Keep your arms and legs inside the review at all times.
When I was a kid, I used to love sitting down with a box of crayons and designing my elaborate 'dream house.' Key elements included at least 4 floors, an indoor swimming pool (with natural waterfall, of course), curly slide from top to bottom, a billiard table, pinball machines, a trampoline room, several bedrooms filled with several waterbeds, a private chef (an expert with Twinkies and Kool-Aid), a basketball court, a secret cave, a moat brimming with sharks, a few shiny cars, a bowling alley, and at least 4 species of wildlife. What can I say? I was a veritable Donald Trump.
Sadly, my architectural aspirations currently land a bit lower on the totem pole. But while my current apartment is hardly disappointing, I still occasionally feel that urge to design, to build something incredibly intricate yet wondrously efficient. Something exciting, something complex, something that both captures my sophisticated intellect and tickles my inner gaming child. Something like. . . a theme park.
As if to answer my nostalgic cry for help (and to make for a smoooth segue), Hasbro Interactive gives us Rollercoaster Tycoon. Designed by Chris Sawyer (the Transport Tycoon guy), this very addictive title manages to strike a balance between casual gaming goodness and hardcore, sim-like depth. Plus, you get to build roller coasters, and how cool is that?
The general idea in Rollercoaster Tycoon is that you are the lord and master of an amusement park. You set prices, construct rides, feed the guests, hire the help, and ultimately create a flourishing oasis or a floundering garbage heap. The choice is yours.
Gameplay is essentially the same as any other sim game, only more fun. You begin with a limited amount of resources (cash), and as you build up your park, you must try to meet certain requirements. One scenario might require a specific number of guests in the park by the end of the fourth year. Another may ask that the overall company value reaches a certain amount. 'Beating' one scenario opens up a few more. In this sense, Rollercoaster Tycoon provides a bit more of a goal than other more mundane sim games.
However, whether or not you meet your objective is really secondary to the core of the game: building a functioning park and helping it grow. You have a wealth of possibilities to explore, including new rides, shops, and scenery. The bottom line is to keep the guests happy; they're the ones with the money to finance your dreams of grandeur.
Rollercoaster Tycoon's graphics are well done. You can view things from 4 different angles and a couple of zoom levels. As this is not a 3D enhanced game, you'll be looking at sprite upon glorious sprite. The nature of the game just doesn't call for fancy graphics, and thankfully things run smoothly. The detail level is very cool, from the green-faced nauseous guest to the marquee scrolling the name of the ride at the entrance.
The sound is nicely done also. Of course, most of the sounds you'll hear at an amusement park are ambient; random crowd chatter, faint screams of guests on coasters, the melodic tune pumped out of the Merry-Go-Round, etc. The sound helps set the playful mood.
The bread and butter of the game lies in designing coasters. At first only a few kinds are available, but as time passes your R&D team discovers cool new rides and improvements on existing ones. Banked turns, steep climbs, loops, corkscrews, suspended tracks, stand-up coasters - you name it, it's in here. You can even choose the color scheme. I'm really impressed with the amount of effort put into the rides. In fact, you can download new rides and scenery themes from the official site, thus creating an almost limitless supply of fresh ideas.
To spice things up more, you can terra-form the land to create some truly unique rides. Build a tunnel, shoot 'em out over the water, and whip 'em around a few trees to get the results you want. Your ride is rated in terms of intensity, nausea, and excitement. Guests won't go on your ride if it's too intense, so you have to really keep an eye on ergonomic design.
While building coasters is the focal point of the game, no park is complete without a variety of other diversions. You can build Ferris Wheels, Balloon Stands, Log Rides, Hedge Mazes - too many to list here. After a few hours your amusement park will actually look like a fun place to visit.
Rollercoaster Tycoon really shines brightest in terms of detail. It seems as though every last possible issue was addressed. For instance, the location of food stalls is key to their business. Place a burger joint too close to the exit of the nauseating 'Swinging Ship' and it's no good. Likewise, certain kinds of food sell well near certain rides. Cotton candy is big for kids, so put it closer to some kiddie rides to increase sales.
This extends to ride design. Up a coaster's excitement with well-placed statues, or intertwine two rides to increase the excitement all around.
The depth continues...you can isolate any visitor in your park to get unique stats about how much fun he's having and how much you've taken from his fat tourist wallet. You can hire or fire mechanics, handymen, security, and costumed entertainers to keep the park functioning. You can even run marketing campaigns to increase overall visitors or a specific ride's popularity. The detail level of Rollercoaster Tycoon is, in a word, fantastic.
I'm having a hard time finding anything about this game that I don't like, though I suppose the interface could be slightly improved. While the control is very intuitive - click to lay track, click to change direction, click again, etc. - the interface is a bit sloppy. The game relies on icons a bit too extensively, which results in the occasional panicky moment of 'where do I go to change the price of souvenirs?' This could have been solved by a simpler layout - perhaps the more familiar drop down text menu setup would have helped. On the flip side, the pop-up windows still make for some very efficient park management.
The mass appeal of Rollercoaster Tycoon is undeniable. It's simple enough for a casual gamer to toy around with, yet has enough depth to keep the more hardcore geek glued to the screen. It's hard to describe just how fun this game is. I've simply been having a blast. Pick it up, and you won't put it down. Highly recommended.