Theme park management games have been around for years, ever since the early days of video games back in the ’90s, and they’re still being released now. These games allow you to construct and manage your very own theme parks, from placing rides and scenery to dealing with complaining guests; in some games, you can even ride the rides yourself, or interact with the guests, or play mini-games. Just take a look through 10 of the top theme park management games and see what each one has to offer, and why they’ve made this list!
1. Theme Park
Probably one of the first theme park management games out there, this was developed by Bullfrog Productions and Electronic Arts all the way back in 1994. The goal of the game was simple, to build a theme park and make money from it and make it a success. The game was very detailed and realistic to how a real-life theme park functions, setting the groundwork for future theme park games. Such details included building rides and shops, as well as employing staff to look after your park. Certain attributes of shops could be altered, so for example, you could change the flavour of foods.
For this early example of a theme park management game, over thirty attractions were available to place in your park, from bouncy castles to Ferris wheels to roller coasters. Another important feature was research, which allowed you to not only unlock new rides, but also improve your current rides, help your staff be more efficient, and increase the amount of guests buses could bring into your park. Employing staff in your park was also important, as having lack of staff would cause problems, such as having an untidy park or broken-down rides or even vandals trashing your park!
Taking a year-and-a-half to develop, the original Theme Park sold over 15 million copies and was particularly popular in Japan. Since then, Theme Park has had two sequels, Theme Park World and Theme Park Inc., as well as being released on different consoles, the latest being released on Nintendo DS in 2007 and iOS in 2011.
Theme Park was designed to allow players to run their own dream theme parks, making the business side as realistic as possible whilst also allowing it to be fun (because if a game isn’t fun, then people won’t want to play it). It must have succeeded, as it sold so many copies, and the fact that a game dating back to the 90’s gave players so much detailed control over their parks is impressive (and this was before RollerCoaster Tycoon came on the scene). The original Theme Park has even been credited as being one of the greatest games within the genre for this reason.
2. RollerCoaster Tycoon
Probably one of the most famous theme park games, RollerCoaster Tycoon was originally released in 1999, created by Chris Sawyer, who was responsible for the Transport Tycoon series. The main focus of the game was constructing your own rollercoasters, with lots of different types (hence the given title of the game), but other rides and attractions were available to place in your park, too, such as gentle rides and thrill rides, as well as stalls and scenery. The game also came with scenarios that had different parks and objectives. Completing scenarios unlocked new ones.
RollerCoaster Tycoon became a huge success and went on to be the best-selling game of 1999. After the original, several games followed in the series, including sequels and expansion packs, as well as spin-offs.
The original first two RollerCoaster Tycoon games was set in 2D isometric graphics, and the game now provides nostalgia for a lot of players. One notable feature was the notification box, alerting you with a distinctive beeping sound. You would be pleased when you unlocked a new ride or scenery set, but not all notifications were good. You would probably groan if you got a message telling you that a ride had broken down, or if guests were stuck and couldn’t find the exit.
One notable gut-wrenching moment that most players probably experienced at least once was whenever a coaster crashed, the moment flashing up on your screen without warning in a pop-up box, accompanied by a frightening explosion. There would be an ominous silence, followed by a haunting message telling you how many guests had been killed on that ride.
Not all moments were bad or frightening though. There was satisfaction when you watched your park build up, seeing guests coming in through the entrance, long snaking queues forming at the most popular rides, and then seeing your guests jump into the air with excitement after coming off your ride. It would be very satisfying checking your guests’ thoughts, commenting how much they liked a ride or your park in general, knowing that you were doing a good job.
When RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was released in 2004, it broke away from the traditional 2D graphics and went all 3D, which was seen as a big change at the time and a new step in a direction for the popular series. The latest release also included a day and night feature. Two expansion packs were released, called Soaked! and Wild!. The Soaked! expansion introduced water rides and attractions, as well as swimming pools and aquariums, allowing players to build water parks. The ability to add waterfalls to parks was also included. The second expansion, Wild!, allowed players to build zoos, mirroring that of Zoo Tycoon. Like the base game, both expansions received positive reviews.
After the first three RollerCoaster Tycoon games were released, more sequels and spin-offs followed, with mixed results. Some games did very well, while others weren’t as well received by critics and players, but the original three will always go down in gaming history as some of the greatest games in the genre, like Theme Park.
Lego’s answer to RollerCoaster Tycoon, where you could build and run your own Legoland theme parks. Legoland certainly mirrored that of Theme Park and RollerCoaster Tycoon‘s style and gameplay, but it also had its own style, putting its own ideas onto the theme park management game genre (apart from the fact that it was Lego, of course!).
