At least I feel like I've been taken for a ride.
As a kid, I would dream about roller coasters. My favorite one was (fittingly enough) the Revolution in the Magic Mountain theme park just north of Los Angeles. I never left the park without riding the Revolution at least 3 or 4 times.
It wasn't the fastest roller coaster in the world, nor the tallest; other coasters have more loops or go backwards. But the Revolution is a beautiful coaster, a classic of design. It wasn't some flat, pre-fab coaster - it was custom built around the landscape. It swoops up and down around a ridge and through beautiful trees in the Valencia hills as if it had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
So when I installed Ultimate Ride, I figured I finally would have my shot at designing one of these monsters. And it did feel good...once or twice. But it quickly turned into a pretty thin ride and it was only a couple hours later that I had exhausted most of my options and was ready to go try the Spinning Teacups instead.
There are exactly 2 things you can do in Ultimate Ride: build roller coasters and "ride" them. But building comes first and it's not too hard. Pick a track type: steel, wood, or suspended. Then choose your terrain: mountain, cave, asteroid, or featureless gray grid.
This might be the most frustrating part of Ultimate Ride. Those are not terrain types that you select, they are fully formed, unchangeable lands. Sure, you can build an infinite number of different coasters layouts, but you have to put them all on the exact same mountain. I'm not even going to count the gray cube as an environment, which leaves you with a grand total of three places to put a roller coaster.
Building a roller coaster is pretty easy. Place a launching platform and start laying track; curve it, bank it, make a loop-de-loop - whatever you wish. The physics are pretty real, at least as far as gravity is concerned, so your car can't travel uphill. But that's not a problem since you can put a 'chain' anywhere to haul your car up or just use one of the magic accelerators. Really the only challenge is matching the end of your track up to the beginning, which can take some tweaking.
Now it's time to make your track pretty. Pick out some props and place them around the ride. Again, the limited selection is aggravating. The game boasts three different themes: outer space, futuristic and medieval (spelled incorrectly on the box...shame on you, Disney!). However, there are only about 25 props total, and that includes two different kinds of trees. So all the tracks look awfully similar, especially since they're in the same damn cave every time.
You can unlock a few more props by entering in secret codes. Do you get the codes by building cool coasters? No, of course not. You have to find them hidden in Ultimate Ride advertisements on television, in print magazines or online. This is such a lame concept I can't begin to share my feelings (oops, I just did). To make it worse, entering these codes (or to saving your game, for that matter) requires using a virtual keyboard which pops up on your screen. You have to point and click on the damn letters instead of just using YOUR keyboard! Argh.
Well, forget all that crap. Just go to the GR cheat page for the codes we've found so far.
(Deep breath...) Anyway, now that you've built a coaster, you get to ride it! This involves...well...just watching. Hit space bar to launch your car and there you go. The graphics are pretty good and there are a couple camera options, but why you'd do this more than once is beyond me.
When it comes to depth, the game has absolutely nothing like the myriad details of Roller Coaster Tycoon, but it does have "Imagineering Mode." This gives you a series of broken tracks to fix or challenges like "build a coaster with a loop that pulls 5 G's." I actually find this to be less fun than just messing around, because now it feels just like a job.
Keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. The thrill of danger is part of the excitement of riding a roller coaster. Too bad there's no danger here. You cannot crash at all. Cars cannot leave the track, no matter what ridiculous stresses you submit them to. Make a track with a dead end or a ramp to launch cars into outer space and they simply vanish and reappear at the beginning of the track.
You must be at least this tall to ride. Adults will become bored with Ultimate Ride, though it's not a terrible choice for a 10-year-old. Although they might have some trouble with the controls at first, they can play "let's pretend" much longer than I can. Plus, for concerned parents, it's totally violence free and challenges spatial skills. But even kids will lose interest since there's no real depth to the game.
Ultimate Ride is really more of a toy than a game. There's no point to a toy - you just play with it. That's not to say there haven't been some great electronic "toys." Take The Sims, for example. However, Ultimate Ride is not a great toy.
What Ultimate Ride does, it does pretty well. The problem is that it does so very, very little. And with an entrance fee of $40, there should be much, much more: people in foam rubber animal costumes, women flashing their breasts on the log ride, kids barfing during the loops, etc. Oh well, at least you don't have to stand in line.