In Planet Coaster, the customer is always right. Their mood, activities, interests, and well-being are the most important aspect of running a successful theme park, because customers come with money, and accumulating money is the ultimate goal of any tycoon worth their salt. This is the core of Planet Coaster. As long as the customers are happy, the money will flow, the parks will improve, and the player can expand their business’ reach to new lengths. The old business adage holds true, even when it comes to building fake thrill rides.
At a glance, Planet Coaster is Roller Coaster Tycoon reborn and updated using new coding technology. It involves the aspects many will recognize, including park customization, money management, and maintenance, but has dug deeper to make the features and mechanics even more involved and realistic.
Planet Coaster requires a mind for design and business. It’s not a game in which one can haphazardly plop down rides and shops at will. At least, not without facing consequences. Part of the challenge in creating a theme park involves wise decisions made using the land you’ve been given to create an easily navigable park that will fulfill consumer’s needs while also generating the highest amounts of revenue possible. Ride placement and walkway design are huge parts of the park’s layout, and a good setup will trap customers in areas where they will be tempted to purchase food and merchandise in between rides on Planet Coaster’s many available attractions.
The detail in Planet Coaster is staggering. Every single park guest has a unique name, dialog, money value, and stats to communicate how much fun they are or are not having. Checking in on this will help the player to curtail their experience to make sure the park remains an inviting place too all those with disposable income.
Varying character models are mixed in with each other on the rides and walkways, giving the game the illusion of having many different and diverse faces in the crowds. Combined with roaming mascots, bustling food service, and continually-running coasters, drops, and swinging rides, on-screen parks burst with life and do a fantastic job of adding weight and purpose to each decision made in the game.
While watching a presentation of Planet Coaster, I realized this is a game that will ultimately appeal to two types of people: those who love to create things using a massive, open-ended sandbox, and those who enjoy detail-oriented management sims.
On the creation side, great care has been taken to make sure parks are as malleable in the player’s hands as possible. Shortcut button prompts borrowed from the likes of Photoshop and similar design programs allow players to manipulate, add, reduce, and shape the literal terrain upon which the park is built. Using these tools, they can create mountains, add new decorative features to walkways, and even create more fantastical parks that float or house gigantic statues. One park I saw was built entirely around a re-creation of Mount Rushmore. Another featured a gigantic tree with lamp posts running around its sides like Christmas lights. Great care is being taken to make sure there’s a robust creation system to allow for whatever people can dream up.
Although still in Alpha, the team has seen many players take these ideas to heart, creating spectacular parks even with the still-limited number of options available to them prior to release. While speaking with the creators, one tells me about a person who created an entire Star Destroyer from Star Wars and had planted it in the center of a park nose first, like the famous image seen in The Force Awakens.
Modding and creating are huge opportunities for them, and it’s great to see the creative team doubling down on those elements to accommodate the PC community and allow for nearly endless creativity. But, it shouldn’t diminish the wonderfully deep and challenging aspects of successfully running a massive business.
Not only does one have to be mindful of their park’s layout, they also have to constantly be thinking toward expansion. What will the next new ride be? What sales can they offer to bring business to the shops? Will the pricing model be on a pay-to-ride basis, or can people buy one pass and have free access to everything in the park? What theme will your theme park be?
That’s just a handful of the many considerations one will have to make in order to succeed with Planet Coaster. Every decision made will have a direct consequence, whether good or bad. Don’t train up your staff enough, and your rides will be deemed unsafe for public use, your restaurants unsanitary. Use small unveiling events to drum up hype for a new attraction. Offer sales and discounts for a short time to drive up interest.
The smallest details make Planet Coaster inviting. I watched one section of the pirate-themed park, staring at a small stage on which an animatronic band had been playing a pirate ditty. People walking past this display were visibly made excited about it, their moods rising and pockets loosening as they continued to walk. Some jumped up and down. Some danced. All enjoyed the display, which in turn made things better for the park’s overall revenue.
That’s where players will find satisfaction in their management skills. Digging deeply into each and every system and learning how to capitalize on it is imperative to successfully achieving the many different challenges and even dominating the open-ended sandbox mode free of objectives.
More than anything, it requires careful observation and critical thinking, as well as a creative approach to problem solving. It is a game of trial and error, a constant balancing test challenging a player to not only create an aesthetically pleasing park, but to also make sure the rides and faculty are up to task, the money has been managed, and guests are happily spending their hard-earned virtual dollars.
After all, the customer is always right. And when they’re happy, chances are you’ll be too.
Cassidee Moser posted a new article, Planet Coaster Preview: The Roller Coaster Sim Reborn