One of my favourite games as a kid was Theme Park, closely followed by its successor Theme Park World.
Despite being probably fifteen years since I last played Theme Park World, I still occasionally get quotes from the ‘advisor’ popping into my head: Why, even the features have new features! (Sad, I know.) Now, since I’m not much of a PC gamer these days, I’ve yet to embrace the likes of Planet Coaster or one of the older, more respected versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon. As such, I still crave a theme park simulator on console that’s as easy to pick up and play as the classics designed by Bullfrog.
Enter RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures for Nintendo Switch. It’s far from greatness and has a myriad of less-than-ideal issues, but it fills a hole that I’ve been wanting to fill for some time. It lets me build and design my own theme park, and that’s good enough for me.
Since Atari took over the RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise with the release of RollerCoaster Tycoon World, it hasn’t fared so well. I haven’t played it myself so I’m unable to compare the most recent PC game to this new Switch version, but when Kyle reviewed it for us back in 2016, it got a pretty dire 4/10. Not exactly a good primer to encourage us to jump into a console release. It’s safe to say that RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures is a watered-down version of its PC counterpart – but for an easily-accessible handheld console release, the amount of content here feels just about right.
There are three modes to RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures: adventure mode, scenarios and sandbox. It feels like Adventure should be the main attraction – after all, it’s right there in the title – but I found it to be the most disappointing mode of the three. Adventure lets you build your own park, but will present you with various messages requiring your input as you play. For example, a message popped up saying my park was hosting a charity event; what colour tablecloths do I want to choose? My choice somehow meant I lost a percentage of my revenue for the next 12 in-game months. The game posed four or five of these questions at me, each affecting my game in a positive or negative way. The outcomes were never major, though, and didn’t really affect how the game played in any meaningful way.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures’ Scenario mode feels a little more meaty. There’s a decent number of levels to play through, each setting you loose in a partially-designed park. You’ll have a particular goal to work towards and a set amount of time to complete it in, with bronze, silver or gold medals awarded depending on how well you do. The first is pretty easy: build a kid-friendly park with a set number of junior rides. Other scenarios ask you to reach slightly harder goals: raise the value of your park to a certain amount; build a wild-west themed park; skip the decorations to build a park packed with attractions for maximum value. There’s a good range of tasks to complete, so if you’re more goal-oriented you’ll likely find these fun to work through.
For most people, though, I imagine the game’s Sandbox mode is going to be the main draw. Here, you can play a classic game, starting out with a set budget and growing your park naturally as you become more profitable. You can also build a park with unlimited funds and with everything unlocked if park design is what you want to concentrate on.
There’s a massive selection of rides, shops and food outlets to build, but unless you’re playing in unlocked mode, they can be a pain to unlock. You can only research one item at a time, and different tiers of attractions are gated off until your park reaches a certain total value. It means progress can be slow when you’re starting from scratch. The range on offer is great, though, and of course roller coasters continue to be the main focus for the game. There are several different types of coaster available, each with preset tracks – but the real fun is in designing your own. The tools to customise your coasters can be a little fiddly on Switch, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun to add crazy loops, corkscrews, giant hills and all manner of other vomit-inducing elements to your rides.
Unfortunately, for those who like to get deep into the nitty-gritty of management, the core focus of RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures seems to be how pretty your park looks. Besides adjusting pricing and choosing what research you’d like to focus on, there aren’t any real management tools to play around with. You can’t control where your staff go – you can’t even see your staff, actually – nor can you see any meaningful profit/loss breakdowns. You’ll know when visitors think your park is too dirty or when rides break down, but other than ensuring you’ve got enough janitor outposts and maintenance buildings around your park, there’s not a great deal that you can do about it.
The lack of managerial insight into your park is most frustrating in the game’s Scenario mode, when you have to meet a certain profit margin. Aside from a heatmap of your park that shows areas of high and low profit, there’s no meaningful way to see where you’re making the most money. And the attractions that start out as real money-spinners will start losing you money after some time due to wear and tear on the ride. It means you’ll regularly have to adjust the cost of every ride in your park to ensure nothing is ever too expensive – but other than continually selecting each attraction to check its current price, there’s no easy way to do this.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures‘ performance is also a bit of a bugbear. In smaller parks, it’s not too much of an issue. You’ll notice a tiny bit of slowdown here and there but it’s nothing too grating. However, should your park reach a certain size, you’ll notice a severe framerate drop. Once you’ve got plenty of attractions and decorations in your park, it’ll become sluggish to navigate, perhaps to the point of frustration – depending how patient you are. It’s not ideal, but it doesn’t deem the game completely unplayable.
Overall then, RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures won’t be the best theme park simulator you’ve ever played, but as the only one available on Switch, it’ll be a welcome addition to your library. You’ll rue the lack of some crucial features, and its performance will grate on you, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in shaping your own park. Whether you’re aiming for the prettiest themed landscape, or care more about building massive and crazy roller coasters, there’s plenty for you to sink your teeth into. Just don’t expect to be able to micro-manage every element of your park, and you shouldn’t be too disappointed.