The game included a Story Mode, which had five tutorials and ten levels for you to play through. There was something very satisfying about working on your park in Story Mode and then watching a cutscene, which would, in some cases, go on to unveil new themed rides, shops, and scenery. You would start off with the standard Legoland themed items, but then you would go onto to build areas or even whole parks with the new Wild West, Castle, or Adventure themed items you’d just unlocked, giving your park a new look and feel. Also, if you completed the whole story, you got a nice certificate that you could print off.
Story Mode did come with a catch though. Every few minutes (in real time, that is), you would be interrupted from building and managing your park by the park inspector, who would list off what was currently good or bad about your park. One particular stand-out complaint was not having enough scenery. The park inspector would warn you that if you didn’t work on these issues, then the park would close down! Fortunately, he would give you enough chances to fix the issues in your park.
You could also create your own parks in Free Play Mode, which meant unlimited time and money, but it had a catch: you could only use sets that you’d unlocked in Story Mode. Plus, there was a limit to how much you could have, and if you had unlocked a lot of new stuff from playing in Story Mode, you had no choice but to make sacrifices on what you could take into your park.
Thrillville, released in 2006, was a unique example in the genre of theme park management games. You could, of course, build and manage your own park, but you could do so much more than that. Instead of just pointing and clicking at a screen to plonk down rides or view stats, you would create your own custom-made character and run around your park. Not only could you place down new rides and manage them – you could also ride them, in first-person view! You could also play the arcade and sideshow games that you placed in your park, some of which rewarded you with prizes such as teddy bears.
You could also interact with guests, which was a great way to get feedback about your park, as well as developing friendships (and romances, if you were playing as a teen!) and even giving your guests VIP passes or sideshow prizes to make them happy. Each park also came with its own missions, revealing more about the story and allowing you to meet and interact with some interesting characters.
Thrillville came with a lot of fun themed parks, such as superheroes and wild west, but unfortunately, you weren’t able to place down new paths or scenery; all that had been done for you, and you could only place coasters and other rides and attractions in designated building areas. Also, there was a limit to how many rides and attractions you could place in each area; rollercoasters in particular ate up a lot of power!
Thrillville was followed by Thrillville: Off the Rails in 2007. Frontier Developments, which developed Thrillville, went on to release Planet Coaster in 2016.
5. Efteling Tycoon
Based on the fantasy-themed amusement park in the Netherlands, Efteling Tycoon was yet another theme park management game released in 2008. It was compared to RollerCoaster Tycoon in terms of gameplay, with 3D graphics like RollerCoaster Tycoon 3. Efteling Tycoon was quite unique in its own right, notably that the game allowed you to build your own Efteling theme park, complete with its own attractions based on the actual rides. There’s nothing wrong with this if you like the Efteling theme parks, although you might feel limited to only having a particular theme (Efteling is based on myths and legends, fairytales, etc.). One interesting feature though was that some of the rides allowed you to view footage of the real-life ride.
Efteling Tycoon was originally delayed, as the developers wanted to make improvements on the game, but unfortunately they didn’t make the deadline, and the game only went on to be released on PC.
Although Efteling Tycoon appears to be quite a niche Dutch game, it’s not necessarily a bad move to make a theme park management game centered around one theme park, as Efteling is one of the oldest theme parks in the world (opening in 1952!). It’s also one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands, having millions of visitors every year. New attractions have been installed as recently as 2020, and it even has its own hotels, theatre, and a large golf course. Lego made a game based on the real-life Legoland parks, so why not Efteling?
6. Rollercoaster Mania
Released in 2012 on Facebook and based on the 1994 game Theme Park, Rollercoaster Mania was developed by Noisy Duck and published by 6waves. As you rise through the levels, you unlock new rides and stalls. To build rides, you would need resources, and sometimes you would need extra help from friends to complete them. Stalls would also need restocking.
It has your typical theme park management gameplay; building rides and stalls, hiring staff, keeping an eye on your guests (and your money!). The game did have some unique features though. Since it was released on Facebook, it encouraged you to reach out to friends to help you with your park. You couldn’t simply plonk down a ride and watch the guests hurry over to ride it. Some rides required materials in order to build them, or for you to ask your friends for a helping hand. Placing rides wasn’t quite as straightforward as previous theme park management games.
Another thing you had to keep in mind was restocking your food stalls, which you had to take care of manually. How often you had to replenish stock depended on the stock the stall had. Another thing that you had to be aware of was that having cheap food would mean restocking less often, but it could cause your guests to be sick, which would affect your park’s cleanliness. You could hire cleaners to take care of that though. Also, whilst having to get resources for rides and restocking stalls seemed like a tedious task, it did add some realism to the management side of the game, reflecting the system in real theme parks, giving you more responsibility.
Since its release, Rollercoaster Mania has received mostly positive scores and reviews.
Another theme park game from Frontier Developments, Screamride, was released in 2015 exclusively for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Although it is a theme park management game, it is also classed as a puzzle game, due to how some of the challenges are presented. It features more than 50 levels and has three gameplay modes: Engineer, ScreamRider, and Demolition Expert.
