Disclosure ‐ Thanks to the people at Frontier Developments who provided us with a code for Planet Coaster on our request!
There’s something about these kinds of simulation games. Something that takes hours from my day, trying to make anything that I can be proud of, only for me to tear it down after seeing what better, more creative people can do. From the latest in time-sink entertainment, enter Planet Coaster, by Frontier Developments. This evolution on their previous title, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, takes what they’ve previously had, and cranks it up to 11. Planet Coaster is a theme park tycoon/simulation game that really tests your creativity, and rewards it with something I haven’t felt in any previous simulation games: pride.
Now, back to my previous statement… I did this… around 4 times. I built my park up a couple of times with my usual placements; Ferris wheel at the entrance next to the kiddy rides section so the parents don’t have to travel too far. A few times, I watched as my guests screamed for toilets, while the lines for rides grew so long I had to close it down for good. This was by no fault of the game, but one of my own. I just don’t know how to get the full potential out of these simulation games. So, I decided to take a couple of hours of multitasking and check out what others playing the beta had to say. After checking the subreddit and a few Google searches, I decided to get back into creating; planning my park’s layout and facilities, and following the one rule I saw: trees. Trees everywhere.
Have I maybe gone a little overboard? Perhaps. Do I care? Hell no! You know why? Becuase Planet Coaster lets me make my park EXACTLY the way I want to. They’ve done the one thing that other tycoon/simulation style games don’t let you: customise everything how you want to. I don’t just mean colour-wise or location, I mean down to every little detail. Planet Coaster has added in a building aspect not seen before. They give you a basis for your shopfronts and then they give you the materials to create anything you feel like, including walls of different shapes and sizes, columns, frames, arches, or items to spruce the place up like lights, plants, and random do-dads. If you’re looking to create a pirate-themed culinary adventure, you’ve got all the tools for whatever your mind can conjure up. Turn your one-by-one burger stand into an actual ship if you will, or spruce it up with as many little bits n’ pieces to make it as swashbuckling as possible. However, so far, the buildings are centred around a few themes and a few themes only, with much more emphasis on the fun stuff you can do with them rather than just making some awesome, modern looking buildings.
The building took a little while to get used to as the learning curve is steep. I spent a few hours making some awful, basic looking milkshake stands with much difficulty, but after some practice and accidental pressing of buttons, I began to master the controls. You don’t need to customise your own buildings, however, as the game comes with a multitude of ready-made stands and shops of different themes, as well as a huge library of community and developer made blueprints on the Steam Workshop. Nevertheless, seeing your patrons line up at your pretty, matching buildings is really satisfying. Not only that but … customisable signs. If you really want to make your park your own, put a bit of personality into it.
Here are some of my favourites I’ve seen from Reddit:
But, I mean, you’re here for the coasters, right? How do they work? Well, if you’re making your own, you can still design them to fit with your tailor-made buildings and different sections of your park. They give you the basis for your tracks and let you contort them the way you want, as well as suggesting ready-made twists and turns. Once you’re done creating, here’s where the fun begins: testing. Planet Coaster gives you everything you need to know about your coaster, including a few crash test dummies for… reasons. This helps with the tests in Challenge mode too, as you can make your coaster more vomit-inducing if the need arises.
The whole of the Planet Coaster environment has such an awesome level of charm to it. Everything is bright, colourful, and downright happy. Your patrons will enter with a sense of amazement and, depending on your park, the look won’t leave their faces the entire time they’re there. Clicking on individual park-goers also opens up a plethora of information for you to use at your disposal, such as how much money they have on arrival, how much they’re spending and where, and their general thoughts on the park. Look around and study what your guests want. If you see a pattern, you can see where you’re going wrong. Unfortunately, some of their thoughts seem a little broken. For example, waiting 6 minutes to ride a roller coaster can dampen their theme park experience, having them leave saddened and there’s not much you can do about that.
What adds to this attraction is your staff. Contrary to popular belief, your workers have feelings too, and this can sway the overall feel of your park. After first opening your food stands, information centres, and what have you, your staff are the happiest people alive. They’re standing to attention, ready to serve cool beverage and hot burgers, and jump to action when customers come over. However, if your shop just isn’t generating the money or numbers as expected, they’ll stand around sulking, and eventually quit, closing your stand. You’re also able to train up your staff so they’re competent in their field and more likely to stay happy, as well as read their thoughts on where they want their work life to improve.
This is where the park management comes in along with the biggest flaw of the game. The game has three different game modes: Sandbox mode (free to do whatever you please), Campaign mode (ready-made parks that need a bit of help), and Challenge mode (empty parts with limited funds to make it awesome). The Sandbox mode is the one that brings the most joy; complete creative freedom for you to express yourself in whatever way you desire. It makes for beautiful scenery, and as many extra bathrooms and first aid tents that you could imagine to keep your guests with their happy smiles.
However, after having played titles like Zoo Tycoon, all I wanted in RollerCoaster Tycoon: 3 was a challenge mode where I could strategically level up my parks and add bigger and better items. Well, Planet Coaster has scratched that itch, but it’s not quite as satisfying as I hoped. It seems that no matter what kind of park I made, it made money anyway. Put in a single, terrifying and vomit-inducing roller coaster, with a hotdog stand and watch the money roll in because, fuck yeah, roller coasters! I know that means success, hurrah, but it takes away some of the gratification I once got playing Zoo Tycoon 2 of old. Not only that but the prices of the items just seemed a little off. As said before, customisation is a major factor in enjoyment for this title and spending $1 for a single small tree just doesn’t feel as grandiose and risky as it should. Perhaps that’s the reason, though, as your patrons quality of time is determined about how much they enjoy not only the content but the look of the park. If trees cost $500 a pop, you won’t be using your green thumb very much.
Overall, this game was and is exactly what I hoped and wanted it to be. The small, individual emotions shown by the characters you encounter adds a warmth and liveliness to your Adventure Land, and the customisation is something that brings a sense of satisfaction and a drive to continue for that extra artistic outburst. It’s the simulation game we’ve been waiting for that releases the creative freedom locked down by previous limits and lets you just… be.