by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
If You Build It, They Will Come
Remember back a few years ago when the latest SimCity came out and disappointed just about everyone, only to be beaten at its own game by the wonderful Cities: Skylines two years later? Well, it seems as though a similar situation is again unfolding in the continuation of another builder franchise. There are few PC games the get me feeling as nostalgic as RollerCoaster Tycoon, yet, despite my wishes, my time spent in pre-release builds of RollerCoaster Tycoon World decidedly failed to capture the same sense of joyful excitement the series had in the past. Enter the Planet Coaster, which just released a mere day after its lesser competition and is already the clear choice to carry the park building torch forward.
The entire point of any builder game is to make the player feel like god: to let their creativity, problem solving style and personality come through and manifest as the successes or failures that befall their digital domain. Given that breadth of responsibility, games of the genre certainly have a fine line to walk between opening everything up enough to let the player feel in control as they bring their ideas to fruition and becoming so open that the system collapses with a lack of direction or structure. This is where Planet Coaster shines, imbuing everything with a sense of personal touch and joy. While the art style is perhaps a bit too stylized and cartoony for my tastes, it does serve as a constant reminder that building a theme park on your computer should never feel stressful or stifling.
Different Ways to Play
Planet Coaster has three main ways to play, and depending on what you’re looking to get out of the game you’ll probably love one and loathe another. Career Mode is the firsts, and despite what the name would imply it’s more about jumping into an already established (though normally troubled) park than working through a career. The situations here are often restrictive, forcing you to take someone else’s established vision and force it to work. I don’t particularly love playing the game with most of the visual creativity, but those looking for a more logical challenge will probably enjoy their time spent here. It also serves as a good tutorial, forcing you to use and understand many of the game’s occasionally daunting systems. Sandbox mode feeds the opposite side of your brain, letting you forget about silly things like budgets and run wild customizing every detail of your park. It’s certainly the least “sim-y,” but it’s an artist’s paradise.
Lastly is my bread and butter, challenge mode, in which you’ll have to manage guest happiness, park customization, construction and employees all while maintaining your budget. The only blight is that once your parks get sizable, some user interface issues become more and more annoying. For reasons that are a bit beyond me, there are no batch options for settings in your park. That means that if you want to change prices, control employees or anything like that, you’re going to have to click around the park when a single “change all” would do nicely. It doesn’t detract too much from the experience, but it is more cumbersome than it needs to be.
A Whole New World
As Disney World or Orlando Studios can attest, a theme park can only be as cool as its, well, theme. Scenery and style have always been a part of park builders, but Planet Coaster really bumps things to the next level. Sure, there’s fairly robust array of scenery pieces you can just plop into place to call it a day, but the real joy of creation comes from mixing and matching the smaller building-block like pieces to tweak things exactly how you’d like them. Being able to controls props, walls, blocks and more lets you create castles, saloons, space ships, pirate galleons or just about anything your can think of by utilizing the game’s five decoration themes. In fact, I’d love to see more themes released eventually to let my creativity go even further. It’s really a deep, fun tool that lets you combine pieces with ease to get things looking exactly like you want them. My only gripe is that there’s no way to scale individual pieces, which seems like an odd exclusion in such a free-form system.
Of course building shops and other structures is only half the battle next to the titular coasters themselves. Building a coaster can be as involved and demanding as you want it to be. Like your buildings it’s perfectly possible to quickly get something done that’ll work out decently enough, but building a complex behemoth of a ride serves as a puzzle in which you’ll need to figure out how to best maximize thrills without turning your riders into puking messes. Unless that’s what’s you’re going for, in which case knock yourself out.
If you’re looking for a deep sim, this game isn’t going to be quite deep enough to satiate your hunger. If you’re looking for constant guided goals and challenges, you’ll run out soon enough. Where Planet Coaster’s long-term legs are going to reside is with the people like me that simply enjoy the thrill of the build. It’s easy to sink hours into, even if you’re just trying to design a building or tweak some scenery. Quite simply, it’s the sequel that RollerCoaster Tycoon games of yore really deserve.
Lego-like scenery, satisfying coaster construction, different modes for different types of gamers.
Art style is a bit stylized for my tastes, UI needs to be simplified in parts.