I wanted to revisit a childhood favourite of mine that I have recently picked up again, Theme Hospital – Theme Hospital is the second in the “Theme” series, following in the footsteps of Theme Park, developed by Bullfrog and published by EA and released way back when in 1997 on the PC and ported a year later to the PlayStation.

…Sadly Bullfrog closed down in 2001, meaning we never got to play the rumoured Theme Resort, Theme Airport or Theme Prison; I’ll let this slide though, because the employees went on to form other companies, such as Lionhead studios (Fable), Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet) and, most notably, Two Point Studios (Two Point Hospital).

I’ve recently been seeing ads everywhere for Two Point Hospital, which most are coining as a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital (20 years later… I’m seeing a theme). It’s a game I plan to get my hands on soon, as this is what has prompted me to return to Theme hospital (you can pick it up pretty cheap these days).

Theme Hospital is a business simulator in which you move through different levels managing different hospitals; gameplay is fairly simple – You have a slightly titled top down, 3D view of your hospital in which you place various rooms, where at the beginning of each level you have a little time before your hospital opens to the public to start throwing down some rooms and hiring some staff. As you’d expect, some of these rooms are essential to game progress and some are optional – There are different categories of room type, diagnosis, treatment, clinics, facilities; so for example you can build general diagnosis rooms, psychiatric diagnosis rooms, pharmacy rooms, wards, research facilities, toilets, staff rooms, training rooms and all the different treatment rooms and clinics… SO MANY ROOMS. A total of 23, to be precise!

Patients will queue outside of the rooms, so it’s smart to group relevant rooms together, however this can be quite difficult, especially with the limited space in some complexes, and with hospitals that have lots of separate buildings. There’s also a little tip guy in the corner who will make suggestions about adding windows, making bigger rooms and adding in extras to produce productivity… I’ll let you make up your own mind as to whether this is worth it or not.

Once you have all your essential and optional rooms placed you can start to brighten up your hospital with drinks machines , plants, radiators, fire extinguishers and benches to increase your customer satisfaction.

Once you’ve got the layout of your rooms sorted you can start to hire staff, (Pre-warning for those that haven’t played before the staff are highly gender stereotyped), you have to kit your hospital out with Doctors, Nurses, Receptionists and Handymen. Each potential employee you view has a quick overview of their interests, how efficient they are at work, their skills and finally their monthly salary. In the later levels, I have found its good to have more staff than your rooms require, as your staff do tend to fall to fatigue and take breaks; you can control at what level of tiredness they take their breaks, but this still leaves rooms unattended.

I notice the need for extra staff most when I get “Emergency” patients; these are patients that come in all with the same thing and all have to been seen very quickly, coincidentally, this is usually the time my staff decide they want a break. Nurses, handymen and receptionists remain the same throughout the levels, and in later levels you can start to hire differently qualified doctors for specific rooms and tasks – For example, psychiatrists, researchers, surgeons and consultants.

Consultants with more than one area of expertise are gold dust, as they can teach junior doctors all of these skills! Skills appear few and far between, so you often have to settle for a lower levelled doctor because there is no guarantee that you’ll get a doctor of this skill set pop up again for hire in the level. My biggest tip on staffing however is HIRE ALL THE HANDYMEN, I obviously can’t get this balance right, because my plants are always wilting, my hospital is always trashy and my machines always break in earthquakes (During later levels).

The Handymen also have an annoying habit of just strolling right past that piece of trash on the floor, or that sick puddle (Guess I can’t blame them) – There’s also a fine balance between keeping your staff happy and productive, as you can keep an eye out on how happy your staff are on a dedicated tab – Happy staff, better service, better reputation.

You’ll see lots of different types of patients grace your hospital corridors, and as such, they are the source of a lot of Theme Hospital’s humour – There are loads of wild and wacky ailments with equally outrageous causes such as: Gut Rot, Caused by Mrs. O’Malley’s Good Time Whisky Cough Mixture; Broken Heart, caused by someone richer, younger and thinner than the patient; King Complex, caused by ‘The Spirit of the King’ entering the patient’s mind and taking over, and Hairyitis caused by prolonged exposure to the moon. I loved discovering all the new illnesses as I progressed through the levels, they never failed to put a smile on my face; although you can’t interact directly with the patients, you can monitor their conditions and move quickly deteriorating patients up the queue.

As with most simulation games you have targets to reach, and your major hold-back is your budget. You can take out loans in a level, but I personally found these rarely pay off; there are also loads of other ways in which you can influence your hospital’s success, such as investing in research, training, looking at the radiator levels, adjusting work ethics and much more which all work together to make quite a complex simulator.

Each new level brings more challenges, such as inspections, VIP visitors, earthquakes and emergency patients; failing a level leads to a cutscene ending in a newspaper article announcing your closure, game overs include a half passed out doctor in a party hat, a doctor digging up a grave and even one panning to a doctor sat in a toilet cubicle pants down looking at a magazine titled “NURSE”. I found that the humour in Theme Hospital largely parodies that of real life scandals and can be at times a little twisted – The graphics are of course, what you’d expect for a 20 year old, cartoon styled game, and if you want to pick it up, it has very low running requirements.

+ Gameplay can be as simple or complex as you like
+ Low running requirements
+ New challenges each level
+ Twisted humour
Old-school gender stereotyping may be a turn-off for some

Overall I really enjoy Theme Hospital, I love its’ twisted humour and parodying nature. I like that it’s a pretty accessible simulator and caters for both casual players and those that like to play around with controls to get the best possible outcome, and I recognise that, for some, the lack of gender diversity in roles may be an issue, but this game is 20 years old and is running of the stereotypes of the time (On the plus side there is some racial diversity) – It’s a game that I still love to play to this day so I’m gonna have to go right ahead and give it a nostalgic:

9.0 / 10
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