An Incredibly Creative Tycoon Game
At the end of the 90’s, Frontier released one of the best theme park titles of all time in Rollercoaster Tycoon, a game that felt like a natural successor to what Bullfrog had produced in 1994’s Theme Park. With many titles since Rollercoaster Tycoon failing to strike the right balance between creativity and theme park management, Frontier’s latest addition to the sim line-up is probably as close to a natural step forward for this genre of games as we’re likely to get.
Planet Coaster is an accessible and creative title but also relatively basic when it comes to its management sim elements. Still, there’s an incredible amount of customization here that truly lets you go wild and create the theme park of your dreams.
Many console enthusiasts have been itching to get their hands on Frontier’s PC-bound title for a long time and with Playstation 5 now upon us, what better time than now to get stuck in and create the theme park of your dreams.
For those of you who have played Planet Coaster on PC, many elements of this console edition are the same. A lot of the UIs, menus and aesthetics are the same, with the main menu noticeably rejigged slightly to put emphasis on the three big elements to this game – Career, Sandbox and Challenge mode. While there are tutorial videos available to watch, the career mode now features a fully revamped tutorial section, complete with a very handy guide on making palatable rollercoaster tycoons for your patrons.
Boasting bright colours and an upbeat soundtrack, Planet Coaster nails its aesthetic perfectly and the bright, vibrant colours are an excellent choice. The graphical quality is fantastic too and despite some fiddly controls that do have a bit of a steep learning curve, zooming in close and seeing the level of detail is just as impressive as it is on PC.
While most people are likely to jump into the Sandbox mode and start building the park of their dreams right away, the Career Mode actually does a better job of helping you get to grips with all the controls. Given the aforementioned changes to this console edition, it’s highly recommend that that’s where you start.
Some of the menus require a combination of square and the touch pad to access while holding square and using the directional buttons controls the flow of time in-game. There’s also a fiddly combination of R2’s and R1’s to access the deep levels of customization while the ebb and flow of using a mouse is lost in favour of a rigid and slightly troublesome path-building system with a controller. It does take some getting used to but once you get the hang of it, Planet Coaster settles into a consistent thrill-seeking rhythm.
For those unaware, the career mode sees you collecting a series of stars obtained by completing specific challenges across different maps. From increasing your park rating and value to paying off loans and sustaining profit over a large period of time, Planet Coaster boasts a whole range of different scenarios designed to test all but the most seasoned of players.
As you unlock more stars and complete objectives, bonus scenarios unlock which sees you collecting 72 stars in total across levels starting with “Easy” difficulty and working up to more difficult challenges. Much like Rollercoaster Tycoon, these serve the additional benefit of helping you get to grips with the various gameplay mechanics and learning the best way to succeed in theme park management.
As you take the reins of various parks at different stages of completion, these also get the creative juices flowing for the other game modes on offer. Each of the parks you take on have a different theme or idea flowing through them, and this in turn feeds back into that idea of creating the theme park of your dreams.
When you’re done with the Career Mode, there’s a whole range of Challenges on offer too that see you building a park from the ground up to achieve specific goals. While the Career Mode is much more geared toward improving existing parks, the Challenge mode is likely to appeal to a far wider range of people looking for… well… an organically changing challenge.
As the months tick by, different objectives pop up that, when completed, unlock an injection of cash you can use to improve your park. These aren’t easy tasks either, with most designed to keep you hooked for the long-haul. The challenges themselves can even stack up too, and it’s not unusual to find 3 or 4 different objectives to work toward each time.
These can range from improving your park rating, setting off fireworks to entertain guests for 30 seconds or even improving a scenery rating for all rides up to 97%. There’s a lot of variety here and the game does a great job to keep things fresh across the course of your play-time.
The final mode is self-explanatory, with Sandbox allowing you to fully go to town on an empty lot with no restrictions other than your own imagination.
What sets Planet Coaster apart from other games in this genre though is that aforementioned amount of customization on offer. Building on the foundations set in Frontier’s last 3D game in this genre, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, Planet Coaster allows you to customize just about everything. From custom-built shops to the craziest, most daring rollercoaster ever constructed, there’s so much here to dissect and make that you can (and probably will) lose hours just creating stuff.
I spent the better half of an hour making the perfect exterior to a burger bar. Another time I found myself so engrossed in making a runaway mine cart coaster I’d played into the early hours of the morning without realizing. As you start to get to grips with the mechanics there’s undoubtedly a seductive grip of “one more go” that holds over large parts of this title.
While other games have always boasted the ability to make the theme park of your dreams, Planet Coaster is probably as close as you can come to actually achieving that goal. Even simple things like lighting, placing benches and designing themed scenery to fit in your park comes with it a staggering amount of customization.
With no constraints on placing paths and scenery, the game is unrestricted in the best possible way, allowing you to go into meticulous detail. Fancy making a pirate wreck dwarfed by the tendrils of a leviathan part way round your coaster track? Done. Want some animatronics to blast smoke and strobe lighting effects at guests every time they walk past? Easy.
Just be prepared that this does come with a bit of cumbersome placement on this console edition. If you’re willing to put the time in though, Planet Coaster absolutely rewards you for your patience.
The wealth of options here are truly amazing but with so much creativity, it can also be incredibly overwhelming if you don’t have much of an idea of how you want your park to look.
When the game launched back in 2016, one of the more consistent criticisms came from a lack of management options but updates over the years have gone some way to alleviate this. This, of course, brings a lot of benefits to console players just jumping into this now but the same workarounds are still here too.
With rides losing their prestige over time, it’s very easy and simple to delete the ride and create another one in its place. Paths can easily become congested nightmares too and there’s a few bugs and issues that crop up – especially during the sandbox mode.
Constructing rollercoasters can be a long and tedious process though, much like it always has been in the past, but here it’s exacerbated a little with the controls on console. Juggling the excitement, intensity and nausea ratings, while keeping the rest of the park ticking over, can be a case of spinning plates and more often than not those plates will be in danger of smashing.
Frontier appear to be aware of this too, given the tutorial on rollercoaster building, and I must admit this was very helpful in trying to alleviate G-force pressures on turns and hills.
While still offering a bit of a challenge, if you go into Planet Coaster expecting a deep management sim, you may well be left disappointed. Much like Cities: Skylines, Planet Coaster is a game designed for the creative-minded, making it a little more simple than its predecessors that juggled both the management and creativity in equal doses.
For those who have always wanted to build the theme park of their dreams and haven’t played this on PC, Planet Coaster is a no-brainer purchase. The different game modes offer a good amount of challenge and the creativity and customization are bursting at the seams.
The management options are admittedly still lacklustre after all these years and those not interested in the creative aspects and wanting something a little more challenging should probably wait before picking this one up. For everyone else though, Planet Coaster is a wonderfully creative and aesthetically pleasing theme park game that raises a very high bar in the sim genre.
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Verdict - 8/10