Planet Coaster does for Roller Coaster Tycoon what Cities: Skylines did for Sim City—but is that such a great thing? Well, that depends on what you want from a game, I suppose.I’ll be perfectly honest: I adore Planet Coaster—but I also feel it sheds some of the magic of RCT. Part of me—the part that enjoys methodically and meticulously engineering and orchestrating perfect layouts and systems—could lose (and has lost) many a night to its siren call sung by myriad new options and tools for creation and beautification. Yet, the other part of me that enjoys visual representations of quantifiably gratifying progress feels left behind. I find myself doing The Sims thing; spending inordinate amounts of time on finite details, creating, arranging, and fine-tuning, without actually making any real progress or paying much attention to the events at large.
One of my lasting memories from RCT in my youth was the challenge of growing and sustaining a park long enough to research and unlock new tools, coasters, rides, decorations, and the like. While, largely, this formula remains in Planet Coaster, I also find there’s SO much to do that it often feels more like a sandbox than a challenge—even in the challenge maps themselves. Don’t get me wrong, having things to do and lots to be distracted by and involve oneself with is by no means a drawback; I just feel that some of the progression is missing, if that makes any sense. The sense of achievement isn’t quite as front-and-centre. This is wonderful news for anyone who thought the win conditions in RCT were too challenging, or who just wants oodles of tools for customization, but it’s worth noting for anyone who may have been looking for more clear-cut measures of success.
I also can’t lie; some of the terrain manipulation features are lacklustre. Maximum size for changing, say, gradients, is too small when undertaking large terraforming projects, leaving it a bit tedious at times. Likewise, the park goers can be a bit dimwitted. They can frequently abandon all needs (food, drink, toilet, etc) to queue up for a new ride or venue, only to then complain about their needs not being satisfied. But, really, these don’t spoil the experience as a whole. And what an experience that is.
The aforementioned methodical tinkerer in me adores the fact that scenery in my parks now has a direct effect on guest satisfaction. It’s allowed me to spend ridiculous amounts of time constructing complex dioramas and convincing environments to serve as the backdrops in my parks. And because nothing is locked to a snap-grid as was so common in games of yore, there’s a truly overwhelming amount of control over the finite details in your parks. This, of course, carries over to ride and coaster creation as well. Admittedly, the coaster creation can be a bit cumbersome at times, but because it’s not just a series of angle-snapped parts, and because ride statistics like fear, excitement, and nausea are all based off the simulated physics of the completed ride, there’s a lot of incentive and satisfaction to creating as opposed to simply rubber-stamping from the pre-built options.
Similarly, the Steam Workshop integration is a wonderful addition—especially the ability to track builders from within the game itself. Browsing the creations of others and importing at-will is just… fantastic, as is the capability to import your own music for rides. And that’s the thing about Planet Coaster: it just works. On so many levels, it just feels right. The music, even at the menu, is upbeat and cheery without being sickly; the intro cinematic is fun and charming; the park owner avatars are whimsical; the whole thing just feels… right. It’s a place where I like being, and that’s a pretty special thing for a game to offer up. It’s not a perfect game, but in its own little way, it sort of is, and I’d expect no less from the team that brought us RCT2 and 3.
Really, what more can anyone ask of a game? Planet Coaster is a fun, pleasant, quirky, creative place to be that puts the player back in touch with all those silly, fantastical childhood aspirations of creating and owning a theme park, all without any of the tedium and taxman of real life. I don’t even know that I’ve achieved much in my time with it, but that’s perfectly okay by me—it’s quickly found a place alongside Stardew Valley as a game that I can turn to cheer me up on a gloomy day. As a cynical and crabby adult, that’s worth more than any perfect AI or quantifiable review scores.