weather, you might just get a response like, "This is a beech tree, she is dead, her species was overeaten." Perhaps this is why the game seems a bit intense. In SimPark you get to really know the creatures in your park, while in SimCity 2000, your wards are just little black faceless specks on the screen.
Although SimPark - with its simple interface, unalterable game pace, and educational tendencies - was designed for the younger player, advanced gamers looking for a diversion from the fast action, shoot-em-up titles might enjoy this game. While not exactly a walk in the park, it might help them to stop and smell the roses before returning to their reign of death and destruction.