Planet Coaster Review

 

Played on Windows

In 2016, there was a new RollerCoaster Tycoon being released called Roller Coaster World. It’s understandable if you didn’t hear about it. as much of the initial response to the game was rather rough. People weren’t happy with the final product and that’s fine. However, through the criticism, there was one thing a lot of people commented on. “Planet Coaster is going to be better than this”. I wasn’t even aware Roller Coaster World was about to release, but I hadn’t heard of Planet Coaster at the time, but it had so many fans commenting about it on a different game, I was curious. It was going to release a day later, so timing made sense. If Roller Coaster World wasn’t good, would Planet Coaster be any better?

Now that might sound like a piece of trivia that these two games were put head to head due to release dates, but there’s more to the story than that. Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 was made by a company known as Frontier Developments who also had worked on the previous titles in the series. Planet Coaster is actually made by the same company, Frontier Developments, so not only was there a similar release date, but the dev teams were intertwined as well. So the team had a history of making theme park simulators, that might mean they could pull this off.

Well, it’s been a couple of years, and I finally grabbed Planet Coaster. It starts off simply where you’re able to create a person to represent you and place them on the world. It’s an interesting start, but the odd part to me is I don’t remember really seeing my character again in the game. When I booted up after that part, I moved into the video game so fast, I don’t know if I beat a load time or a server call to get information, but I didn’t really use him. I’m sure there’s a reason to create an avatar, but it’s just not a major one for how I played.

The game actually has a lot of modes in it. The big three are the career mode, the challenge mode, and the sandbox mode. I spent most of my time in career mode because I’m a fan of having goals but I put in some time in the other two.

Sandbox mode gives the player unlimited freedom and unlimited funds. You can create any amusement park you want to, build any coaster, and have as much fun as you want. It’s actually a lot of fun because without having to deal with funds or people’s opinions of your park you can create anything you want. There’s one thing here. Achievements are available to unlock in sandbox mode so it’s rather easy to get most achievements quickly here. Sandbox, as a mode, is just a place to have fun with this game instead of chasing goals.

Sandbox is really good though and I enjoyed my time with it because it allowed my creativity to flow with no limit. That might sound odd, but every other mode puts heavy limitations on your gameplay. You need to earn funs, have a working park and make people happy. If you don’t, you quickly run out of money and get stuck in a hole. So the freedom to build is good here.

As a personal opinion, I prefer a little more structure to my simulation experience. I understand why people like Creative mode in Minecraft when they have something to build, but for me, I need to earn my builds.

So challenge mode is a little different. You have less structure than Career, but you have a number of challenges that appear and you can tackle them as well as the financial management of the park. The challenges can be anything from building a ride, to having a coaster that goes faster than a specific speed, or even to keeping the park safe and theft down for a certain amount of time.

These challenges come semi rapidly and you always have a goal to tackle and something new to play with. There’s actually difficulty levels for Challenge mode but I played easy and had a lot of fun with it.

The downside though is it’s like an endless runner. You can keep playing Challenge forever because the game keeps giving you more and more challenges, I don’t know if there’s a limit but I got bored of it after a couple of hours. That’s far longer than I expected.

Finally, there’s Career mode, and that’s the mode I was hoping for when I bought Planet Coaster. Career mode is fully structured play. There are three difficulties, easy, medium, and hard, with a second set of levels at each difficulty locked off until you beat enough of career mode. Each set of levels has three individual levels, and each level has three medals that can be completed with different challenges.

There’s a touch of a story with each level “Funland ran out of money in the middle of making a large track for them, help them out.” However most of the gameplay is the same, build a good theme park and don’t run out of money.


Parks often have themes as you start them in career mode as well.

I’ll get into the career mode towards the end of the review because it’s time to talk about the amusement parks themselves, so you understand how you build a park.

The first career level is a rather basic level. It has you build new rides. Now there are three types of attractions in Planet Coaster; Rides, Track Rides, and Coasters, I’ll go over each.

Rides are simple attractions. If you’ve ever been to a carnival or state fair that’s what the game sees as a ride. They’re set up in one location and while they can be rather advanced and really interesting to look at, they’re small attractions comparatively. They also bring in a small amount of money.

Now most of the rides are rather good, and you have the type of rides like a tower drop, Ferris wheel, spinning ships, rides that use momentum to go upside down and more. There’s a lot of variety in the choices but most rides are rather cheap and result in a similar system. Small amounts of money but keep your guest entertained.


Rides are a bit simple, but still fun to go on.

