Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something else for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!
One of my all-time favorite and most-played (non-MMO) computer games is 1999’s Rollercoaster Tycoon. The idea of an economic simulator revolving around building and operating a theme park was genius, especially when you threw in the ability to create some of the rides. I never got into the sequels much, but when I started hearing good things about Planet Coaster, I couldn’t resist grabbing a copy at launch. I reasoned that it might be a good title to play with my kids — which turned out to be true, in fact.
So while Planet Coaster isn’t an official entry in the Rollercoaster Tycoon series, its status as a spiritual successor is one that it takes very seriously. It’s incredibly similar in setup to the RCT games, just with much more modern graphics and some different types of rides. After a short learning curve (queue paths != regular paths), I was off to the races and building my own park.
There are three modes to play here. Campaign mode takes you through certain scenarios, starting with partially made parks and told to fix them up, set. Sandbox mode gives you unlimited money so that you can just build with no financial pressure whatsoever. But for me, the most interesting of the modes is Challenge, where you create a park from scratch, researching new rides, completing certain challenges for extra cash. My only quibble with this mode is that it’s very slow going at the start, with the same handful of rides and a long wait to be able to research/afford more.
Again, this is very much a glossed-up Rollecoaster Tycoon — and that’s not a bad thing. RCT had a tight, engaging formula and the similarity enabled me to pick up this game very quickly. There’s a deep satisfaction in building up a park, laying out future expansion, and watching the crowds pour in and enjoy it. It’s also really neat to be able to ride all of the rides, from the boring carousel to the awesome coasters.
I’ve noticed that there are a lot more options in regard to decorations and queue line scenery. Taking the time to make an entrance to a ride that’s an experience in and of itself is something I always loved about Disney World and I try to replicate here. Plus, it gives you something to do while you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting to be able to afford more rides.
Quibbles? Sure, I have a few. Most of the characters look like they’re from Planet Hipster, not Planet Coaster, especially the avatar options for the player. Clipping is huge with crowds, especially when you get down on the street level. It’s almost impossible to figure out how long or short to make queue lines without people complaining. There’s very little challenge or failure states, and crowds start pouring in right away. There’s only a handful of initial themes, which takes away from creative expression when you’re creating the theme park scenes.
Probably the most glaring absence is the lack of a blueprint mode. Creating coasters and track rides is a long, involved, and expensive process — and one that can only be done while the game is running. Why isn’t there a blueprint mode where we can design coasters to our heart’s content, test them, and then be able to save them for eventual use?
On the flip side, there are great touches, like the reactions of the park attendees, the touches of humor (plop down a Chief Beef stall and you hear the title read in a breathy voice), the ability to tweak and customize rides, the way pathing connects, and the soundtrack.
Planet Coaster will probably be one of those games that I’ll take out from time to time to enjoy with my children, but similar as it is to RCT, it’s probably not going to draw me in as deep as the original once did.