Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 was one of the games I absolutely loved as a child, and I have many nostalgia filled memories of joy when it comes to theme park simulators as a whole.
Needless to say I was brimming with excitement to hear that two different theme park simulators were going to be releasing in the same week, Rollercoaster Tycoon World and Planet Coaster, although as it turns out (as you will see by the various Steam reviews) that there is a distinct difference in enjoyment between the two games.
With that in mind, and the fact Frontier Development had some of the developers responsible for the original Rollercoaster Tycoon games, I picked up my copy of Planet Coaster, as all indications were that it was what I expected from a modern day theme park simulator, and man, was I not disappointed.
Although there is no actual story mode, there are various scenarios of increasing difficulty, 12 in all, grouped under four different themed settings (that’s three in each, if you can’t do math), which will provide you with various challenges, aimed at improving your management skills.
I’m am just over 50 hours into playing Planet Coaster and I have still yet to finish all twelve challenges, so there is definitely plenty of content for people to get through in the single player career.
Aside from that there is the challenge mode, which is what is says on the box, offering you five different settings in which to try and turn a profit and create a successful park. Aside from the scenarios, these will provide the most joy, and is where you will probably spend most of your time aside from the single player.
There is also your sandbox mode, which also has five base settings to choose from in which you are free to create and design as you please, which is where you can go ham trying out new designs and creating wonders that push the boundaries of physics.
A big plus in everything you do in Planet Coaster is the addition of Steam Workshop support to the game, which is already brimming with all sorts of content, and can provide you with new ideas and settings, from scenarios to waterfalls to various coasters – there is a lot of shopping that can be done.
There is also a brief tutorial, which is nothing more than a few YouTube videos, and had me having to Google things to figure out how it works, which is something that can definitely be improved upon.
This is arguably the biggest part of a theme park simulator, and although not perfect, is definitely meaty enough to get involved in.
My biggest gripe with the game is that there is arguably not enough management for those expecting a fairly involved management simulator, because once you know how everything works, you will quickly be able to turn a profit in any situation with just a few simple tricks, which I mostly learned from doing the career scenarios.
The gameplay itself is everything that you’d expect from a theme park simulator – you can lay down various rides and coasters, and a host of facilities including first aid, various food and drink stores, the gift vendors and bathrooms. There is a lot to choose from here, and if you’re a stickler for keeping your parks to a theme, this is indeed possible with everything you build.
As you play you unlock new buildings, coasters and themes through the research menu, which has you dipping into some of your cash per month (you can change how much you put into research on the fly depending on how successful your park is doing) in order to unlock these new settings and attractions.
There is also the staff menu, where you can hire entertainers, janitors and mechanics to entertain guests, clean up and fix rides respectively. All of these can be grouped into work rosters, which lets you employ certain staff to sections of the park or certain rides, which can be very useful once your park starts getting bigger to ensure that there is minimal downtime on your rides and that your park stays clean.
You are also able to train your staff, which increases their happiness and effectiveness but also increases their pay expectancy, which can break the bank a bit at times if you want a well trained staff on-hand.
To get guests into your park you are able to establish marketing campaigns aimed at different audiences (teens and families, for example), which will help attract a certain kind of audience to your park.
Coasters will always be the main attraction to any theme park and luckily Planet Coaster comes equipped with a nice and intuitive coaster builder, which lets you execute death defying twists and turns with fair amounts of ease (once you get use to how the builder works).
There is also a huge array of coasters to choose from from water rides to the most modern coaster technology, so you can definitely mix things up. There is a slight annoyance in that some of the coasters don’t benefit from the in-game auto-complete function, which can be a slight hindrance.
All of your rides and buildings have adjustable prices and you can also configure the minimum load for your rides and coasters, which can really help in fixing long queue times by ensuring that you are getting the max capacity out of your rides once your park becomes more popular (pro tip: this is key to one particular scenario, which I had to redo quite a few times to get correct).
All of these factors have to be combined to make sure your park gets into the profit margin, and although a bit threadbare on the management side, the other parts of game-play more than make up for that fact.
Look and Sound:
This is where Planet Coaster really comes into its own, as it is a truly beautiful game. No matter what the setting, the various buildings and themes are brimming with flavour, and although there are still some themes that I would like to see in the game (such as Halloween and the haunted house), I am sure these will be added in later updates as well as through the Steam workshop.
Frontier Development has taken a look very reminiscent of Paradox‘s Cities: Skylines, in that the colour tone, even in the Western themes, is bright and vibrant, and very easy on the eye, with just a slight touch of cartoon goodness, which I feel adds to the vibrancy of the world.
To create decent enough scenery in your park you will have to use everything at your disposal, from massive clock towers to sleeping dragons to golden jester statues; there is an alarming array of scenery to choose from which you can use to customise your park and make it look the way you want it to, which I found immensely pleasing.
There is one caveat here in that although the game itself looks very pretty there are definite performance issues, especially in larger parks and when building coasters. At the start of any scenario I would be rocking 60 frames per second easily which could, unfortunately, dip to below 20 FPS when building a coaster in my large park.
In fact, it seems to be a weird optimisation with the building menu in general, which will dip the frame rate when it comes up, only to correct itself once you have built the building or exit the building menu.
If you were slightly annoyed with a fluctuating frame rate the music definitely did well to keep the rage at bay, as it is simply one of the happiest soundtracks I have ever heard in my life, and has you nodding your head while you play without even realising it. Just listen to the opening theme:
The peaceful, serene tones really help pull things together, and give you a nice serene feel as you go about building your glorious wonderland.
Planet Coaster has done to the theme park simulator what Cities: Skylines did for Sim City fans. Frontier Development has put together a first-class package, and although it is definitely not without issue, most of these can be overlooked by someone looking to build some amazing theme parks.
Knowing Frontier, I also suspect a whole host of upcoming content for the game and fixes to be on the way for most known bugs, so I feel like you’re looking to build your own Disneyland, look no further than Planet Coaster.