There are also Track Rides, now you can think of this as more “slow theme park rides.” Trains, go-karts, and flume rides fall under this one. You can build large tracks and then design attractions for players to see as you drive along. You can build interesting go-kart tracks as well and Planet Coaster helps you with that. You do design the course and use something similar to the Coaster designer, but most of these tracks aren’t designed for the same level of excitement as a coaster.

What makes a Track Ride different from a coaster? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I’m sure there’s a reason in game, maybe a code or a system change that programmers understand, but overall, they’re just mostly slower coasters, yet with good numbers on excitement and make a decent sum of money.

Finally, we come to the titular Coasters. The big dogs, the pack leaders, the kings of the park. Yeah, I might be building them up a bit, but honestly, Planet Coaster does that through a number of processes. You can make a good profit on a Track Ride, but you’re going to make most of your money on coasters. The “Rides” are small potatoes in the long run, and the fact is if you want to be successful, Coasters are always going to be the way to go.

So much of the game feels pointed at the coasters, and the fact is I think a majority of development time was spent on them, and that’s a good thing. You can make really awesome designs, research new coasters, develop unique experiences, and it works. The coaster is the most fun part of Planet Coaster, but it also is a bit forced.

You see I mentioned all three because there’s a slight problem here. If you wanted to make a county fair, you’re allowed to, you can limit yourself to rides, but the fact is it’s rather hard to build a park with just rides, The game treats them like side attractions. I had a park in Career mode where I was constantly losing money for three or four years in-game, I restarted the mode and put down a single coaster with the initial money and I couldn’t stop making money. Within a year in-game, I had beaten almost every medal for that park. It wasn’t even a great coaster, but it worked and shows where Planet Coaster expects you to go.

You see it brings us to an issue I have with the game. The monetary system. I am going to save the deep dive into the system until later because there’s more to the park, but the fact is Coasters and Track Rides are huge money makers and to try to go away from them doesn’t seem like something the game is designed to support. If you’re not investing a lot of money into coasters, it feels like you’re almost wasting money.

Now there’s still an entire rest of the park to discuss. Man can’t only live on coasters alone. The guests of the park have many more needs. Almost every park needs food and drinks, as well as restrooms, benches, and staff.

For the most part, Planet Coaster does heavily support these initiatives with buildings. The downside, in my opinion, is there’s not a lot of variety baked into the game. There’s a good amount, but if you need to build three food shops, you’re going to have to use the same design pretty fast. There are a lot of choices here, but there are two issues. First, there are not many food types from what I saw, but second, most of the designs and food types are locked away and require research to unlock. The park doesn’t seem to need multiple food types. If there are 10 different shops or ten “Chief Beef” shops, the guests of the park seem to accept the choices equally. They just want to eat, not necessarily eat a specific food.

That’s not a big issue but Planet Coaster feels a little stale if you stay on any park for a very long time as you will be using the same design over and over, or spending a lot of money on research.


You can make your own sarlacc pit if you want.

There’s a fix of course. You can build your own buildings, and make them look like anything you want and use any type of restaurant, restroom, atm, or any other amenity with them. If you like what you design and build a good location with nice scenery, you can even save this as what’s known as a “Blueprint”. From there you can place that location as much as you want in the future. This seems like the game is expecting you to develop variety for them, and there’s definitely a bit of that there.

But there’s also the fact that Steam Workshop works with Planet Coaster and you can upload your creation there. That’s great, but even better, you can download creations there. So if you want a Pizza shop or a Homer Simpson Donut Shop, you can grab one relatively easy, and there’s a lot of content there. I even saw a roller coaster based on Twisted Sister. That’s kind of awesome in my opinion.

Now the scenery additions actually don’t affect your rides and shops much but just make the place look nicer to you, and that’s a good system if you want something entertaining to look at.

I did use the blueprints a few times to save on coasters for me but overall I didn’t play too much with this. There are a lot of choices in the workshop and it will keep this game feeling fresh for quite some time.

There are also concerns about hiring employees, vendors, janitors, mechanics, and security officers, and you will have to micromanage your park a bit, including giving your staff a place to rest and more. If you have too much need for one type, the game makes it clear, but it also can request them a bit early, then they need to be dropped, or a bit later.

However, the amount of micromanagement in Planet Coaster is pretty good except for one part. We’re going to go back to talk about the monetary system again.

You see the financials of running a park is hard, and the game makes you feel that. The idea is every ride and shop in your park should charge money. While you could make Disneyland, the idea is to make a theme park with individual ticket prices for each ride. It’s definitely more interesting as I’m sure Disneyland has for less entertaining mechanics for controlling price and more concern on advertising, however the price of everything in the park becomes a bigger concern.

