Sprawling crowds of eccentric patrons. Crisp aromas of sugar-loaded sweets and grease. The click-click-clicks of surging rollercoasters and shrills of pure ecstasy. An unbridled cacophony permeates the air. Theme parks stimulate every human sense, don’t they?
While we can’t experience the real thing at this point in time, Planet Coaster enables theme park enthusiasts to mimic this unrivaled atmosphere.
From the moment it powers up, Planet Coaster evokes feel-good vibes. Even the loading screens can make you giddy with excitement. It’s like walking into Disney World for the first time. Some games are exhausting to play. Others have depressing themes and aesthetics, which can dampen moods. Planet Coaster is the polar opposite. It’s by far the most uplifting game I’ve ever played. And its “staff” of personable characters exhibit the same cheerful demeanor.
Oswald B. Thompson lives to please park guests. Their happiness is paramount in his eyes. Lucy Summers is the self-appointed voice of the people. With a legion of social media followers (a whopping 900) behind her, she’s well-qualified to advise you on park beautification efforts. Eugene Newton, your nerdy chief engineer, is dedicated to detail and well-designed coasters. Last but not least, there’s Cynthia Clark. You see park guests, she sees dollar signs. Happiness is good, but money is better. She’s here to teach you the importance of profit margins and financial viability. Together, this colorful cast of characters enhances the game’s affability, while showing fledgling park managers the ropes.
To ensure new theme park enthusiasts are up to speed, Planet Coaster has an in-depth tutorial that overviews the various aspects of park creation and management. There’s much to digest and accustom yourself to, but the multitude of interfaces and controls are well-organized. I applaud Frontier’s control layout. The integration from PC to consoles must’ve been a challenge, considering Planet Coaster relies on in-game menus and precise object manipulation. While a keyboard and mouse offer a more fluid experience, a controller can still get the job done.
We’re presented with three modes for theme park management and construction: Career, Sandbox, and Challenge. Career mode includes nine levels, which are organized by difficulty. Earlier levels minimize the number of obstacles we face as theme park managers. Rides don’t break down as often, visitor happiness isn’t as volatile, the staff isn’t as apathetic, etc. Career mode offers a nice blend of devised challenges and creative independence.
Within the Career Mode’s tutorial level, you’ll find the Coaster Testing Facility, an open area for ride design and trials. Rides are the backbone of a successful theme park. You don’t pay $49.99 for a one-day ticket just to sample the corn dogs and pretzels. The rides are the big-ticket items. So, it’s only right that they have a dedicated place for intricate design. Back in my Rollercoaster Tycoon days, I struggled to build my own coasters. I wanted to, but my experiments lacked substance — in terms of aesthetics, symmetry, and flow. Really, everything that mattered. They looked like an eight-year-old built them. Maybe because I was eight. But, to my good fortune, Planet Coaster offers an area for designing and testing awe-inspiring, functional, and safe coasters — without the hassle of burning through funds.
Each ride’s experience is measured by three scales: excitement, fear, and nausea. We’re responsible for providing an exciting and appropriately fear-inducing ride — without causing park patrons to hurl. In turn, we must manage lateral, vertical, and forward g-force to provide the most enjoyable experience. To quench my thirst for inhumane elevation, I crafted a coaster that ascended into the clouds. Needless to say, I tested the spirits of my ride’s test dummies. Lives flashed before their nonexistent eyes. Excitement, fear, and nausea levels soared. Thanks to Planet Coaster’s real-time metrics and heatmaps, I can pinpoint the levels of these physiological responses along the coaster’s route, allowing for precise adjustments.
In Sandbox mode, money is no object — you can craft coasters to your heart’s content. Tempt your imagination. Design your wildest park concepts. A bevy of premade scenery options is at your disposal. You can spend dozens of hours adorning a mere fraction of your park’s aesthetics. Of course, you can take the barebones, minimalist route to park decoration, but it’ll hurt your park’s prestige. A theme park needs a theme, after all. That said, if none of Planet Coaster’s preset themes tickle your fancy, you’re welcome to take it upon yourself to handcraft park decor and structures. It’s a painstaking process though. You’re responsible for every wall, window, nook, and cranny if you take the DIY route. Or, you’re welcome to tap into the Frontier Workshop’s vast inventory of blueprints to expedite the process. For instance, if you love Star Wars, but you don’t want to spend days designing the Millennium Falcon, you can download some dedicated soul’s rendition of the intergalactic space vehicle.
Challenge mode offers a true theme park experience: building a park from the ground up with a minimal budget. No guidance. No template. No limitless source of funds. Just an open landscape for your imagination to run wild. I’ll admit, turning a blank canvas into a thriving park is a true challenge. There’s a lot to create, monitor, and juggle. As your park grows, so do your upkeep requirements.
Park expansion requires a lengthy mental checklist. Each decision has a bullwhip supply chain effect, in a way. Branching out into an empty area of your park? Don’t forget bathrooms, trash bins, and benches. Adding facilities like gift shops and hotels? You may want to add a couple of vendors to ensure facilities are appropriately staffed — which, in turn, means you’ll need to up the capacity of your staff buildings. Adding a new roller coaster? You’ll need to beautify the surrounding area and ensure your guests have an appealing route to your new attraction.
As park managers, we must wear many hats. We’re tasked with monitoring the happiness of both guests and staff, as well as the park’s financial viability and general prestige. Thankfully, our god-like powers enable us to read the minds of our park guests to ensure their needs and desires are met. Select a random patron to learn if your paths need cleaning or your milkshake prices are too high. From a monetary perspective, Planet Coaster does an admirable job of simplifying the complexities of theme park finances. It’s neither too rudimentary nor too sophisticated. Monthly income statements can show you if you’re overspending on staff or undercharging for rides. And every price can be manipulated, from turnstile tickets to toilet fees. Please, for the sake of humanity, don’t charge for bathroom privileges.
It’s hard to find something wrong with Planet Coaster. Unless you hate fun, you’ll have a hard time too. Adjusting to the extensiveness of the customization controls takes time and can be a little overwhelming if you don’t have patience. But is too much customization a reasonable problem? No, I don’t think so. Planet Coaster is a jubilant experience that serves as a nice reprieve from the widespread struggles that 2020 introduced.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
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