Planet Coaster sells itself as a modern day, spiritual successor to Bullfrog’s Theme Park franchise. It’s a pitch that, quite frankly, is extremely enticing – I certainly spent many hours playing the original Theme Park back in the 1990s. If Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon were to have some sort of theme park construction sim-child, it would be Planet Coaster. That’s not to say, like all children, Planet Coaster doesn’t have some annoying habits – it certainly does. But all in all, this game can safely be considered the pride and joy of park management sims.
The most impressive thing about Planet Coaster is the sheer amount of creative control it places in the hands of the player. At first this might seem quite overwhelming, yet Frontier Developments has included a Career Mode that offers the perfect complement to the more traditional sandbox mode of theme park management games. This mode offers up set goals for the completion of each particular stage, in effect allowing the player to get to grips with fundamentals such as researching and building rides, providing a requisite amount of facilities to satisfy park visitors, balancing the budget and dabbling in marketing strategies. It doesn’t offer much depth but, if viewed as more of an expanded tutorial, it really sets the player up well for the sandbox and challenge modes.
Planet Coaster is also a really, really beautiful game. The level of detail is extremely impressive and the bright colour palette is the perfect stylistic match for the entertaining, light-hearted, inviting content therein.
Mechanically, shaping each ride, stall, park bench and rock feature to the player’s particular vision is a breeze. The menus are easy to navigate, the toolsets are logical and it doesn’t take forever to figure out how to make minor adjustments here or there.
Building coasters is similarly accessible. Planet Coaster allows the player to drag bits and pieces of track around and mould them however they see fit, making coaster construction a centrepiece of the game’s emphasis on experimentation. Loops can be wedged in however the player desires, banks and curves tweaked as the player sees fit. Should the player wish to try their hand at landscaping, the water, ground and various scenic accessories can be raised, flattened or smoothed out depending on whatever geographic vision they hold.
Suffice to say that logistically, Planet Coaster is extremely ambitious. Almost everything that can be physically built is open to customization, affording the player an incredible degree of freedom.
Whilst I was impressed by the overall fluidity of how Planet Coaster enables the player to operate their parks, one thing that was an occasional frustration was to me the camera; notably the tendency it has to fly off to the side from time to time.
The actual business management aspect of running a park is also quite a bit more restrictive than the urban planning side of things. It’s not so bad as to feel like a tacked-on afterthought. Rather, in effect, it just offers a lot less flexibility than building things does.
Overall, this game is a complete pleasure to play. It’s evocative of older generations of theme park management sims in all the right ways, whilst having plenty of style and appeal in its own right. It’s a game that can be both a source of relaxation and a challenge, depending on the player’s mood. Planet Coaster is also poised to offer some excellent longevity via integration with the Steam Workshop. The possibilities are endless, and this reviewer is definitely on-board for the ride.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.