I played the hell out of Theme Park World on the original PlayStation, and it remains my favourite management simulation game. In the years since, many have tried to topple it from its virtual throne in my mind, with several coming in the past few years. The revamped Zoo Tycoon felt a bit stale, and Surviving Mars and Cities: Skylines were a bit too advanced for my limited skillset to really get the full enjoyment out of.
Now though, Planet Coaster: Console Edition has arrived, and immediately made a positive impression. This may have been primarily down to the Scottish overseer Oswald B. Thompson – voiced wonderfully by Lewis Macleod – who also voiced the advisor in Theme Park World. After hearing these broad “beyond the wall” tones, I knew we were onto a winner.
Planet Coaster though is more of a spiritual successor to RollerCoaster Tycoon, and once again puts a huge emphasis on designing the roller coasters. Don’t worry though – there is a hefty and welcoming tutorial to ease you in. Two in fact; one for general park management and another solely for designing a coaster.
Roller coasters in Planet Coaster are graded on three different criteria: Excitement, Fear and Nausea ratings. Naturally, my first custom coaster failed on all three. Somehow it was too fear and nausea-inducing, yet also too boring. In my eyes, if it puts the willies up you and makes you want to vomit, the coaster is a success. Sadly – and more importantly – not in the eyes of Planet Coaster. A bit of fear is advised, but not too much.
The coaster tutorial is excellently well-designed, allowing you free reign to design a coaster, providing exhaustive feedback, and advising on any alterations that need to be made. By doing it this way, you quickly learn what does and doesn’t work.
After completing the general tutorial, Career mode opens up properly. You are tasked with taking control of existing parks and completing three tasks in each. These tasks earn bronze, silver and gold stars depending on the difficulty. Collecting stars helps you to rank up, which in turn opens up more parks to turn around.
Tasks can be as simple as building a couple of rides or employing certain members of staff, up to designing specific roller coasters or turning over a healthy monthly profit. Early rank tasks aren’t the most exciting or challenging to complete, but they do get a bit more interesting the further you progress.
There is also a Challenge mode that works in a similar fashion, but this time you are given a park to start from scratch with and – depending on the difficulty chosen – fewer funds. The goals you are given in this mode only come one at a time, and are much more deserving of their ‘challenge’ title.
Finally, there is Sandbox mode, which is Planet Coaster at its most pure; it gives you a blank canvas much like Challenge mode, but with an unlimited budget. With no challenges or tasks to complete, you can let your imagination take over completely.
In amongst the hundreds of rides and amenities you can build – and several DLC packs – is the Frontier Workshop. This marketplace for user-generated content can provide thousands more items to place in your park, really making sure that you will never get bored with what the game has to offer. Already in there I have seen a Millennium Falcon, Super Mario and Xbox Controller decorations, and more than one roller coaster designed to net you some easy achievements. Best of all though, you can download full theme parks designed by other users and play them in Challenge mode, meaning you can even make these creations your own.
Parks created in Planet Coaster feature many of the options you would come to expect in a park sim, but it doesn’t bog them down with extra, unnecessary menus that add layers of difficulty. Even then though, there isn’t a requirement to use the features. The Park Management screen is where you can check in on some of the finer details such as balance sheets, overall ratings, guest thoughts, etc. It gives you an easy to understand overview of such items, and you can then choose to drill down into them if you want, but you aren’t penalised if you choose not to.
Further to this, is how well-optimised Planet Coaster is for consoles and a controller input. The Park Management screen displays a lot of information should you dig further into it, but it is easy to read and incredibly simple to jump to a notification of a problem, and exactly where in the park it is too. This goes for designing the park too; not once did I feel hindered by the control scheme in creating the park exactly how I wanted it to look. It is always a concern when simulation games make the jump from PC to console, but Planet Coaster is one of the best examples of utilising a controller for a park sim.
Planet Coaster is also one of the games optimised for Xbox Series X|S, having launched into Xbox Game Pass the same day as the new consoles dropped, and it really makes the most of this. As well as the usual loading time improvements, you can also build bigger parks on the next-gen hardware. If you pass a certain threshold these bigger parks will not work should you choose to jump back to play them on the Xbox One, but Planet Coaster will kindly inform you beforehand if you are nearing the limit.
Where it really shines though is in the visuals. The 4K and HDR assets really make Planet Coaster pop out of the screen and are a great example of highlighting the improvements between generations.
It may have released on PC back in 2016 but Planet Coaster: Console Edition is quietly one of the best launch titles for the Xbox Series X|S, and made all the better by being available through Game Pass. For a park sim, it is incredibly easy to pick up and play as everything is explained and designed as this version was built up for consoles, as opposed to a simple port. The effort gone into that is noticeable in every single menu and button press; nothing is restricted by the controller. Plus, the various modes and Frontier Workshop will mean that Planet Coaster: Console Edition on Xbox will have a long and healthy life on its newfound home.