Theme Hospital is a humorous, satirical hospital management simulator from legendary British developer Bullfrog Productions. It’s a sort of sequel to the popular Theme Park and was first published by Electronic Arts in 1997.
The game has a similar isometric viewpoint to Theme Park and successfully mixes jolly, cartoony gameplay with serious themes, such as budget balancing, public health, and customer satisfaction.
The idea is to set up and manage your very own hospital by constructing reception areas, GP triage areas, and treatment rooms. As well as other vital hospital facilities like toilets, staff rooms, pharmacies, and the like. And of course recruiting the right staff to work on your wards is vital too. The game gives you plenty of choice on that front, and by reading through the descriptions of the various candidates you should be able to pick the wheat from the chaff. To begin with you only really have to hire four kinds of staff: doctors, nurses, handymen (to water plants and clear up litter/vomit), and receptionists.
One key thing to remember is not to build rooms that are too small, and make sure your reception area is quite big with lots of benches for people to sit. My first attempt at playing the game made a mess of all those things. I made my rooms too small and didn’t put enough benches down and my waiting room was an apocalypse of disorder. The game does tell you if you’re making mistakes and thankfully it’s not too difficult to start from scratch if you feel you need to.
Another thing worth paying attention to are the announcements made over the hospital’s PA. If you keep hearing announcements for doctors to go to a GP’s office then you probably haven’t got enough doctors. Having enough handymen to keep on top of litter is a good idea too, and also having plenty of toilets for patients to use is not a bad idea either. Watching people sit in toilet cubicles is funny, as is hearing them fart as they do their business. Just like in a real hospital: dealing with everyday bodily functions and sick people is not for the squeamish…
In terms of presentation, Theme Hospital is beautifully constructed. The graphics are neat and colourful and the animated people are full of character. Sound effects and music are excellent, without being overwhelming. Most importantly: the drag-and-drop nature of room-building and item placement is very easy with a mouse. The various icons all have tool tips to explain what they do, and thankfully there aren’t too many of them that it gets confusing. And I think that’s the key thing with Theme Hospital: Bullfrog have kept things simple to make sure that you’re not overwhelmed – at least not initially. As you go up through the levels the game does become more complicated, and keeping your hospital running smoothly is more difficult, but the initial stages ease you in well. And, like Theme Park: once you’ve reached a certain level you can afford to sit back and just watch people doing their thing. Whether that’s leaving the hospital cured, or having a dump while convalescing…
Theme Hospital is still available to buy for under a fiver from GOG.com and it’s well worth a play today, if you like management sims. It’s a funny, unusual and interesting game, and when you get into the swing of it: very absorbing.