Developer: Bullfrog Productions
Played on: PC
I’ve always wondered what it’s like to run a hospital. The lawsuits, the bad canteen food, the overworked staff… oh, wait. Theme Hospital is however a rambunctious riot of a game that is adorable, cutesy, and challenging.
As a hospital administrator, I am charged to supervise the running of a hospital. There are several levels in this game, with new challenges and new obstacles being introduced in each mission, so every time I decide to move forward to run a tougher hospital, there will be more stresses and headaches to worry about. The ability to move to the next mission depends on whether I’ve satisfied the requirements for the number of visitor,s the number of patients cured, and the profits reaped by the hospital. If I kill too many patients or the hospital is in the red for too long, I will lose the game.
The graphics are rendered in a cartoonish manner so fans of realism will be out of luck. By today’s standards, the game looks unimpressively dated and unsophisticated, but personally I find the graphics too adorable for words. The music, on the other hand, is annoying with too much bleeping sounds that grate on the nerves upon prolonged exposure.
Ah yes, the gameplay. Starting with the introductory mission, I have to set up rooms within a hospital compound, hire doctors and other staff, and equip the hospital with all the fine equipment that money can buy. I also have to make sure that there are enough drink machines (for thirsty patients), fire extinguishers (in case of emergency), heaters (to keep the hospital from becoming too cold or too hot), and potted plants (to keep the place pretty).
First and foremost, a receptionist desk has to be obtained along with the receptionist. For some reason, this woman speaks in a voice that is uncannily like FBI Agent Dana Scully’s. From the list of prospective receptionists that can be hired, I would find that some are lazy and some are hardworking, but from my experience, it doesn’t matter what the hired receptionist’s traits are because they all do the job equally well.
Doctors that can be hired are general doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, researchers, and consultants in each of these fields. Two surgeons are needed to run the operation theatre. A psychiatrist is necessary to treat patients with psychiatry issues, of course, while a researcher is a must as I will need him to run the research laboratory to discover cures and equipment as well as to improve on these for a particular mission. Without a researcher, the percentage of diagnostic accuracy will never improve and patients would die by the dozen while new equipment or cures to new diseases won’t be found. It is very important to hire doctors with good work ethics or they will start giving headaches by constantly needing to take breaks, misdiagnosing diseases, and demanding pay raises.
Naturally, as I go deeper into the game, it becomes harder to find a hireable doctor. I have to constantly check through the staff-for-hire roster to snap up any hardworking and careful doctors to replace the lazy butts I’m forced earlier to hire. Yes, the staff-for-hire list randomly changes with time and if I happen to miss on a great doctor to hire, I will not have another opportunity to do so. Also, specialists become scarce later in the game, forcing me to hire consultants and set up lecture theatres so that they can train general practitioners to become surgeons, psychiatrists, and researchers. At late stages in the game, this is often the only way to obtain the two surgeons required to run an operation theatre. Because the hospital is always busy and often it is impossible to have two surgeons free to perform a surgery (they will most likely be rotating shifts with the other doctors in the consultation rooms), it is always good to have a few surgeons, psychiatrists, and researchers among the staff.
In a rather sexist way, doctors are always male while nurses are always female. Nurses are important because there are several rooms that only they can run: the pharmacy (which is the all-important room that no hospital can do without), the ward (where patients go in-between consultations to improve the diagnostic accuracy and where patients rest before and after surgeries), and the fracture clinic (where people with Fractured Bone disease come to get treatment).
Handymen are also needed to keep the place clean, the equipment in tip-top condition, and the plants watered. They work in tandem with the architecture of the hospital to keep the ambience tolerable for the patients. For example, if for some reason I neglect to build a toilet (or one big enough!), the patients will actually start doing their business along the hallways. The more drink machines I have, the more they need to use the toilet (and drink machines are a must because these patients will get prissy when they get thirsty). The hotter the temperature of the hospital, the more thirsty people become. Along the way, the more potted plants and equipment I have, the more handymen I need. I often hire six or seven of them to help me keep the advanced hospitals in tip-top shape. Or maybe not tip-top, more like trying to keep the building from collapsing, come to think of it.
If running the hospital isn’t enough work, there are other things to worry about too, like the reputation of the hospital. Patients get fed up and leave if the queues are too long. VIPs like Aung San Suu Kyi (really) will drop by and they have to be shown a hospital that even rats will flee from. Sometimes there will be a plague that causes people to throw up all over the place – oh sheesh – and if I don’t heal all these plague-infested people in time, word will get out that my hospital is a plague headquarter and my reputation will go down the drain. This is harder than it seems because it is tough to locate the four or five infected patients within two or three minutes in a hospital teeming with hundreds of people.
What makes this game addictive and fun is how it cleverly makes sure that every level has something new to look forward to. New diseases, new equipment, and new challenges like earthquakes and plagues will crop up the further I go into the game. The diseases are hilarious – don’t forget to read the description of the disease and the cure when you’re playing this game. It is also fun to see how doctors or nurses use the equipment to cure diseases. For example, the basic disease Slack Tongue has cute people with big fat tongues hanging from their mouths. The game description has the cause of Slack Tongue being “chronic overdiscussion of soap operas”. I have to build a room called the Slack Tongue Clinic and equip it with a machine called the slicer. A doctor will put the patient’s tongue through the Slicer and snip off the tongue – ouch. Some diseases will be introduced so late in the game like Broken Hearts (cause: someone richer, younger and thinner than the patient) and 3rd Degree Sideburns (cure: the Psychiatry staff must, using up-to-date techniques, convince the patient that these hairy accoutrements are rubbish) that they become mythical because very few people have the patience to play that far.
Too cute for words, often hilarious when it comes to the animation and the descriptions of the diseases, Theme Hospital is one of the games with enough tongue-in-cheek humor to make the playing of the game enjoyable as well as challenging. For me, it has a high replayability factor. In this game, laughter is just one of the many medicines to beat the blues away.