Coasters are the new stairway to heaven
Build a ride, experience it in first-person, then fence in punters so they can never leave.
Theme park sims have been around for over two decades and, a bit like the coasters themselves, the genre has seen some major peaks and troughs over those years. These days, very few manage to capture the glorious excitement of their source material, but this particular modern take on the thundering, chundering world of corkscrews and dippers bucks the trend with style.
Whatever mode you’re tackling, the goal in Planet Coaster is to dazzle and entertain your visitors. You need to design the kind of theme park that makes your guests tremble with excitement and sends them running into the park wonder-filled, wide-eyed and with pockets full of cash to burn.
Thankfully, Planet Coaster has crammed in enough creation and design tools to make sure you’re capable of doing just that. All that’s standing between you and building the Disneyland of your dreams is some imagination and a little bit of time.
Or a lot of time… The amount of items, rides, shops and services on offer is vast. Items range from the wonderful to the downright strange, and allow you to create anything you fancy, from wacky rides to coasters that teeter on the edge of Vomitville. It’s easy to lose whole days to simply exploring the huge range of possibilities available.
Don’t be dissuaded by the colourful, almost cutesy look of Planet Coaster either, because lying beneath is a game that’s hugely complex and offers all the intricacies and options even the most skilled designer could want.
There are three distinct modes: Career, Challenge, and Sandbox. Broadly speaking, jumping straight into Career is the best way of getting started in Planet Coaster. You’re charged with completing a certain number of objectives to achieve a bronze, silver or gold medal in a series of scenarios. They’re largely simple objectives, such as attracting a certain number of visitors or earning a specific sum of money, but they aim to give you a basic grasp of how all the various tools work before you’re set totally loose.
Challenge mode is the same too, but on the management side, and it’s the mode that’s most similar to the Theme Park World games. You’ll have to work out how to employ the staff members necessary to keep your guests happy beyond the rides. Whether that’s clearing up litter, making sure visitors can eat, drink, poop, and vomit in appropriate areas, and even keeping your rides maintained, there’s plenty to think about.
The sad thing is that the Sandbox mode never takes this management aspect much further. We would absolutely love to see Sim City or even The Sims-style tasks incorporated into this more designed-focused simulation, especially as the reactions from the public when you zoom right in are often so hilarious.
That being said, you’ll quickly learn the most important things in Career or
“Create anything from wacky rides to coasters that teeter on the edge of vomitville”
Challenge, including that paths and entrances/exits are key to theme park success. Your visitors may be eager to get on the latest ride, but they’re also a little robotic. They won’t actually go anywhere that’s not connected to the park by a pathway. That means any ride, coaster, toilet, shop or other facility without a path connecting it won’t get any visitors, or make you any money.
Although this may sound like a simple problem to solve, actually making the pathways is a fiddly, tricky business and overly complicated, at least at first. Pathway tools are incredibly sensitive. It can be so frustrating that you may even be put off by Planet Coaster’s creation tools in the crucial opening hours. But don’t be. The oddities of path creation aren’t found in any of Planet Coaster’s other design tools.
Building your own roller coaster is surprisingly intuitive and it’s not difficult to create a ride that seriously impresses both you and your guests. The most complex part is working out how each of the various parts work and combine to create the ultimate coaster. And they can be customised too, just like every other part of your park, from decking out the inside of tunnels with lights and effects, to deciding whether you want to tempt fate with a perilous-looking wooden coaster or something a little less rickety and a lot more durable.
Ride and zoom
It’s important to test your coaster before you start asking punters to pay for an experience that may kill them – which is actually incredibly easy to do. However, there is a strange elegance in watching coaster carts go flying into crowds of people in slow-motion, tumbling like nightmarish dominoes.
But testing is also incredibly fun because you can do it from a guest’s perspective. Take a tour of your park, appreciate the mad loops you’ve created, realise that the epic drop might be a step too far as you wipe virtual spew from your face, and more. It’s yet another of Planet Coaster’s addictive elements.
Tying in to the diminished role of management tasks, Sandbox mode is also not restricted by any kind of budget. It’s here that you’re free to experiment with everything that the game has to offer, without exception. And even in Career and Challenge, while new rides and facilities do need to be researched before they can be used, there are few other restrictions to hold back your creative impulses.
The result is that you’ll spend hours finding out how to make the best coasters and ride layouts, along with improving aesthetics and making everything look as realistic as you can. Creativity here is key.
And what’s great about Planet Coaster is that you’re by no means alone in your quest to create the next Six Flags wonder park. This is, after all, a game from Frontier, the developer behind Elite Dangerous. Planet Coaster, like Frontier’s space-sim, allows you instant access to its already massive community of theme park creators without having to back out into Steam Workshop.
Even in these early stages, there’s plenty of content made by other Planet Coaster players that you can port directly into your own park, either keeping it exactly as is or switching out parts to add in a little of your own flavour.
This is the LittleBigPlanet of theme park building. Creation is very much at the core of the experience, and that’s what makes it so compelling.
Format PC Publisher Frontier Developments Developer Frontier Developments ETA Out now Players 1 Creating great theme parks takes time and effort, but when the end results look as good as this, it’s addictive.
Behind the layers of delightfully pretty graphics is a deep, extensive creation system waiting to be mastered. Besides having fun on the rides, don’t forget park visitors have other needs, such as eating, drinking and going to the toilet. Unlike the pathway tools, creating exciting coasters is, thankfully, an incredibly intuitive process. It’s as easy to spend as much time meticulously building scenery as it is constructing the coasters themselves. Go mild or wild with loops for your coaster creations. A mix of both ensures something for everyone, regardless of stomach integrity. It’s a shame you don’t have more interaction with the NPCs. They’re brilliant. Look at their little joy-filled faces!