Exclusive: Theme Park Hands-On Preview and Video

On consoles and PCs, the Theme Park series has been a classic for strategy gamers who always wanted to be the next Walt Disney. In December, EA is reviving the series for iOS, but with some major changes that put the focus on managing your personal time more than the price of tickets or proximity of corndog stands to dizzying coasters.

Theme Park’s freemium makeover means that attractions and stores won’t appear instantly as you unlock them– instead, you’ll be presented with a timer that ticks away the seconds, minutes, or hours. You can speed up this timer with the game’s premium currency, called Super Tickets, which are earned slowly through gameplay or instantly with an in-app purchase.

Despite the radical change to the gameplay, there is still some interactivity. You can zoom in to any of the rides to manipulate them yourself, like tapping on the bouncy house or spinning the tea cups with a circle drawn on the screen. This will reward you with some additional cash. In most of these minigames, the goal is to time your taps and swipes so that customers were moving around, but not too much. And no, you can’t make park attendants lose their lunch.

As you play, you can track your park’s progress with an indicator at the top of the screen, which gives you a ranking and instructs you on what to build next. Most of the complexity of the original game is reduced to waiting for more currency to appear, so don’t expect too much in the way of a challenge. You can, however, visit your friends’ parks through EA’s Origin social network, which might inspire you to keep building.

If there’s one thing that sets Theme Park apart from other casual games like Farmville, it’s the scenery. The world of Theme Park is bright and colorful, with some epic attractions like a skeleton-themed rollercoaster available to those with enough virtual bucks. It may take a while, but we think unlocking the game’s more impressive rides will be the main draw for most players. You can also choose a theme for your buildings, and divide your park between Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland-inspired boroughs.

Partly, we’re disappointed that Theme Park isn’t a micromanaging tycoon simulator, but the freemium treatment puts it more in line with successful casual games like Snoopy’s Street Fair. Theme Park looks like a sandbox for younger players who are more interested in collecting rollercoasters than calculating costs, and you’ll have a chance to try it yourself when it launches next month.

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