Gaming Nostalgia: ‘Theme Hospital’

11:30 am EDT, May 2, 2012

The date is March 31, 1997. We were calling Diddy ‘Puff Daddy’, Princess Diana was still with us, and Bill Clinton was starting his second term as US President. And on that day, Bullfrog’s classic simulation game Theme Hospital was released. In this column we’ll be recalling what made this game great, and whether it continues to shine after 15 years.

Theme Hospital is a simulation game with heart. Instead of being a dry, straight-faced micro-management game; you overlook a bustling hospital that deals with patients that suffer from rather peculiar diseases. Bullfrog’s classic black humor permeates throughout the game. Your GP might diagnose a patient with Slack Tongue – no problem, they trot off to the Slack Tongue Clinic for a date with the ‘Slicer’, a machine that wouldn’t look out of place in a medieval torture chamber. A quick turn of the handle; job done.

Meanwhile, you have to deal with epidemics, emergencies, and sickness waves. Your handymen will help you deal with the latter, of course, but only when their wages are in line with their peers’. Crazy diseases, grumpy staff and pompous hospital inspectors all need to be dealt with, or your carefully planned hospital will soon descend into chaos.

First time round

I first remember playing Theme Hospital in 1998. I was 6, but I’d seen my older brother having a go and figured it looked fun. We bought a second disk a few years later after the old one broke, and I remember reaching the end of the game at least once. After that, I’d tried installing the game again a couple of times, but without XP, Vista or Windows 7 compatibility I hadn’t had any success.

What memories did I have of Theme Hospital, a game that I’d last played about ten years ago? Extremely positive ones. I remembered the ridiculous but somehow endearing soundtrack, the incessant orders blasting out of the tannoy system (that you gradually became conditioned to), and, above all, the huge amount of fun that a relatively simple game provided for me. It was the game that I enjoyed most in my pre-teen years.

Original rating: 9 out of 10

Compatibility issues

Installing the game on Windows 7 is a little tricky. Inserting the CD that I’d bought in about 2001 gave me an error message, but a quick Google search provided a workaround that involved copying the files across to my desktop. The next problem was running the game flawlessly, without crashes or freezes; a problem I am yet to completely solve. Meddling with compatibility modes and other options brought variable results. Further, the results did not appear consistent each time I ran Theme Hospital under the same settings.

By right-clicking on WINMAIN, then going to properties, you can alter these settings. Try out different compatibility modes (98, ME, XP SP1-2 all worked for me on occasions). You can also have the game run in 256 colors, run in 640 x 480 resolution, and so on. It might take a few attempts to find the most stable settings for your OS and computer.

Sometimes on start-up the colours went crazy, but once I was into the game proper, they settled down. They might revert back to bright pink, blue and yellow whilst your playing, but if you switch to the bank manager or another screen that hides your normal game window, it should turn back to normal when you return.

Even with these tweaks, Theme Hospital does still crash frequently on my PC – usually every 10-25 minutes. If this happened with a more recent game, the long start-up time might deter me from continuing to play it after a crash. Theme Hospital, however, starts so quickly that you’re able to begin playing again within 20 seconds.

The return

Theme Hospital remains incredibly fun to play. As soon as a I started with the first level, it all came flooding back. Reception, check, GP’s office, check, pharmacy, check. I remembered I had to place fire extinguishers to keep the V.I.P. visitors happy, and plants to keep the patients happy. I knew I needed an army of identical handymen to keep the machines maintained and the hospital spotless. Even though it had been so many years since I’d last played, it might as well have been a day ago. The first few levels were entertaining but easy – I knew the best way of laying out the hospital, how to keep my staff happy, and all those other little tricks I’d picked up before.

With the introduction of epidemics in the fourth or fifth level, plus the sheer numbers of patients that you have to deal with, Theme Hospital began to get a little trickier. An ill-timed earthquake took out three of my rooms, and I even managed to lose a level. The increased challenge made it even more fun, with the numerous crashes barely denting my enthusiasm.

Theme Hospital may be close to the perfect simulation game, but I couldn’t help notice a few flaws that stopped it reaching perfection. First, the micro-management gets a little tedious – specifically when repairing machines. As the levels progress, you’ll need more and more machines (the Inflator, the Cast Remover, an Operating Table etc.), and as they deteriorate with use, you have to order handymen to repair them frequently. This is not a problem at the beginning of the game, but it soon starts to consume too much playing time when you get to later levels. Second, epidemics are equally tedious. The hefty fines attached to them easily become a burden upon your hospital’s finances, and I couldn’t help but feel irritated every time the tannoy shouted “Epidemic alert, stand by!” in nervous tones. Epidemics just aren’t fun to deal with.

Still, the rest of the game is so much fun that these issues barely matter. Take Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for example. It was my favourite Harry Potter film despite the awfulness of that one scene. You know the one – “HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!”. The rest of the film was so excellent that it almost seems unfair to mark it down because of it. The same applies to Theme Hospital. Even after fifteen years, its gameplay is among the best we’ve seen from any simulation game. Coupled with its dark comedic tone and hypnotic soundtrack, I’m not sure if I’d rather be playing anything else.

New rating: 8.5 out of 10.

What about a sequel?

If Theme Hospital was remade today, I would be very impressed if it could retain any of the charm of the 1997 game. Bullfrog Productions were long ago gobbled up by EA, and I’m not the only one to doubt them based upon their recent actions. We might see shiny new graphics so that our 30 handymen wouldn’t look like clones, or extra rooms offered as downloadable content. Maybe we’d get to use the classic doctor skin if we pre-ordered? None of these things would be right.

