(cue Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Rollercoaster… of looooove
Rollercoaster… aah ooo ooo ooo
Ok, time for a history lesson. When I was recently asked to describe SimCoaster to a friend, he was surprised to hear that SimCoaster was in fact the third game in Bullfrog’s amusement park franchise. SimCoaster is the sequel to last year’s SimTheme Park, which of course was a sequel in itself to the original Theme Park, as released in 1994. Three games, three name changes. Is this series desperately searching for an identity or what?
In an interesting twist of events, SimCoaster returns to the roots of the Theme Park franchise by re-focusing its attention on micro-management. You begin as an employee of an amusement park management company. The overall goal of the game is to climb the corporate ladder, ultimately leading to the position of President of the management company, as you work your ass off to scrounge up enough cash to purchase 50 percent of the stock in the company. It’s this goal that sets SimCoaster apart from SimTheme Park, whose focus lied in the creation and enjoyment of your own amusement park.
That’s not to say that SimTheme Park didn’t present any objectives of it’s own, they were just secondary in terms of the gameplay. SimTheme Park was like a giant toy box, the game allowed you to play with it’s assortment of roller coasters, rides and other facilities. SimCoaster, on the other hand, limits what you have available to you until you complete certainly challenges and objectives. By successfully completing challenges and objectives assigned to you, you’ll open new areas of the amusement park, gain access to special rides and most importantly, get promotions and earn more stock. Objectives often revolve around the completion of a number of challenges, whereas challenges actually test your management skills. Challenges consist of such assignments as meeting guest and employee requirements, to making architectural alterations to the park to allow for expansion.
Mechanically, SimCoaster plays much like SimTheme Park. You have to fill the amusement park with rides, shops, facilities, attractions and paths in such a manner that is both attractive and effective in terms of keeping guests occupied and satisfied in your park. Much of the game is based on balance. You’ll have to alter settings on each of the attractions. Make the rides too exciting and those guests with weak stomachs will avoid them, and vice versa. The same can be said for employees. You’ll have to hire a variety of workers in order to keep the park in order, including guards, janitors and gardeners. In the same vein, you’ll have to balance expected income with experience as you select your team of employees. Some of the challenges will require that you hire scientists to work in the research department so they can develop new technologies.
In essence, while SimTheme Park was a very open or freeform title, SimCoaster is a very closed experience. In SimTheme Park there were no worries, you just went about your business building and managing your park, watching as patrons enjoyed themselves on your creations. SimCoaster, on the other hand, is all business and no pleasure. There’s very little enjoyment to be had since once you complete some of the challenges and objectives, you’ll be taken to new parts of the amusement park immediately, losing any chance to keep building on the existing portion of the park. If you can’t enjoy your amusement park designs and creations, what’s the point? That’s how I felt while playing the game and I’m sure others will feel the same. This game just isn’t as much fun as it could and should be.
Graphically, little has been changed in SimCoaster, which isn’t such a bad thing. The visuals continue to be quite lively and colourful, in a cartoony kind of way. If anything, the rides found in SimCoaster aren’t as imaginative as those found in SimTheme Park. A new first-person camcorder view has been built-in to allow you to wander around your own park, but you’ll probably find you don’t use it that often. It’s neat at first, but irrelevant eventually. The audio component is dominated by an advisor who constantly pops up to inform you of problems and potential disasters in the park. The good news is, you can always turn off the commentary and use a message system instead. Otherwise the sound isn’t particularly memorable, more often than not recycled from SimTheme Park.
Much like SimTheme Park, SimCoaster offers three zones, which are basically the equivalent to areas of an amusement park. They each provide unique environments and serve as a way to increase the difficulty factor in the game. The zones consist of the Land of Invention, the Polar Zone and Arabian Knights. As expected, SimCoaster comes with a roller coaster design kit that allows you to design your own thrill rides, but while the editor is certainly easier to use than the one found in RollerCoaster Tycoon, it’s also less satisfying. Finally, the interface, which has been overhauled from SimTheme Park for easier access, seems to have a few flaws, among them the inability to open multiple windows without closing existing ones first.
When the night comes to a close and the vomit is all cleaned up, SimCoaster is simply not fun enough. The emphasis on micro-management and objective oriented gameplay really takes away from the overall enjoyment of designing and running an amusement park. A game like this should be as much fun as riding your own newly designed roller coaster (which you can actually do in this game, but not particularly interesting either) but it is not. In comparison, Hasbro Interactive’s RollerCoaster Tycoon is still head and shoulders above this franchise. If you’re interested in checking out this series though, I’d suggest grabbing a copy of the second title, SimTheme Park, it’s more entertaining than SimCoaster and a lot cheaper too.
[ 35/50 ] Gameplay
[ 07/10 ] Graphics
[ 07/10 ] Sounds
[ 06/10 ] Replay Value
[ 07/10 ] Controls
[ 04/10 ] Fun Factor