SimPark looks like your standard management strategy game. It is part of Maxis' Sims franchise after all, but this 1996 release has something different about it. It's, ya know, for kids...
Before you even begin the game, the signs are there. Included with the game is a booklet containing a 'Teacher's Guide'. Not only is this a kids game, but we're gonna learn stuff! If only all classes were about playing games.
If like most of SimPark's target audience you tend to completely ignore everything that requires reading and go straight into the game, you'll e greeted by another clue. Your host is an annoying anthropomorphised frog named Rizzo (heretofore referred to as 'that damn frog') who teaches you stuff. It all begins innocuously enough by teaching you how the game works, then he'll suddenly sneak in a tidbit about ferns. He's also the guide to some mini-games where you can guess the bird call or name the leaf. It's these underhanded attempts at an education that would drive any child of the mid-90s to an unproductive death match of Doom.
Players of SimCity or Theme Park will find the game very familiar. Select a fictional national park in the USA (other countries be damned), and create a harmonious ecosystem that will lure visitors and their large wallets. To do this you'll need to place flora and fauna as well as stuff to keep our own species occupied - nature alone's not good enough it seems.
To get clues on how your park's inhabitants are doing, you can click on them using the Microphone tool to hear that damn frog interpret their inner-most feelings. I get an inner-most feeling of dread whenever he says "I wonder how the blackberry is feeling today?". Most likely it's dead by being overeaten. What can I say, an elk's gotta eat.
The humans fare much worse, even though that damn frog doesn't introduce them. Despite all sounding like an eight-year-old girl while looking like middle-aged men, none of them has anything interesting to say. You'd think that the revelation that one of them is wearing odd socks would be absolutely, undeniably vital to the success of the park, but no. You also get other brain farts like "I didn't brush my teeth this morning" or "I wonder if bears like ice-cream?" while not a single ursine is in sight.
The strategic element comes in when balancing the circle of life. Small creatures would need plants that they can feed on while the larger carnivores will have to eat these smaller animals to survive. Each species will need two of each kind to get their rutting on and further their genus. All of that interesting nature stuff like hunting and killing that every TV nature show depicts is not found here. The predators do not hunt but perform some kind of magic trick with their prey. They walk towards them and *poof* they're gone. Similarly, there's no bump n' grinding going on here but a spate of animal spawn magically popping into existence.
You cannot 'lose' at this game. No matter how much debt you'll get into or how much grief that damn frog and the park ranger will give you, there's no game over screen. Designing the park can be a lot of fun, but can get old fast. There are no natural landscapes on your chosen bit of flat land beyond the odd lake. Each tree, fern and outhouse has to be placed separately which eventually becomes a bore even though they increase in numbers through procreation (except the outhouse). The only reward you'll see for doing well is the number of human visitors growing and that damn frog bombarding you with just as annoying but more positive comments.
There are a few disasters to shake things up, including a garbage epidemic and an alien invasion. The lack of educational merit of the latter may make it seem like a fun diversion, but all you do to get rid of these pink-and-blue beings is click on them with the Bulldozer tool. They are often placed in locations that will spell funny works, but that's no compensation for such a tedious task. In the mind of an eight-year-old, it's still better than an actual lesson, I guess.
This whole experience feels like it could be a good Theme Park style management title if the developers were focused on making it an actual game instead of a teaching assistant. There's some fun to be had when beginning the game, and I did learn something about the inner feelings of neglected park life - they're such a bunch of emos. When you begin to realise that there's not much more to offer beyond the first few hours of play, that's when things get a bit disappointing. There may be a lot of maps in a variety of US only areas, but there's little incentive to actually play all of them; they are essentially the same.
For those young enough to be amongst the game's target audience, SimPark is a fun diversion for a couple of hours and an excellent way to spend first period at school. The most fun is had with the creation aspects and the no-lose mechanic lets the tykes free their creativity without the threat of failure. For anyone else, it's too simple too truly engage. But then it's ya know, for kids.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Teacher's Guide included. Tested on Windows 7 and Windows 10.
17.05.2016 - Version 2 - Windows 3.1 will now autoclose when exiting the game
File Size: 71 Mb. Install Size: 178 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
SimPark is © Maxis
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me