Planet Coaster comes out of early access in the same week as Rollercoaster Tycoon World, but Planet Coaster shows us it’s the theme park sim to get this season.
We actually first laid eyes on Planet Coaster well before it was available in alpha or early access, and it was during a meeting with the developer back in the summer of 2015. Still building the foundations of the game, we were shown some of the details that relate to crowd control – and it’s the level of detail that’s illustrative of the entire gameplay experience. Crowd control may not be the most exciting sounding aspect, but it has to do with everything from preventing (or fixing) vandalism to keeping your park clean – as well as making sure that crowds keep flowing nicely and don’t get funneled into chokepoints that could have been prevented.
It’s an integral part of any good theme park design, but of course the stars of the show are your rides – and Planet Coaster has plenty of those as well. You can select from pre-made rides and tweak some of the specifics for it (increasing or decreasing the thrill level, for instance), or you can create your own from scratch. Generally speaking, this is an experience that is too daunting for me, but Frontier has crafted a process that is easy to follow while still offering enough leeway in terms of designing something that doesn’t feel generic once it’s done.
There are options to build and change countless rides, but you’re most likely to apply your creativity to rollercoasters. My initial instinct was to start creating coasters that defied what most humans are able to handle, but the editor quickly caught on to my plans and told me that guests were not going to appreciate my irresponsible use of g-forces. Nevertheless, pushing the boundaries of thrill rides in new and original ways stays fun no matter how often you start a new ride from scratch.
Aside from rides, you also have to cater to your guests with other amenities. Shops, toilets and trash cans are all essential, and misplacing or forgetting one quickly has consequences – even if they’re minor ones. You also have the option to thematically change different areas of your park, something that most major theme parks do. If you feel inspired to create your own version Tomorrowland with futuristic rides and scenery, then you can.
Planet Coaster is essentially a game of two halves – park building and park management. Park building is obviously the most exciting of two – after all, who doesn’t want to be an imagineer? Park management is somewhat of a necessary evil, but still fun and satisfying to engage in. After all, your rides are only as good as the level of enjoyment that your park generates – and that starts with attracting people through advertising.
Once you become successful, there’s always the danger of becoming a victim of your own success when parks become overcrowded. This is another aspect you need to manage on your way to theme park domination. And if the sandbox mode where you build your own park isn’t enough then you can also play through objective-driven career mode challenges. Because they generally emphasize one or more aspects of park management, they’re a good way of getting to know the dynamics of running a park – so I recommend playing through them at least once even if you’re only interested in creating your own park.
From the team that made the original Rollercoaster Tycoon, Planet Coaster is a far more worthy successor to the legendary park creator than Rollercoaster Tycoon World is – which goes to show that a license only goes so far in creating an appealing game. If you enjoyed the classic theme park builders, then you’ll enjoy Planet Coaster. The versatility that the ride builder offers, alongside Steam Workshop support, will keep the experience engaging for years to come – even though the park/business management aspects aren’t especially deep.