You see when I place a ride, Planet Coaster decides that I charge a certain amount, let’s say it chooses 7.5 dollars for a specific ride, each ride starts at a different price. You charge that amount for riders to get into the line, and that’s interesting. The problem shows up after a few games or if you’re paying attention. 7.5, or whatever starting amount any ride begins at, is never a good number. You can usually get away with charging about 50 percent more of the starting price and depending on how good the ride is you might be able to get away with doubling the price. Coasters can start at 15 dollars but easily be worth 30-40 bucks. Food also is horribly priced and often can get increased quite a bit. Even bathrooms are “Good values” when you charge 1.00 to use the bathroom.

The real problem is that the 7.5 or the starting price for food will make you mostly run at a deficit. People will gladly pay that and call it a “Good value” but that attraction will actually lose you money due to the cost of keeping it open.

There are parts of the game that affect the price that you can charge, such as how much scenery is around the line to get on the coaster. It’s an odd choice because building a heavily interactive ride doesn’t affect the value of the ride, but placing 75 bushes in a stack next to the ticket line makes the ride more valuable. It’s an odd system, and it works, but it means you don’t need to worry about the ride itself other than it’s excitement, nausea and fear levels.


Theme rides made by the game though have a lot of interesting animatronics, like this kraken tentacle.

But even without that, you still have a lot of money left on the table. The scenery only increases potential profit, but without the scenery, you still are left with a ton of money that your park should be charging but doesn’t.

Really the problem I have with all of this is I constantly feel like I have to play with the price of everything. There’s a rather good guide on Steam that tells you what you should charge for food and drink, Using it I made close to 1500 dollar more a month and moved from losing money on a park to gaining a lot. However, I don’t want to reference that guide every time I create a new park. While you can say every “Chief Beef” restaurant charges the same price, the minute you create a new park, all prices are reset and you have to go refer to that list again

The bigger problem is that most of the rides have a variable price, and constantly need tweaking. Eventually, the rides get stale and you have to adjust it again and again. I really wanted the ability to build a coaster and be proud of my coaster, but instead Planet Coaster coughs and wants me to fiddle with the price over and over, switching between 25 dollars, then 20 dollars, then 22 dollars, 22.5, 23, then 22.5 each time waiting a few days to see the results and optimize that value.

As I played, I really just wanted to hire someone to deal with it. Let me be the fungineer and have some bureaucrat deal with “how much to charge”. It’s not a very fun part of the game, and it constantly comes up. Without it, the game probably would be too easy, but with it, the game is not that much fun. It’s the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t need to exist in the game.

In addition, sometimes the price changes due to the age of ride or other factors so it’s a constant reevaluation process as well.

I mentioned the coaster building system earlier and I want to go back to that as well. The blueprint system mentioned before is pretty good, but the Coaster system is very solid. If you can imagine it, you can build it, and usually not have that much trouble getting your imagination in the game. There are a lot of simple tools for building a simple coaster, but also a lot of fine grain tools so if you want a specific vision, you can have it here. There’s a lot of thought into it, and if you’ve built a coaster and want to add one more loop, the system seems to support that. Even better, if you want to change the size or shape of the track, the game seems to recover well, and if you get bored of the building, there’s a rather smart “auto-complete” option that finishes the track for you.

I found it rather easy to build a coaster of my dreams. The only real issue I have with building coasters is sometimes it’s hard to finish them, as I tend to put a little more G-force on the guests than they can take. Yeah I don’t know why they can’t take 11 or 12 Gs when it could kill most people, but that’s the type of coasters I build and then have to fix. Still it’s fun to play with the coaster designer.


My first coaster. It’s pretty intense, and actually made a fair amount of money for me.

One thing that’s nice in the editor and really the whole game is that mistakes made while developing of a coaster or the park can be undone rather easily, and even have an undo button. This also gives you the full price of the mistake back.

So that’s how you build a park and develop the game. Now we can finish the look at career mode. The career mode medal system will make requests like a Coaster that’s a 7 on excitement but less than a 7 on nausea, which isn’t that hard of a challenge if you know what you’re doing. The harder parts are when it asked for a certain amount of meters to the coaster, as the game only lets you know about lengths after a test run.

However, once the career mode advances far enough the game starts making more interesting requests, but they definitely don’t feel as well developed. A big one is the scenery system as well as “park balance” idea. The game counts any scenery and gives you a park score for it. A number of levels ask that you hit certain goals for either value. It sounds like a chance to beautify your park and it is.

Or you can be like me and make a 700 dollar topiary stack that has about a hundred bouquets stacked on each other. They are worth a lot of points and it satisfies that requirement.

You see there’s a number of ways to cheat many systems in the game. When you have to build a 500-meter ride, you’re going to have to build it, but you also are allowed to create it, get credit for it and delete or undo the ride quickly to retain your money.