An indie games company might handle a Theme Hospital sequel with a little more finesse. The focus should remain on fun, addictive and challenging gameplay rather than graphics or revenue generation. Perhaps it could be done right. I doubt, however, that many Theme Hospital fans would welcome a sequel. The game is too precious for too many people; small alterations to gameplay would cause riots across Reddit, Twitter and 4chan. In an age where we are always wanting more and we always want it now, let’s take a step back and ask whether a sequel is really necessary.

I want to play!

If you’ve still got an old disk and are feeling adventurous, you can try messing around with the settings as I did above in order to play. GOG have Theme Hospital available for download, but you might need to run it through DOSBox for it to work correctly. Lastly, an open-source clone, compatible with recent versions of Windows, is being developed, but this requires a copy of the original to play.

Theme Hospital: still a must-play.

Feeling nostalgic? Share your memories below!

Nickelodeon debuts action-packed ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ trailer at SDCC

The brand new trailer features tons of nods to the original 90s game show!

4:33 pm EDT, July 23, 2016

Get ready for a serious dose of nostalgia, 90s kids! Nickelodeon just premiered the trailer for the upcoming Legends of the Hidden Temple movie at San Diego Comic-Con and you’re definitely going to want to check it out!

The upcoming made-for-TV movie centers around three siblings who find themselves immersed in the temple after breaking away from a jungle tour. Once inside, they discover all the legends they’ve grown up hearing about the mysterious temple are actually real.

Being trapped in the temple itself may sound cool at the beginning, but the siblings will soon learn that getting out may be tougher than they originally anticipated. They’ll have to follow the map and survive the Temple’s many hidden rooms if they want to make it out unscathed.

Check out the first trailer for Legends of the Hidden Temple below!

Fans of the original game show are sure to recognize quite a few of the most iconic aspects taken from the beloved 90s series. Olmec aside, the first action-packed trailer includes mentions of the steps of knowledge, the shrine of the silver monkey, and more— They’ve even managed to slip in mentions of some of the old teams contestant were able to play on when competing on the original game show!

The upcoming Legends of the Hidden Temple movie reunites Kirk Fogg (original TV how host) and Dee Bradley Baker (original voice of Olmec), and additionally stars Isabela Moner, Colin Critchley, and Jet Jurgensmeyer.

Legends of the Hidden Temple premieres on Nickelodeon in the fall of 2016

What did you think of the first trailer for ’Legends of the Hidden Temple’?

Hot off the heels of the Wonder Woman trailer DC has released our first look at the art for Justice League as well as the first trailer!

It’s a very exciting day to be a DC movies fan! After debuting the Wonder Woman trailer earlier today, DC surprised everyone with the first official Justice League trailer which has been simultaneously released publicly during its debut at San Diego Comic-Con. It should be noted that the video, posted on Director Zack Snyder’s Twitter account, includes a title card at the beginning denoting that this video was made specifically for fans at Comic-Con. “The following footage was prepared by the filmmakers as a special look for fans in attendance at Comic-Con 2016.”

Click full screen, turn up your volume, and get ready for this!


The “trailer” (if that’s what we’re calling it) doesn’t give away much about the plot of the movie, however. It features Bruce Wayne checking in and recruiting Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash – the three of which weren’t as heavily featured in this year’s Batman V Superman.

One of the more thrilling parts of the video is when Bruce Wayne shows up to meet The Flash and throws a Batarang at him. We get to see the slow motion perspective of The Flash while a Batarang whizzes by his face, with him ultimately realizing who has just appeared before him. Before Bruce even has a second to sell him on joining the Justice League, he’s interrupted. “Stop right there. I’m in,” says The Flash.

After the mixed reviews of Batman V Superman from earlier this year, it looks like Justice League might have taken some notes from the massive success of Deadpool’s light-hearted but serious comic book movie template. It already feels like this ensemble cast will lend itself to making up some ground in terms of likability. Ezra Miller’s The Flash is easily the “you-gotta-love-this-kid” character based on his one scene alone. Meanwhile, Aquaman will appeal to those burly, rugged Wolverine style fans. Both character types were missing from the sometimes confusing Batman V Superman.

Check out the full photo of the Justice League featuring our first detailed looks of The Flash, Cyborg, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman together in one place.

JusticeLeagueFULL

We still have a while before we get to hit theaters for Justice League. The superhero sure-to-be blockbuster is set to hit theaters November 17, 2017.

What did you think of your first look at the upcoming Justice League movie?

WB debuted a new trailer for Wonder Woman on Saturday morning at San Diego Comic-Con.

Gal Gadot and the cast of Wonder Woman introduced the new trailer, which offers a massive new look at the first female-led super hero movie (during this new wave of super hero madness, anyway). Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and Gadot’s Diana Prince seem to have some great chemistry. And unsurprisingly, Wonder Woman gets up to a lot of ass-kicking in the three minute preview. Perhaps one of the coolest moments is when she fends off a lot of fire power, and one of the funniest moments comes at the end, when Diana equates Steve’s secretary to a slave. Watch below:

The movie is directed by Patty Jenkins, who has clearly done an amazing job bringing Wonder Woman to life with Gadot.

A new poster for Wonder Woman was also released, finally revealing her (colorful!) costume:

wonder-woman-2017-sdcc-poster

Wonder Woman hits theaters June 2, 2017. The film’s synopsis reads:

Wonder Woman hits movie theaters around the world next summer when Gal Gadot returns as the title character in the epic action adventure from director Patty Jenkins. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers…and her true destiny.