It’s not surprising that Theme Hospital – released in 1997 – has maintained a loyal fanbase after all these years, because there’s not really been anything like it since.
By adapting the formula for Theme Park and applying it to a hospital, developer Bullfrog had also changed the tone: the location switch from ‘the happiest place on Earth’ to a place of illness and death meant the comedy turned from wholesome to dark: and it was all the better for it.
While most remember the PC version, Theme Hospital also saw a release on the original PlayStation a year later. That version didn’t go down so well: as a game very much designed with mouse controls in mind, the PlayStation port struggled to translate to a controller.
Fast forward more than two decades later and we now have Two Point Hospital, the spiritual successor to Theme Hospital designed by some of the original staff. It was met with critical acclaim when it launched on PC in 2018 but now it faces the same challenge its predecessor did: can it make the move to console without messing up the controls?
Well, at the risk of killing the suspense: yes, it can. Because it has.
For those new to it, Two Point Hospital puts you in charge of a health care trust and tasks you with building a series of hospitals, each with their own challenges and risks. It’s your role to oversee every element of the hospital, from the large investments – building wards, purchasing equipment, hiring staff – right down to where the bins and plants should go.
What makes this different to other hospital sims (not that there are a hell of a lot of them, mind you) is that Two Point Hospital has a sense of humour. You aren’t going to be treating realistic and thoroughly upsetting illnesses like cancer or sepsis here: instead, each disease is a comedy illness that’s often cured with a similarly silly treatment.
Take one of the early conditions you’ll come across, lightheadedness. Patients literally walk in with a light bulb for a head, and after a GP diagnoses them – as if they couldn’t tell what’s wrong – they’re sent to another room for the cure, which involves a big claw unscrewing their head and replacing it with a new hologram head.
“We’ve spent the last couple of weeks with both the Xbox One and Switch versions and we’re happy to report that both play perfectly well.”
There are over 50 illnesses in the base game, and this console release also comes with the Bigfoot and Pebberly Island DLC expansions, which add another 65 or so. These include such joys as Barking Mad (where the patient thinks they’ve turned canine and walks around in a giant dog costume) and Jellied Feels (where too much exposure to emotional content has cause their feelings to congeal).
The joy in this game, then, is working your way through each of the stages – different hospital sites that require you to build new facilities while taking each of their unique challenges into account – while discovering these new illnesses and finding out the best ways to diagnose and cure them.
Naturally, the Xbox One version looks a little better: it renders at a higher resolution (especially on an Xbox One X) and things are generally a tad more detailed. That said, the Switch version is no slouch: it matches the Xbox port fairly closely and both run at 30 frames per second (bear in mind frame rate really isn’t an issue for a slow-paced game like this).
The visuals take care of themselves, then: the most important thing to note here is that the controls work so much better than the PlayStation version of Theme Hospital did back in the day. Moving around and zooming the camera is handled with a combination of the sticks and shoulder buttons, and various other buttons are used to bring up the different menus available.
All the button prompts are clearly marked, and we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get used to everything with a controller: we had our first hospital up and running with a reception area, a few rooms, benches, a drinks machine and toilets in around 10 minutes.
Naturally, simulation games like this will always be best when played with a mouse, and it goes without saying that if you own a PC capable of running Two Point Hospital you should probably prioritise getting it on that: it’s what it was originally designed for, after all.
That said, if an Xbox One or PS4 is the best way for you to play the game – or, crucially, if you fancy taking your hospitals with you on the move by getting the Switch version – you can rest assured that practically nothing has been lost during the transition.
We’re required by law to end with a hospital joke, so here it is: our diagnosis is that the console version of Two Point Hospital has a clean bill of health, and its DNA appears to be free of any mutations compared to that of its older sibling.
A brilliant conversion of an entertaining sim: if only all console ports were treated with this level of care.
- Has a brilliant sense of humour
- Looks and runs brilliantly on all systems
- Playing with a controller works surprisingly well
- Can still get a little repetitive as you progress through each hospital