You've been reading AP for long enough now to realise that these reviews aren't written in a vacuum. Clearly, even the MIGHTIEST GAME REVIWING TYPE BEING THINGS couldn't produce the sort of incisive insights into the world of Amiga games WITHOUT TALING TO EACH OTHER.
I mention this because I'm about to relate a conversation I had with Cam one rainy Saturday morning as I sat in the office playing Hillsea Lido. He had been working extraordinarily hard for a few days (actually, that's strictly true but 'on a freebie to Switzerland' sounds a mite too showbiz) and, though clearly extremely tired, his views were as lucid and apposite as ever.
I mention this because I'm paid by the word and the more words I write without actually talking about the game, the more I feel I've won some sort of victory over the running dog lackeys of the imperialist bourgeoisie that are AP's FACELESS CORPORATE MASTERS. I only mention that because I enjou SHOUTING OCCASIONALLY.
So, anyway, I was playing Hillsea Lido and Cam said, "It's a bit like Theme Park isn't it?" I agreed that it was very much like it, only not as good. And this is where the story really starts.
Hillsea Lido, you see, is a holiday resort sim. Which is just like Theme Park except that that's a theme park sim. And Hillsea Lido isn't as good. You are, in a very virtual sense, the manager of a patch of dingy south coast sea front and you must marshal your limited resources in an effort to create an award-winning profit-making holiday paradise. In Hillsea. Which is spelt a bit like Hilsea. Which is a suburb of Portsmouth. And consequently nowhere that any sane person would wish to visit unless it had award-winning sea-front attractions and top rubber dinghy rental huts.
Spelt a bit like Hilsea
The scenario is quite plausible. You have a small patch of sea front to call your own and a small amount of money to spend on it. You must buy stalls, stands, services and assorted pavement furniture to fill both the promenade and the beach in the hope that you might attract hoards of tourists and their bulging wallets/purses/bum-bags. (In America, bum-bags are called 'fanny-packs'- a fact which I found hugely amusing for at least three or four minutes until someone kindly pointed out that I was being juvenile. Again).
Once the huts, stalls and shops are built you must stock them with stock which you buy by telephone from a wholesaler. You must set your prices, employ casual labour to clean up, act as security and advertise the shows at the theatre (which you also control).
Buying the stalls and stands can be quite a tedious experience. The salesman has a catalogue from which you must select your purchases. You look at each successive page by clicking a certain part of the screen. And when you reach the last page you have to leave the salesman screen and come back before you can start browsing from the beginning again.
And there seems to be some sort of arbitrary delay built into the wholesaler's delivery network so that your stock seldom arrives on time. Unlike the real world you cannot tell them to get their fingers out or risk losing your custom because they have a monopoly on everything.
At every week's end your successes are evaluated, prizes are awarded and you may go to the theatre to watch a surreal show that wouldn't be out of place on Felix Unusual's World Of The Decidedly Odd. If there were such a thing. And I for one think there should be.
It's not possible to play the game properly without reading the manual. And even though the version included with my review copy of the game came ina special do-it-yourself '16-page signature' version which had to be folded, stapled and cut with a scissors before I could read it, it still wasn't entertaining.
But few of them are and that's not the point. The point is that it's not a particularly complex game and it ought to be straightforward to control once you know roughly what you're supposed to do. But it isn't, so you have to read the manual. And you shouldn't really have to in this day and age. Or should you? Or SHOULD you? OR... oh, never mind.
The tall chap with glasses
But why, we asked each other (that's me and Cam - you remember Cam, he's the tall chap with the glasses with whom I was chatting just a few paragraphs ago), would anyone want to spend any amount of time and effort to produce a game that's very similar to another one only not as good?
If you're not backed by someone like Electronic Arts, and you don't have bags of cash and two years to develop it, why would you think it worth your while to develop it, why would you think it worth your while to write a game that was just like another, very successful, game? It clearly wouldn't be as good and probably a waste of your time. We thought so.
It's all exceedingly competent and everything. The graphics look okay okay although you just get a 2D scrolling view of your patch of prom/beach rather than an isometric one. The spot effects, samples and background sounds are entertaining. And the scenario is quite amusing. But that's true of Theme Park, too. And that's much better.
I've been trying to work out exactly what it is about the game that wasn't quite right. Apart from the fact that it doesn't quite have the sparkle of a game bya big publisher (and who cares about sparkle, right kids?) it was hard to see what was wrong.
And then it struck me. It's about running a British seaside resort. What could be less glamorous or exciting? Seaside resorts are old fashioned and tacky, run-down and seedy. They have crazy golf games called 'Arnold Palmer's Golf World'. And roller coasters so rusty you cross the street for fear of being hit by loose passengers. Most of us don't even enjoy going to seaside resorts let alone wishing to run them.
I was forced to the conclusion that it's only of any interest if you live in Hilsea. Never mind the spelling, you can pretend it's about your town and run it just the way you want it to. They'll be your postcard stalls on your promenade and you'll be able to take an active part in your community without straying from the security of your Amiga keyboard.
For the rest of us, though, it's Theme Park only in a more squalid setting. And not as good. So to take account of this obvious divergence of opinion, Martin suggested that I write two bottom line boxes, one for Hilsea residents and one for the rest of us. So I did.