‘Planet Coaster’ review: A nostalgic walk in the park

Deep customization options are available across three modes of this PC game.

Management simulations were all the rage on PC in the 1990s and early 2000s. One of the most popular in that space, “RollerCoaster Tycoon”, allowed gamers to build and run their own theme parks.

The once-dominant franchise languished in the 12 years since the series’ acclaimed third entry was released. Fortunately, Frontier Developments has created a worthy, spiritual in “Planet Coaster.” This new creation is packed with whimsy and hearkens back to the heyday of theme park sims.

The level of customization available is enough to make heads spin — that’s a complement. All rides, buildings, and just about everything else can be tweaked to specifications. From color schemes to the turns, loops and dips a coaster takes is fair game. And if you’re stuck near the end of designing a coaster from scratch, there’s a handy auto-complete button to finish the job.

The best coasters require the right balance of excitement, fear and nausea. Early attempts a wild custom coaster pushed the nausea rating through the roof, so I had to tweak it and avoid churning too many stomachs. Test runs provide excellent feedback of where guests feel the ride is working and where it needs work. It’s a great system.

Three different gameplay modes are available: Career, Sandbox and Challenge. Sandbox and Challenge are both ground-up operations, with the lone difference being Sandbox’s unlimited budget. If you’re just interested in building the park of your dreams and seeing what that looks like in a digital space, Sandbox is all for you.

Challenge is for the creative minds who want consequences for their actions. It’s in this mode where paying attention to guest and staff happiness, ride fitness and all the other minutiae of running a theme park becomes vital. If your park isn’t making money, you’ll end up bankrupt with nobody clean up the litter and vomit.

Career is all about making a prebuilt park better, achieving goals like attracting a certain number of guests or making ‘X’ amount of money. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to design your own park in the other two modes, this is a good mode to check out. Otherwise, it’s not the most fun way to experience “Planet Coaster.”

Tutorials are limited to a few videos from the creators and some pop-up hints, but a some might prefer less steep learning curve in a game that offers so much complexity.

Regardless, “Planet Coaster” is the theme park sim fans of the subgenre have been waiting for.

Available now

“Planet Coaster”, from developer and publisher Frontier Developments, is out now for Windows PC, $49.99.

Scott Fontana