We were going to bring you a Planet Coaster: Console Edition review today, but we’ve had to settle for the PlayStation 4 version and, frankly, we’re so close to the PlayStation 5’s launch now that we didn’t want to blow our cotton candy early. So, we figured we’d share our hands-on impressions, with a full review to follow imminently. (We hope – it’s been nuts here at Push Square Towers of late!)
So, for this author, Theme Park is definitely a defining game. Bizarrely, yours truly played Bullfrog’s amusement destination simulation on a Panasonic 3DO – seriously – before eventually purchasing the PlayStation version a few years later. The simple strategy gameplay really hooked us as kids: you could put a little extra salt on your fries to boost soda sales – which, of course, you watered down with ice.
Planet Coaster: Console Edition, launching some 25 years later, is much the same – although it’s obviously a more complicated simulation. The key for developers like Frontier is to increase the complexity without going too far; this is something SimCity has struggled with over the years, never really recapturing the rudimentary magic of its Super Nintendo release.
There’s still a lot to dig into here. The campaign, which presents you with a selection of increasingly difficult challenges, is like training for the sandbox mode – but it’s where we’ve spent most of our time thus far. Here you’ll be presented with a variety of increasingly complex scenarios: a bankrupt, half-finished pirate park, for example.
We actually reckon these scenarios are pretty fun, because they force you to spend a little time analysing what’s in front of you and coming up with a business plan to meet the requirements you’re assigned. In the aforementioned example, we increased our loan repayments, and used the cash we had available to build a couple of simple rides.
We then focus-tested the hell out of both of them, pushing the prices up as high as we possibly could while still retaining at least 65 per cent foot traffic, thus keeping our head above water while we paid off the monthly instalments and trained our staff. With our bank balance in the double digits – but a steady income now established – we then took out another loan to build a coaster with.
This became the central attraction of our park, and thanks to some simple yet smart engineering, we were able to come up with a circuit that consumers would want to ride at a premium price. This enabled us to make enough money to pay off our debts entirely, and then we could simply watch the cash roll in with the park’s fortunes recovered.
It’s fun, and the game does a great job of communicating key information quickly to you. For example, you can see a feed giving you an overview of how customers feel about your park. Litter is pretty much the biggest thorn in our side right now: no matter how many bins we place or skilled janitors we hire, visitors are always complaining about the mess.
Our problem with Planet Coaster: Console Edition, really, is that it’s just not suited to pad play. We’re hopeful that the overall user experience will be slicker on the PlayStation 5, but it feels slow and unresponsive on the PlayStation 4 – even when played using backwards compatibility. Moreover, the sheer number of menus are messy to navigate; the game doesn’t always do what you expect it to.
This is worst when you’re trying to build a rollercoaster. Considering it’s the game’s namesake, you’d think it would be easier to lay out your tracks, but honestly, it’s a nightmare. Creating the twists, banks, and loops is so awkward that you’ll lose interest long before you close the circuit, and even if you suffer through, the test rides are going to require you to make adjustments anyway.
See, the game is actually really deep, as you can’t just build ridiculous tracks with a billion loop-the-loops. You’ve got to carefully balance the fear-factor, nausea, and excitement of your ride, dreaming up a design that’s thoughtfully paced and maximum fun for the rider. But that takes patience and precision that the game’s control scheme simply doesn’t afford.
There is keyboard and mouse support which surely will provide a better experience, but at that point you may as well be playing on the PC. That’s always been the test for these types of games, and we’re not convinced yet that Planet Coaster has passed it. Check back over the next week or so for our full review, and we’ll let you know.
Are you eager to give Planet Coaster a test ride? What kind of park will you be building when you pick this up? Don’t look down in the comments section below.