Intro: A brief history of the genre
I have been playing amusement park management games since I was tiny. I remember playing Theme Park on the Sega Mega Drive (or ‘Genesis’ for the yanks) and recall the seemingly limitless possibilities and the awe that it inspired within me (I also remember constructing a park called ‘Bog Land’ with my sibling that was entirely made of toilets in a grid… it wasn’t a profitable venture).
On to the Playstation the games got bigger… but unfortunately it proved to be the end of the road for the developer of Theme Park. The title, Theme Park World was okay, but it really wasn’t the technological advancement that we expected. The game felt a little basic and the campaign was short and a little dull.
So disappointing, given that it came out only a couple of years after Theme Hospital, which is considered to be one of the finest management sims and a game that I feel both deserves a sequel and which I’m glad EA haven’t touched since… anyway, I digress.
Then Roller Coaster Tycoon came along on PC and became everything that Theme Park World should have been. The significant advancement in custom roller-coaster design took peoples imaginations and resulted in limitless fun and outrageous designs.
Who didn’t enjoy building a coaster with no end that launched poor guests into a lake or at the neighbors?
Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 stuck to the same model, providing more of the same and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 took the world into the full 3D realm, for better, or for worse. Personally, I quite liked the change and I found the campaign in RCT3 to be by far the best of the three.
Unfortunately, the dominance of the Roller Coaster Tycoon brand seems to be coming to a close, with the release of a game that has been largely panned by critics, weirdly called Roller Coaster Tycoon World (ominous echoes of Theme Park World…). It released in close proximity to Planet Coaster and by the looks of it, Planet Coaster has won the war.
Enter Planet Coaster…
So the last really good game in this genre was released in 2004, so for thirteen years we’ve been playing the same game and technology has moved on. Fans yearn for more.
Billed as the spiritual successor to Roller Coaster Tycoon, Planet Coaster released in direct opposition to the newest game in the RCT series… and seems to have taken the crown.
But is it any good?… well yes.
As a technical improvement on Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, it is breathtaking. Building coasters is a joyful and challenging experience with the intuitive heat-maps that tell you which parts of the coaster is particularly vomit-making or poop-pushing. You have a great deal of freedom in this regard and can largely do exactly what you want.
The big change here however is the ability to design your own buildings, building shops and rides into them and creating some stunning and themed scenery. This ability to decorate doubles as a mechanic to try to entertain your guests.
If there is nothing to look at around the queues to your rides, guests won’t want to queue for long and will get bored. Indeed if you make the entrance to a ride look schwifty enough, people will pay more to get on.
Unfortunately, this game does not come without it’s flaws. It has been criticized for being too easy and in places, I would definitely agree with this. The campaign is short, with a small number of scenarios, from beginner to hard levels. Beginner levels are essentially a tutorial, and won’t challenge you to any great extent.
There is serious potential here, as the game is adding new scenarios, which have been free thus far. However, at the moment, there’s just not really enough here to go on and the added content has tried to counter the lack of content with excessive difficulty, in an attempt to stop you from completing it all so quickly.
The saving grace is the Challenge Mode, which will drop you in a flat square of land and gives you a standard set of missions to complete. It’s more interesting than sandbox mode, but less interesting than a fully fleshed out and balanced campaign. It feels lazy and as a result the game feels unfinished.
Steam workshop support is great, but by giving you the option to simply download designs from other players, it might discourage you from making your own coasters and buildings. It’s nice to have it there, and I’d like to see some more scenarios from the workshop being brought into the game with proper objectives and custom rules.
I’ve had a lot of fantastic hours on this game, but I’ve done about everything that the game has to offer at this point and I’m really hoping that Frontier won’t rely on the Steam community to create its content for it.
With more scenarios and continued support, possibly leader-boards and some curated content brought into the main game from the workshop, this game has the potential to be truly great… but in it’s current state it’s merely good.
I’ll give it seven vomiting guests out of ten.