An Incredibly Creative Tycoon Game
At the end of the 90s, Frontier released a slew of little theme park games that grew into the hugely successful and recognisable brand of Rollercoaster Tycoon. With intuitive controls, an accessible but reasonably deep management system and just enough creativity out the gate to keep people coming back for more, Rollercoaster Tycoon was an instant hit. Skip forward 10 years and the departure of Frontier left the Rollercoaster franchise a shell of its former self.
Thankfully, Frontier went on to produce a brand new title in 2015, eventually renamed to Planet Coaster. Guiding it through Early Access, this new theme park game boasts intuitive controls, a gorgeous aesthetic and a truly staggering amount of customisation. Planet Coaster breathes new life into an ageing formula bringing with it one of the best theme park management games in years.
The Main Menu is really nicely presented, broken up into large tiles
After completing a custom avatar and placing it on a large globe, the game opens up with its main menu, boasting a wealth of options including a Career Mode, Challenges, the ever-popular Sandbox mode and a slew of tutorial videos to help with the basics of playing. With bright colours and an upbeat soundtrack, Planet Coaster nails its aesthetic perfectly. While the graphical quality is likely to differ depending on your PC settings and once again we advise to check the specs against your own PC, the use of colour and the cartoonish graphics are consistent and really give the game a distinct style.
While most people are likely to jump into the Sandbox mode and start building the park of their dreams, the Career Mode actually does a better job of helping you get to grips with all the controls. This mode sees you collecting a series of stars obtained by completing specific challenges across different maps. From increasing the park rating and value to paying off loans and sustaining profit, Planet Coaster boasts a whole range of different scenarios that’ll test all but the most seasoned of players.
The intimate level of fine detail with crafting the perfect queue and scenery elements is incredibly well realised
As you unlock more stars and complete objectives, bonus scenarios open up which see you collecting 79 stars in total across 20+ levels. Much like Rollercoaster Tycoon, these serve the additional benefit of helping you get to grips with the various gameplay mechanics and the best way to succeed in theme park management. As you take the reigns of various different parks at different stages of completion, it helps get the creative juices flowing for the other game modes on offer. From a park dwarfed by a giant tree you can build around to a dry, choked desert with gaping chasms for company, the levels are challenging and equally creative in the way they present its tasks to complete.
When you’re done with the Career Mode, there’s a whole range of Challenges on offer 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 to see the fruits of their labour pay off. This sticks to the same sort of goals seen in the Career Mode but allows for a much greater scope of creativity which is where the game really thrives.
What sets Planet Coaster apart from other games in this genre is the staggering amount of customisation on offer. Building on the foundation set in Frontier’s last game in this genre, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, Planet Coaster allows you to customise just about everything. From custom-built shops to the craziest, most daring rollercoaster ever constructed, there’s so much here to dissect and make 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.
The general aesthetic of the game is very impressive indeed
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 is an absolute joy to do. With no constraints on placing paths and scenery, the game is unrestricted in the best possible way, allowing you to go into meticulous detail on the placement of just about everything. 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. The wealth of options is 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 recent updates have gone some way to alleviate this with varying degrees of success. Security becomes a huge asset to the park now with multiple vandals and pick-pockets showing up in almost every level played. While this alone would be fine, seeing crime a more regular occurrence than littering or vomiting is a little disconcerting.
Constructing rollercoasters can be a long and tedious process of trial and error
Constructing rollercoasters can be a long and tedious process too as you try to juggle the excitement, intensity and nausea ratings while keeping the rest of the park ticking over. Finances are a constant problem and at times it’s difficult to see a detailed breakdown of exactly where you’re leaking money to make amends. 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 much more shallow than its predecessors that juggled both aspects harmoniously.
For those people who have always wanted to build the theme park of their dreams, Planet Coaster is the perfect game. The different game modes help to get you accustomed to the controls and despite being a little repetitive, do offer a good range of challenges and scenarios too. The management options are admittedly still lacklustre compared to other games and those not interested in the creative aspects of theme park building should probably wait before picking this one up. For everyone else though, Planet Coaster is the perfect game to get your creative juices flowing and truly make the theme park of your dreams.