You also can take loans at the end of a career level with no penalty. Need 5k more for one last purchase? Just take a loan and build what you need and win the scenario.


My 700 dollar topiary stacks at work. They’re tilted, but the game doesn’t care.

You see there’s one other problem with Planet Coaster. If we assume you have perfected the right price for all your items, and have the perfect ride and everything else. You’ll probably have to wait around for money. This is a sim, so quite often you’ll have a park that you feel is working well and just hit the fastest speed on the simulation to just wait for your money to come in. If your park is working well this can be relatively fast, but sometimes you’ll wait a long time to hit a specific target. It works but it could be better.

There are a few other annoyances here. The UI is good if you know where to look for something, but quite often the challenges or career goals ask for something that’s not always clearly available. I had to keep the robbery rate under 10 or 30 percent for a challenge once. I don’t know if that number was displayed anywhere but I couldn’t find it. Often times the issues with finance too aren’t well displayed. There’s usually a reason your park is in the red, and it’s not clear. Knowing that X ride is not making back its profit could allow you to focus on what’s wrong with that ride, but that information isn’t always available or clear

Really the UI is solid until it’s not and then it becomes remarkably frustrating.

In addition, rides will break down at times, and this can be a major problem. I noticed on my third or fourth park I had two go-kart tracks that would not stay working. I even had the maintenance workers checking on them every 10 minutes and watched them crumble in eight minutes. It’s a real pain and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

However, the worse part is if your ride breaks down, the people in the line walk out of the ride and you issue refunds to everyone. If the rides suddenly are fixed by the mechanic, everyone in the line to get on the ride suddenly appears in the exit and everyone gets a refund. Why is this important?

Well on a 40 dollar ride, I was seeing massive swings of 4k dollar fluctuations in my earnings because everyone got a refund at the same time. If your line fills up again instantly you get most of that 4k back. This ruins the accounting books and makes you think you have a bigger problem than just a broken ride.

In addition similar to the scenery issues, great rides can be made here but you have to make them yourself. I would have really loved to see a system similar to Little Big Planet Racing where you build a course and the scenery to the course is made automatically so you don’t have to deal with that and can have a ride that looks good through auto-generated foliage. That’s not available here, and because inventive coasters don’t give you bonus points, either to value or park score, it actually can hurt your park as animatronics cost money to run in the park.

At the same time that’s a very hard programming challenge to judge the “beauty” of a ride. It’d be as hard as Passepartout’s judging of the artistic merit of painting and yet still probably would be very easy to cheat.

So those are a few issues I’ve had, but I wanted to save one piece for last. Planet Coaster has a great feature that I haven’t mentioned yet. You see, you can build a park, you can build a coaster, and that’s all good. But the best part of building a good coaster is riding it. And of course, Planet Coaster has you covered. You can choose any ride, (ride, track or coaster) and ride it. There are limitations sadly, you’re limited to a specific seat on the ride, but you can look around and actually I have not sat in a single ride on Planet Coaster that I didn’t enjoy. It’s so much fun to go on an inversion ride and look down/up or ride your new coaster, or explore a new experience, in fact, that’s the real reason to add the animatronics to the ride so that you can experience it in the seat.

The fact is, if there’s anything Planet Coaster does right, it makes it so enjoyable to build a coaster and then play with it, and finally ride it, and that’s really the best parts of the game. There’s a lot of good parts to the game but when I really think about Planet Coaster there’s one really important part to the game.

If you want to build coasters, ride them and enjoy them, pick this up, I have a cousin who loves roller coasters and designing rides. This game is for him. If you like theme parks, it’s still a good game, but it focuses heavily on the coasters and track rides more than anything. At the same time if you don’t like sim games, this is definitely not for you. Avoid it in that case.

I’ve thought a bit about the final score here, and I ended up giving Planet Coaster a

3.5/5

You see, this is a game for people who want to build coasters, everyone else might not have a lot of fun, and the real problem I have with this game is there’s too much micromanagement that takes you away from making a really great coaster.

Admittedly the game doesn’t judge coasters well, but I’ll accept that, I don’t mind a simple scoring system, but I do mind having to constantly play with the price of a ride when I could be building the next ride.

I just wish the game would move away from the micromanagement so I could enjoy the coaster building even more and not worry about how much to charge for the coasters every time. One or two parks that require that micromanagement would be enough in my opinion.

Final Thoughts: An excellent roller coaster builders. Build theme parks or amusement parks, share your creations online, explore other’s and have fun. However, the career mode is brought down by micromanagement.

Stats 13.4 hours 28/32 achievements earned.