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There were plenty of games released this year, but Planet Coaster was the first game released in the re-emerging sub-genre of the theme park builder. I am aware that Rollercoaster Tycoon World was released one day before Planet Coaster, but I’ve decided to completely and totally ignore its existence. On Wednesday, it was still in Early Access. On Thursday, it was suddenly finished. Bit of a cheat, Atari!
Frontier, the developers behind Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, were the obvious choice to bring this dead genre back to life. RCT3 was, in its day, the finest theme park sandbox available. There wasn’t a massive amount of choice, I’ll admit, but as the years rolled by it remained the finest. Even when Rollercoaster Tycoon World was first revealed it was compared to RCT3, and it didn’t fare well. But this year, RCT3 lost its title as the best theme park builder available. That title now belongs to Planet Coaster.
Many reviewers criticised Planet Coaster for not pushing the genre far enough forward. I believe that Frontier made a very deliberate decision to keep the fundamentals of the game the same. Planet Coaster feels very much like the direct sequel to RCT3 and not a spiritual successor. Much of the game works the same, apart from placing rides, paths and building rollercoasters, which all feel very familiar but much more advanced. The game’s advanced terrain tools and buildings help you customise your theme park to your heart’s content, really bringing your sandbox to life.
There are three game modes: Career mode, which sees you take over a struggling theme park and turn its fortunes around, Sandbox, everyone’s favourite ‘create the best park you can mode’, and Challenge mode, which is similar to sandbox but is, as you’d guess, more of a challenge. The game modes themselves aren’t anything special, they merely act as the canvas for your creativity. The graphics are cute without being overly so, and the music and sound effects all help build the atmosphere of a bustling theme park.
Planet Coaster is easily the best theme park builder on the market. With Rollercoaster Tycoon World disappointing and Theme Park Studio seemingly in Early Access hell, its only real competitor is Parkitect, and that is much more of a sequel to Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, a very different sort of theme park game. Planet Coaster took what made Frontier’s previous sandbox theme park game, RCT3, and built upon it, making the game a much more modern yet familiar game. It’s quite satisfying to build a successful and busy theme park and so, Planet Coaster is easily one of 2016’s most rewarding games.