With the launch of the new generation, one common thing we see is a lot of ports. Ports from last generation are a given, but another common thing are developers from PC franchises dipping their toe in the pool of consoles with what may have been successful on that market. Frontier, a company known for their console offerings as well as highly successful simulation fare are ready to twist out Planet Coaster to consoles after already achieving over two million sales. Does it hit the right marks, or is this a trip to a theme park you can skip? Let’s find out.
I mean, there is not going to be a lot of story in a coaster sim of any variety, but for as far as tutorials go, Planet Coaster does have a nice overarching narrative of simply getting to know a set of personalities who guide you through the game, with each trying to teach you a different element of gameplay along the way. Think Civilization, and maybe add just a little less meaning of these highly spirited helpers. That is kind of what you get here. The Career mode is full of little squabbles between the lot, and that banter certainly assists in understanding the core structure as you begin warming up to this title’s offerings.
There is a lot to take in for the gameplay of Planet Coaster, as at first, it seems like a simple coaster sim. Simple is however an unfair word as there is so much beyond the surface that the player, just shortly after beginning – might be a bit overwhelmed with all that is going on. For instance, the tutorial does a great job at instructing you what to do. The first park in tutorial mode is a lot of fun, as you get a gist of what is to come. The second tutorial, where you build your first coaster is decently long as well, but fails as a tutorial as it doesn’t go into small details like how to work the interface. Sure, you may get through via tips and a ton of trial and error, but I spent over two hours making my first coaster as trying to accurately turn my coaster appropriately while fighting the camera proved to be frustrating and tedious, as all of those broad options for the PC have been turned into ten inputs over a screen of multiple paths. For everything you do, there is a screen of menus that now have ten to thirty new options. It is a lot to take in for sure, and the game mainly instructs answers for “why” you are doing something, rather than answering “how can I do it” far too often.
All that being said, once you learn the game, you should have no problem fully enjoying all the game has to offer. There is so much depth and so much detail in general that fans of the full-on simulation experience should find their nirvana once they actually get into the main game’s offerings. The player is usually given a small amount of cash and must adjust prices based on how successful the park is, in order to continue a profit that lets them expand. Finances, guest and staff happiness, park maintenance and cleanliness must be accounted for early to avoid a lot of backtracking and tuning later, and luckily Planet Coaster is consistent enough to ensure that these mechanics blend well together, despite a few minor hiccups with staff happiness that I seemed to always have on each playthrough.
If you have time, you can even enjoy the park as a bit of a guest yourself. Players can ride their own creations which is highly satisfying, and test any unit at any time. Fans of management simulation titles will find their niche beyond that steep learning curve, as this is definitely the most advance theme park sim title I have played on a console.
Visuals & Audio
Visually, the game looks great. Every guest seems to have their own set animations where you can tell their needs from those animations alone, which makes seeing the fruits of your labor all the more rewarding. The animations of the scenery and rides also are sharp and smooth, despite a few issues with floating trees and odd yet “accurate” placement that kind of feel like an overlook within development. Yes, it’s a bright, atmospheric park, and that is nice to see run well on a console. The menus however leave a lot to be desired in terms of accessibility. There would be far less of a curve if this title was fully optimized for consoles without so much disarray of the screen. Yes, this is absolutely a port, but one that could have followed the route of “The Sims” or other PC management titles and sacrificed just a few options to ensure everything flows in a much steadier manner.
The audio is also fine. While the soundtrack is a bit forgettable outside of that gritting menu song, it does its job well. You can even assign tunes to each ride and area, so if you are going for a theme like “fairy tale”, you will be able to capture that with the audio fairly quickly. Guests all scream and make their odd dialogue well, and the voice acting of our guides was done with care and quirk, to give the experience its own identity.
Planet Coaster: Console Edition is certainly something. It may be the most complex simulation title we have ever seen on a console, and with updates and more fine-tuning, I could easily see it maintaining its value for this entire generation of consoles as it has enough here that one could easily sink hundreds of hours in. Personally, the accessibility for new players and that wonky camera leave it feeling a bit short as a whole. Not as a game, as if I were to just rate the main experience, its damn near perfect. Seeing my roommate come in and playing it and dealing with those same frustrations I went through and eventually giving up however showed me that this title simply isn’t for everyone. Players with patience and the will to push through and learn however are sure to find their new home for a long period of time in what is indeed a monster of a park to play in.