Blast from the Past
Shoot rats in vomit-filled corridors during an earthquake — it’s Theme Hospital
Bullfrog Productions’ classic Theme Hospital was without a doubt the sickest game around when it launched in 1997. You were an administrator put in charge to build up a functioning hospital in a very dysfunctional world, only it wasn’t just the throngs of patients you needed to see to.
The tongue-in-cheek charm of this management sim is clear from the start with its exaggerated art style, and with how the world just operates for the poor people trapped inside it. The game does actually follow a campaign of sorts that’s represented by a board game. Your piece moves ever-closer to the center as you overcome each new hospital and gradually unlock more diseases, rooms, staff and hazards.
It might seem like a simple task of just mapping out some rooms for patients to shuffle between, but you soon realise there’s a heck of a lot more going on. Your patients aren’t just mindless drones who’ll hang about as they do have needs, like needing to go to the bathroom, get a snack or spew the contents of said snack onto your now very sticky floor.
”Patients are asked not to die in the corridors.”
Staff are just as needy as your patients as they must retreat to the sanctuary of the staff restroom for a time or risk having a total breakdown. Oh, and the ungrateful swines also like getting a raise now and then to keep them happy. Receptionists, nurses, doctors and janitors will be milling around your hospital but it’s never just as simple as that. Doctors have specialisations so not anyone can perform surgery, or talk people through a serious case of ‘King Complex’. You can hire or train your staff, and they do improve their skills but then demand more money. They also have quirky traits that can make them work better and faster, or slower and more prone to complaint.
Ah yes, the diseases. They’re as crucial as anything else in Theme Hospital. Bullfrog came up with some truly hilarious fake conditions to help make us laugh at the unfortunate souls wandering through our reception area. Here’s a few: Chronic Nosehair, Discrete Itching, Invisibility, The Squits, 3rd Degree Sideburns, Infectious Laughter, Sweaty Palms, Baldness, Bloaty Head, Hairyitis, Slack Tongue, Broken Heart, Kidney Beans, Spare Ribs and plenty more ailing them.
Some diseases are certainly more distinct than others and they often lead to all new rooms to be built so you can treat the condition. That means more staff, more radiators, more plants to water, more seating, probably another closer bathroom, more snack machines… it’s a lot to plan out. On top of all that are the special VIP visits you get where your hospital will be judged — pass the inspection though and there’ll be some bonus money in it for you. Better shoot those rats in the corridor before he arrives just to be on the safe side.
“Staff Announcement: Incoming patients with Bloaty Head”
Cash. Your hospital runs on the stuff because you operate in a world of private healthcare and that means those sick people are the only source of revenue. You can tweak prices for diagnosis procedures, treatments and try to squeeze all you can out of your staff before begrudgingly giving them a raise. You can even adjust how much diagnosis patients must go through before a doctor will commit them to treatment. Get it wrong and you’ve just killed someone.
Earthquakes will come to spoil your well-oiled machine later, and in fact damage your machines quite literally. You can also suffer epidemic outbreaks where you’ll need to keep patients in the hospital and cure them quickly. There are also emergency events where you can try to cure as many patients with a particular disease within a time limit. You want those sweet trophies don’t you?
One of the more iconic features of Theme Hospital is actually the announcements. Never will you be without your receptionist giving you hints at possible problems in the hospital. It also adds that extra opportunity for silly humour, which already touches on everything in Bullfrog fashion. Even the animations are comedy routines — just watch someone get cured of Bloaty Head or Slack Tongue and not laugh.
Where to get Theme Hospital today?
If you feel that a 1997 game is perhaps a little too old then you might consider turning your nostalgic energies toward its spiritual successor. A new and much more modern management sim called Two Point Hospital is on Steam. It’s basically Theme Hospital but with almost every conceivable quality of life improvement you could want, which isn’t surprising as it was made by former Bullfrog developers. It even has that same dry British humour, and comes with radio stations as well as a suspiciously familiar voice making the announcements.