Screamride is technically a theme park management game – but with a twist. Picture people who have volunteered to ride new coasters and rides, ones that have been pushed to the extreme! These coasters and rides could potentially crash, throwing the riders off, causing them to go flying into the air, even plowing into buildings and destroying them! Don’t worry, the volunteers are thrill-seekers who have been tasked with testing extreme coasters and rides. It’s all about pushing your rides to the extreme, seeing how wild you can make them and using your imagination and creativity.
It’s a great game if you like building exciting coasters and thrill rides – and crashing them! – without the danger of killing off your guests or negatively affecting your park due to how dangerous your ride is. It’s one of a kind!
8. Planet Coaster
Developed and published by the same people who made Thrillville and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Frontier Developments released Planet Coaster in 2016 on PC. It was later released on most modern consoles in 2020. In Planet Coaster, you could play in sandbox mode, where you could create your own theme parks, or play in career and challenge mode, which included specific goals and tasks to complete. Since its release in 2016, Planet Coaster has had various updates that came with new rides and attractions.
Planet Coaster received mostly positive reviews, and as of January 2020, it had sold 2.5 million copies. It was also nominated for several awards in 2017.
Planet Coaster was launched in 2016, rivalling the latest installment in the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, RollerCoaster Tycoon World. Planet Coaster has done well, since it’s been ported as a console game for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The game offered you the choice of playing in sandbox mode, which allowed you to build your own park on a plot of land, or either career and challenge mode, which offered tasks and objectives. Sandbox mode was a great offering if you didn’t want to be tied down with completing specific tasks. It allowed you to build whatever you wanted in your park, without the restrictions of funds, as well as all rides and attractions being available.
Since Planet Coaster was released, several updates have been added to the game to make it better, adding new rides and attractions as well as new features. One update introduced a fireworks display feature, and another had new rides and scenery inspired by classic amusement parks, giving you more variety to your parks and more themed ideas.
9. Theme Park Studio
Theme Park Studio was a game developed by Pantera Entertainment in 2016, funded using Kickstarter. Like other theme park games, it allowed you to build theme parks complete with rollercoasters and other rides, but by using Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and OSVR, you could experience the rides via virtual reality, something that previous theme park games didn’t feature. Experiencing rides with the use of VR took it a step further than just watching a ride in first-person view on your screen. With VR, you would actually feel like you were riding the ride! It wasn’t just coasters you could “ride”, but also flat rides and go karts.
You could also build your own custom flat rides. Theme Park Studio was an ideal game for those who wanted to build their own custom rides. In many games, rollercoasters were the main ride that could be fully customized, but now, flat rides could also be created from scratch, giving you the ability to adjust the physics and animations of a ride. If you didn’t want to build your own ride, you could simply place a pre-built ride in your park.
Another feature that made Theme Park Studio really extensive was detailed environment customization, allowing you to create mountains and lakes, as well as placing flexible pathing, fencing, and stairs. Another interesting feature was the particle system, which gave you fountains and fireworks and more. The one thing that players like about any type of management games is how much flexibility and control they have, allowing their imagination and creativity to run freely. No one likes having either of these things being restricted!
In 2018, Parkitect joined the ranks of other theme park management games, along the likes of RollerCoaster Tycoon and Theme Park, and why not? Those games and others proved popular, and in the end, so did Parkitect. It was developed and published by Texel Raptor, who created the game thanks to Kickstarter (like Theme Park Studio), eventually releasing it after a successful campaign. Parkitect has its own unique style, in terms of the graphics, which looked a little cartoony but still slick and polished.
Thanks to Steam’s Workshop feature, players can create and share with other players their own designs for rollercoasters, parks, and scenery. Like a lot of other theme park management games, Parkitect includes a sandbox mode and campaign mode. That’s not all though. In both of these game modes, you can co-operate with other players (up to 8) and build parks together. You can also create your own scenarios for campaign mode using the scenario editor, and you can share them with other players. You can even download scenarios that other players have created and shared over the Steam Workshop.
Another unique and rather interesting feature that Parkitect includes is a “behind-the-scenes” system with your park’s workers. The guests in your park won’t want to see the staff areas, so you can keep staff and guests separate by keeping staff areas hidden away from guests, using scenery to help you. As a park manager, another thing you’ll have to keep in mind is resources being brought to the shops. You’ll need to figure out a way of getting supplies to your shops without annoying your guests. This pushes you into thinking a little bit more about the everyday running of your park, considering these extras, rather than just keeping an eye on your figures and guests’ happiness and plonking down rides and stalls and scenery.
And there you have it. Ten theme park management games, starting in the ’90s with Theme Park, up until the more recent release of Parkitect. Which one was your favourite? Which ones do you play now? Were there any games that didn’t make this list? Let me know in the comments below!