This year, the pandemic has hit many, including amusement parks and their lovers. Planet Coaster wants to fill this gap and, in the old theme park tradition, bring back the roller coasters that we miss so much these days. Originally released for PC in 2016, the title is now coming to PlayStation and Xbox in a console version.
Your own fantasy land
Planet Coaster comes as a modern take on the Sims with the quirky charm of the classic Bullfrog but with far more depth. As with any PC title, the big question isn’t so much whether it’s a good game as whether the transition to console will be smooth.
The comparison with Theme Park doesn’t quite fit; The roller coasters are the main attraction here. So Planet Coaster is more comparable to Rollercoaster Tycoon. Again, there are a lot of pre-made coasters, but we can also create our own coaster from scratch. But let’s not overdo it: fear, excitement and nausea are all factors that we need to control when designing a game or attraction. If we go too wild in any of these categories, it will affect whether or not people prefer our park.
However, just roller coasters and other attractions are not enough: if we want to satisfy our customers, we also have to offer services. Shops, restaurants, toilets, first aid, wastebaskets, ATMs, bathrooms, decorative elements. The numerous needs of the paying customers will keep us busy long after our roller coaster is finished. The staff must also feel comfortable. This is vital to the operation of our park. The micromanagement here extends to the design of work schedules, wage negotiations and also enough rest buildings in which the employees can take a break. If we don’t find anything fancy in the given buildings, we can simply develop some ourselves: For example, a stand can be created around the sales unit of the hot dog stand with individually adapted components that is so beautiful that customers don’t want to buy anywhere else. Here you can lose yourself for hours in the menus and tinker more or less sensibly with the perfect drink stand.
As on PC, the title offers a lavish campaign, challenges or an endless sandbox mode. In the challenges we take over amusement parks that have already started and we have to achieve certain goals within a certain period of time. This can be a particularly large sum of money, a certain level of customer satisfaction, or whatever. In general, however, the scale of the challenges is not overwhelming. In sandbox mode, we’ll search for a concrete landscape and start the career of managing an amusement park from scratch. There will be no rush and there will be no particular goals to follow: just follow your imagination and seize all the possibilities. There is also an online workshop in which entire parks, redesigned attractions and user-generated buildings can be downloaded – the supply does not slow down.
The question remains: Why do you need such a game on the console, which is predestined for mouse and keyboard? The original on PC aimed to build the best park possible. That quickly turned into work. But playing the same game lazily on the sofa almost makes you lose in the crowd of park-goers. And I doctored around for hours on building walls and optimal routing until I and the visitors were happy. It was an almost meditative pursuit at times, marred only by the utterly overloaded and complex joypad mapping. But how do you want to get a classic mouse-and-keyboard game on console in a more meaningful way? That must be almost tricky. And so navigating through the nested menus with the ridiculously small font size isn’t always as much fun as riding the roller coaster you just built yourself. You can deny that from the customer’s perspective, but then it stutters badly in between.
Not a joypad game
Most of Planet Coaster’s imperfections are therefore due to processes that cannot be fully transferred to the DualShock 4. Unfortunately, one of the core mechanics of the game comes off worst: the coaster creation system. Here wasted most of the time, and unfortunately not because it’s entertaining. It’s really great fun to design each curve while considering the fear, excitement, and nausea it induces in the customer. Very satisfying to create the perfect thrill! A test environment can be used for this, in which no costs are incurred, and you can experiment to your heart’s content. There’s even a dedicated step-by-step tutorial that encourages experimentation with a variety of components. While so many of the parks created feel like stitching templates together, having your own roller coaster as the main attraction gives your park a stamp of individuality. The downside is that the fine-tuning of the roller coasters really doesn’t match the DualShock 4. Tweaking individual parts is unnecessarily cumbersome and frustrating, especially when trying to find the right angle to ensure your guests don’t fly en masse. Unfortunately, the mouse and keyboard are superior to the joypad in every respect.
Unfortunately, the AI is not the smartest overall. Tired workers are so exhausted that they are too stupid to find their way to the rest building. Hungry customers won’t find the food stands around the corner. The path building system is unnecessarily complex and, in connection with the joypad, downright fiddly. From a graphic and technical point of view, however, the production is more than satisfactory. Beautifully illuminated day/night changes, atmospheric and colorful 3D graphics and attention to detail even in the highest zoom levels. Jim Guthrie and JJ Ipsen have composed a wonderfully atmospheric, relaxing soundtrack that, like the title track, invites you to whistle along often enough. And often enough the hours float by because the plucked guitars and subtle chorales in the background promote total deceleration.
Designing an amusement park from scratch, watching it grow, expanding it, attracting new visitors and keeping the staff happy – captains of industry have enough to do on console. Sure, the controls have their quirks and can’t keep up with the PC. But overall, Planet Coaster has become a very good implementation. The Sims charm was preserved, technically everything is appropriate and the great music especially stands out. Games like this are the right thing to do in winter anyway: when it’s pitch black outside and it’s freezing cold, you spend the evening designing new popcorn booths and optimizing the length of the queues. Best of all, a glass of mulled wine.
Planet Coaster Console Edition
retain the charm of the original
beautiful background music
sometimes awful joypad controls
AI-controlled characters sometimes stupid