Planet Coaster: Console Edition was recently released on Xbox and PlayStation and is a port of the 2016 PC version. I had not played Planet Coaster, however, it seems to be the spiritual successor to RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, a PC game from the same development team: Frontier. RCT3 was released back in 2004 and I played and enjoyed it many years ago. Because of this, I was excited to experience this game and see what new features and updates have been made to the park management genre over the past 16 years.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see that not much had really changed after all this time. The same, fun gameplay formula was present: having control over a theme park to customize and profit off in any way I desired. But other than minor cosmetic upgrades and slightly deeper staff management options, all of it seemed almost too familiar.
For anyone familiar with the Tycoon series or other management games the core gameplay will be easy to pick up. The bottom line in most scenarios is money. In managing my amusement parks I was tasked with profiting as much as I could for as long as I could, and to do that I had to manage my staff to make sure they were happy and doing their jobs, manage my rides to make sure they were safe, and most importantly manage my guests to make sure they were happy. All this could come together, though, and it would be for nothing if I did not also check my financials to make sure that the park was still profitable.
Most of the time guest happiness correlated with profits, as happy guests were willing to spend more money and ride more rides. This meant I was checking on guests’ opinions often to see if guests were requesting new rides, more scenery, or even more bathrooms and finding the money to make that happen. This all boils down to the game being pretty much an excel spreadsheet wrapped in cosmetics, but an addicting one at that.
To stay profitable I had the options to go in and change the prices of anything in the park, change the rides to have different run sequences, change the menus at each food and drink shop, and change my staff by promoting, training, or firing them. There is a very wide amount of fine tuning I could do to the park, which is to be expected in this type of management game, but with most of these fine-tuning options I never saw a noticeable difference in the bottom line. Still, it was addicting to continue updating my park and immensely gratifying to see my profits soar.
I started out playing on career mode, which seemed like the main option Planet Coaster was pushing. Career mode involved diving one-by-one into different scenarios where I was given a new park and tasked with making it successful. The objectives changed slightly from mission to mission, with the game forcing me to make a certain roller coaster or placing more scenery, but most of the time the main challenge was to make it profitable. I was also guided by some fun characters that bantered at the beginning and end of each mission.
In my first several hours of the game I pushed through the tutorial, beginner, and easy stages of the game as I was slowly introduced to more and more mechanics. With this game being so much like Roller Coaster Tycoon, though, I felt like I really did not need this long of an introduction and wanted access to every tool from the start.
My main issue with this career mode though was that each mission was too short to make a connection to any park. I breezed though level after level trying to move forward in the career mode while never being given the time to grow with and experience the benefits of my successful parks once my tasks were completed. After achieving all three stars in a park there was no reason to continue.
After being frustrated by this I decided to try out challenge mode. This is how I believe the game was truly meant to be played. Here after selecting a location and a difficulty option I was let loose on a completely barren landscape with a limited amount of money to build my park from the ground up. There were even different challenges that popped up and rewarded me for going certain directions with my park which helped the mode to be more engaging.
This mode is really where I could let my imagination loose and build whatever I liked, and it was also more rewarding as I got to experience the benefits of my perfectly built coasters indefinitely as they continued to profit. However, even at its best the gameplay got repetitive and the game did little to make me care more deeply about my theme park.
Where this game breaks free of feeling like an excel spreadsheet is in its creation tools. Building and riding a roller coaster is fun and challenging, and again I get to reap the benefits from a perfectly built coaster. I wish, though, that there were more incentives to do this instead of building a pre-built coaster.
Other creative options are plentiful in this game as there is pre-built scenery different themes to decorate each square foot of the park and there is a building tool to create unique building and scenery designs. However, the pre-built scenery options get old quickly, especially in career mode, as moving from park to park quickly I found myself having multiple pirate-themed and fantasy-themed parks and using the same scenery. There are more scenery packs in DLC’s, but I feel like the game could have put a lot more effort into giving a wider variety of scenery themes.
Of course, there is still the building creation tool, but this is so incredibly clunky that it would take hours to design a couple of buildings, let alone enough to round out an entire theme. Therefore, I stuck to the premade scenery options.
As I stated, creating scenery can be cumbersome, but so can building coaster, placing pathways, and managing staff. All the menus and interfaces were seemingly designed for the PC, and on console there was not always a smooth transition. It took a lot of time before I was fluidly moving around the menu, and even then, I still found myself zooming in and out and pressing menu options when I did not mean to. Going in and changing prices of food and drinks or changing staff salaries meant so many button presses that it often felt like it was not worth my time.
I could see others continuing to play career mode for their entire time with the game, especially since that is where all the story and characters reside. However, for me, career mode served just as a tutorial mode and my true gameplay experience started with challenge mode.
Still, these game options are not much different from what I would have expected from a theme park manager and part of me wishes the game went a slightly different direction, perhaps combining challenge and career mode to make a more fulfilling and story-driven experience out of starting from a blank slate. Even shifting to a style of gameplay more like Animal Crossing: taking away the fast-forward option, slowing the game down, and focusing more on taking the time to make a perfect little theme-park world would make the game more memorable and enjoyable.
Planet Coaster truly is a spiritual successor to Roller Coaster Tycoon, and anyone who enjoyed those games will certainly enjoy this. I had a good time with it, particularly after switching to challenge mode. The gameplay is addicting and managing the minutia of my theme park until I saw my profits rise was rewarding, and although the content was not dynamic enough for me to want to keep going, I will still crave and come back to the tried and true formula.
I was a bit let down by the lack of updates or improvements that were made to the genre. Planet Coaster sticks to the script of theme park managers and does nothing to go above and beyond, which is apparent from its familiar mechanics to its underwhelming scenery options. I wish that the game had more content and did more to dig below the surface-level gameplay of profit maximization.
Addicting management gameplay
Rewarding ride customization
Difficult menus and interface
Uninspired career mode
Run-of-the-mill content for the genre