Steam Cleaning #18: Planet Coaster

Roller Coaster Tycoon Deluxe is one of the greatest real time management games of all time. It came about as the vision of one man, put together using an archaic programming language, and yet nearly perfected every part of the park sim experience. Growing up, RCT was one of my favorite games. I struggle to think of a game I have more nostalgia for. It sets a very high bar for theme park creators.

And yet, right now, I’m wondering if Planet Coaster just leapt over that bar.

Planet Coaster handles all the requirements for a theme park sim with ease. Placing rides, managing guest complaints, and making the park of your dreams feels just like it did twenty years ago. Intuitive. Easy. Satisfying. And yet, over the course of just a few hours, Planet Coaster proved to me that it could do more.

Managing staff happiness and training the staff is a big addition, especially with every food stall requiring staff. When money is tight, it’s hard to decide how to approach training. Security and theft have much more depth than I expected, giving me a little thrill every time a pickpocket got banned from the park. Coaster creation is streamlined and smooth but nuanced. And then there are more systems and niceties to manage. How new a ride is, and what kind of reputation it has among guests. Scenery, the guests’ reaction to it, and the sheer customizability of it (you can even import your own models!).

I realized just how robust an experience this game was when I rode one of the pre-generated rides in an ‘easy’ pirate-themed park. It was a simple cart ride, but it was synchronized with tentacles that lashed out through holes in a cave and a giant kraken’s nest of eggs. Using the ride cam felt like an immersive experience, almost like a ride I could see at any park.

And yet, pulling things back, I was never overwhelmed or confused. These elements are here, and it is necessary to please your guests by placing scenery and making a pleasing park, but the game offers unlimited potential for players that want to realize their dreams in park form, and I think that’s fascinating.

So, the game handles its systems well. But is it a good challenge? I think so. On my third park, I nearly trapped myself in a money pit and had to make some quick decisions regarding staffing, ride construction, and pricing to dig my way out. Three months later, when I hit my income goals, I felt a swell of pride in the park I’d created.

Part of me misses the classic isometric game that started it all, but I honestly can’t see myself going back to RCT when I have Planet Coaster right in front of me. What did the first game do that this one does not do better?

Verdict: Three scenarios played in four hours, with more to come.

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