A triumphant return of a classic?
Back when I was but a small child, I would sink hours of my life building theme parks in the original RollerCoaster Tycoon. I had an absolute blast managing the guests satisfaction levels, building new rides for my patrons, managing the debt I had accrued starting up the park, and basically managing every intricate detail the game would allow. It had deep systems to engage with, and was accessible enough that a dumb kid like I was could understand it.
Needless to say, when a RollerCoaster Tycoon game was announced for the Nintendo Switch, I was on board immediately. Being able to take the management sim I loved on the go? That sounds like a dream come true! Did that excitement hold up once I actually got my hands on it though? Let’s find out.
There might be something here
In the beginning hours with the game, I could not wipe the smile from my face. Nostalgia washed over me as I saw a lot of what I loved about the original in front of me. You could build paths wherever you’d like, place down rides, food stalls and decorations, set your parks entry fee, bars for customer satisfaction littered the bottom of the UI, basically I was on cloud nine.
When starting a game, you can choose one of three main modes; Adventure, Scenario or Sandbox. Adventure mode sees you building a park from the ground up, allowing you to customise your park how you want, while still managing your funds and achieving set goals. The main aim here is to raise your park’s overall value, which is done by attracting more customers and revenue into the park.
Scenario mode gives you pre-built parks to work with, giving you a short term goal to achieve before a time limit runs out. These are novel, but takes away a lot of what is fun about RollerCoaster Tycoon, or maybe I’m just a purist.
Finally you have Sandbox mode, which gives you an empty lot to work with. Here you have no goals to achieve, it’s just you and your theme park. You can choose creative mode, which gives you unlimited funds and no restrictions, just build your dream theme park, or career mode, which restricts you to the money you earn yourself.
Much of the gameplay is managing menus, as well as placing buildings, rides and decorations upon a grid system.
You begin building your park with a set amount of starting funds. You don’t borrow money at the start like the original, meaning there is no initial debt to work off before all the profits are your own. I didn’t enjoy this change, but it is only a minor gripe.
You can work through the menus by using the touch screen or the D-pad. These menus are where you choose what you want to build, or see the managerial aspects of the park, like your current permits or available research tasks.
Initially, you are limited in what you can build, as a lot of the rides and attractions are locked away from you until you research it. Want to build a roller coaster? Well, you better shell out $7000 to research them. Researching roller coasters doesn’t unlock every type however, as researching wooden roller coasters won’t unlock the steel ones and so on. This is a little annoying, as it seems somewhat unnecessary to gate off attractions like this. Making the more attractive rides cost more to build would have been sufficient.
After selecting an item to build, you can then place it anywhere in your park. Doing so requires you to have a path leading to the attraction, or else no customers can get to it. You can then set the prices, including the prices of what the food stalls sell. Unfortunately, food stalls have one set price, so you cannot micromanage each little item the stall sells, which is a shame.
The cracks in the foundation appear
The more I started to build up my park, the more I realised that this is not the game I was hoping for. A lot of what made the original RollerCoaster Tycoon games fun was the sheer amount of minute details you could manipulate. Adventures, however, haters down almost every aspect of the games core mechanics.
For instance, in the original, you had to hire your janitors, entertainers and mechanics individually, then dictate where they had to patrol to make park maintenance as efficient as possible, while minimising staff costs. In this version however, you simply buy the corresponding building, and where you place it sets up a grid in a square around it, which shows you the area that station covers.
Dealing with ride demand is no longer a thing either. This is a huge negative against the game, as it was an integral part of the RollerCoaster Tycoon experience. Basically, in the previous iterations of the game, you had to build a specific path from each ride, which was a queue path. If a ride was super popular, you sometimes had to extend the queue path to allow more people to get on the ride. Not doing so could lose you money, and this had to be done for each ride on your park. Now, there are no queues whatsoever, taking out an integral management part out of this sim.
Seeing customer thoughts are now relegated to random thought bubbles, which is vastly inferior to the original system. In the original games, you could follow a single patrons journey in the park, from paying the entry fee, right up to when they left. This meant you could see exactly what they thought of every aspect of your park, and made those visiting your park feel like they had a life of their own. This new system just makes it obvious that the customers are just an arbitrary number going up to mark your current success level.
At least building roller coasters is still an available feature. Unfortunately, doing so is a chore, and there seems to be no benefit to building your own as opposed to using the pre-fab builds. Basically, to build a coaster, you set out a bunch of rail to point nodes. From each node, you can dictate what the track does, whether it rises, dips, banks around a corner etc. Laying out the track though is finicky, as you need to use either the left stick or touch screen to do it, which is very imprecise, meaning you don’t have the level of control you would want to be able to build these custom coasters.
Damn, these customers are ugly
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures isn’t a looker, that’s for sure. The people wandering around your park are barely humanoid shapes awkwardly going about their business. My panda entertainers looked like something out of a horror movie, like they were a victim away from staring in the next blockbuster slasher film.
The attractions are also very ho-hum, with jagged edges and lacking in detail. As a whole, the game just appears somewhat lifeless, which is a real shame considering this is a theme park builder. Theme parks are excited places full of wonder, and RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures just doesn’t capture that at all.
The sounds are somewhat there though, with the joyous screams of people enjoying the rides constantly ringing out in the background. Hearing the music from the merry-go-round and other attractions is great too. It is just a shame that this is one of the few aspects where this game actually hits its mark.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures is a real missed opportunity. A theme park sim on the go should be a home run, but instead this one stumbles out of the gates. This version is so watered down that it is almost not worthy of brandishing the RollerCoaster Tycoon name. That said, it isn’t all bad, as there is some good elements here. The building and customisation of your park is all here, and is as wonderful as ever. The sounds of the park in motion is great too, really fuelling the feeling that this is a fun place to be. Seeing where the game succeeds makes its failures all the more painful, as you can see the potential this game has.