I remember playing Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 on my cousin’s PC when I was too young to barely understand how to use a mouse and keyboard. Memories flood back of me, building the theme park of my dreams. Thinking about it now, the park was probably a mismanaged mess of broken rides, litter, crime, and whatever other problems that could occur in a theme park run by a six-year-old. Frontier Developments went on to develop one of my favourite PlayStation 2 games; Thrillville, a game I was slightly better equipped to play; with an extra two years of knowledge, my parks ran perfectly, or so I think. Now Planet Coaster receives a console launch, running super smooth on the PS5 and it transported me back to losing countless hours managing my theme park.
Gameplay – Surprisingly Smooth
The first thought in my head when I started to download was that management games are surely very hard to play with a controller. It was what put me off trying Cities: Skylines on the Nintendo Switch; with all the menus and sub-menus, there simply shouldn’t be enough buttons on a controller to navigate through smoothly. Well, I’m happy to report that the controls are mostly intuitive. There’s always going to be a learning curve, but after a few hours, I was zipping through the menus. Square acts as a modify for navigation, the touchpad would bring up the menu, but if you hold square, then the touchpad would bring up your challenges.
The one thing that baffles me the most about the controls is that square and up on the d-pad is used to fast forward, not square and right on the d-pad. Even in my final play session with Planet Coaster: Console Edition, I was making this mistake. Just like everything else in the game, buildings and movement controls can be customised to the most granular of levels. It’s here where Planet Coaster thrives. Like many others, I liked to have my buildings and rides aligned perfectly, an issue I thought I would butt heads with a controller, but the ease of moving items around is amazing; again, it took a while to get used to.
Now that we have the basic controls out of the way let’s talk about the content in the game. So there are three modes to choose from, Career, Challenge Mode, and Sandbox. Career Mode could be considered the ‘campaign’ here you are dropped into a pre-built park and given a list of challenges to get a bronze, silver, or gold star. Some of the parks are built really well (way better than anything I could build), so it was a nice change of pace from the typical sandbox mode. Some of the challenges are quite difficult, and I had a great time trying to complete them. My only issue with this is that I found one formula that would work to eventually beat the challenges. Sandbox is very simple, build your dream theme park with absolutely no restrictions. Now I was never a fan of Sandbox, so I didn’t spend much time with it.
Where the majority of my time went was with the Challenge Mode. You start by choosing your starting location and then your difficulty. The harder the difficulty, the less money you have to start, and stats like customer happiness fall quicker. I initially chose normal, and after about three bankrupt parks, I moved on easy (as you can tell, I’m not very good, but it’s the attempt that counts). After a grueling opening of managing my funds, so I had enough money for an emergency and still had enough rides and facilities for my customers, I was finally turning a profit.
It’s in the menus where a good chunk of the game will be played; checking your balance sheets, what customers are saying about the park, and how happy your staff is. I obsessed over my customers, building new restaurants when they wanted them, hiring janitors to clean up the litter and the bane of my park’s existence; hiring security guards because people kept getting pickpocketed. You can customise every little aspect of your park, even down to making individual buildings look different from the next. You can assign specific work rosters to certain buildings so your highly trained staff will work in the busier areas of the park and therefore won’t get bored from the lack of work. I could write a whole paragraph dedicated to the small details, but that wouldn’t be a good read.
Now the part we’ve all been waiting for, the rollercoasters, the part I loved the most about Planet Coaster. I was absolutely blown away by the depth in coaster creation. You’re given a tutorial on how to create them, and it does a good job at giving you the basics, but what came after is what had me scratching my head trying to create a rollercoaster that my guests enjoyed. There are pre-built coasters that are a good means of generating money in your park, but the fun is in building from scratch. My first attempt was an absolute failure; I spent over $10,000 building a cool coaster in hopes that it would generate plenty of revenue for my park, but oh boy, was I wrong. It turns out it was so scary and nauseating that none of my guests would even queue for the coaster, so I had to go back to the drawing board.
I spent what felt like an hour trying to perfect the rollercoaster, gradually banking the turns so my guests would most feel vertical g-force (which turns out to be the best kind of g-force to experience). The feeling when my coaster finally passed the test, and I could open it (and charge a crazy high price) was amazing. At one stage, I just turned on sandbox mode to mess around with the coaster builder. I think the coaster building was at it’s best in Career mode; the challenges give you objectives like build a coaster that is X meters long or has a fear rating of less than five with a nausea rating less than one.
Graphics and Audio – A Pleasant Package
Planet Coaster on PlayStation 5 looks surprisingly good. The colourful aesthetic, goofy character models and visual styles work perfectly together. As I said, my main park was built around the pirate theme, meaning my park was littered with cannons, Kraken tentacles, treasure chests, and tropical palm trees. There are plenty of other options; fairytale, sci-fi, and western, to name a few. Just like real-life theme parks, you could have a fairytale land on the side of your park, with a sci-fi section on the other.
There’s not much to say about audio. Everything sounds like a theme park, the mechanical noise of rides, the hustle and bustle of 1000 people crammed into a small area, and people screaming at the top of their lungs when plummeting towards the ground in my new definitely safe rollercoaster. Voice acting is very well executed for the small cast of characters in tutorials, and the theme music is really cheerful.
Planet Coaster: Console Edition was reviewed on PS5, a review code was provided by Heaven Media.