We cut our teeth on theme park simulators as wee ‘uns. Loading up Bullfrog’s Theme Park for the first time on PS1 was monumental: those orange pathways and burger-shaped fast food joints are etched in our minds forever. As too is the infectiously bright voice of the advisor in its follow up, Theme Park World. “Welcome to Theme Park World!”, he’d say, in his Scottish twang, every time we loaded up the game on our beige and bulky early 2000s PC.
Sure, there have been other theme park simulator games since then, but none that have ever quite captured our imagination in the same way the Theme Park series did. Planet Coaster is hugely ambitious and, undoubtedly, lets players create parks far beyond what we could have ever imagined back in the days of Theme Park World. But part of us craves the simplicity of the classics, and that’s where Park Beyond shines. This brand new theme park sim from Limbic Entertainment and Bandai Namco feels like the perfect middle ground between Planet Coaster and Theme Park World – but with a personality all of its own.
“the perfect middle ground between Planet Coaster and Theme Park World”
Park Beyond casts you as a Visioneer: someone brought on board to bring a range of failed theme parks back to life. On the face of it, there’s nothing here you’ve not done before: place flat rides, mess around with coasters, ensure you’ve got queues and exits where they should be, make sure you’ve got shops, toilets, benches, staff. The usual stuff. But what sets Park Beyond apart from the crowd is “impossification”. Oh yes: it has a made-up word for its own, unique feature. You see, as you level up your park, you’ll gain impossification points which can be used to impossify your rides. In other words, enhance them in ways that would be impossible in real life.
What those impossifications are depends on the ride. You can change your ferris wheel to have two loops, for example, with carriages that move around in a figure-of-eight motion. That’s not the most outlandish: how about a spinner that actually launches up in the air? Or a pirate ship that splits into three and spins all the way around? You can impossify your staff and your shops, too, but the real highlights are the crazy modules you can add to roller coasters.
Park Beyond’s roller coaster creation tool is deep, giving you pretty much complete freedom to build whatever you want. It’s easy enough to get to grips with, even using a controller (Limbic has done an excellent job of making sure console players are well-catered for with a good control scheme). The most tedious part is navigating the menus, but it’s worth having a poke around as there are some excellent modifications you can add to your track rides. Maybe a cannon that shoots the roller coaster car through the air? Or a sudden change in direction thanks to a giant spring?
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You will need patience to really get into the nitty-gritty customisation that Park Beyond offers – but that’s just the nature of the game. Because alongside building your own outlandish roller coasters, almost every element of your park can be custom designed using modular tools. Terraform the land, tunnel your coaster through a mountain, design your own shop front, or build a castle for your roller coaster to weave in and out of. Head into Park Beyond’s sandbox mode and the only thing stopping you really is your own imagination.
“One of the great things about Park Beyond is that it caters to all types of players”
If all that sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry. One of the great things about Park Beyond is that it caters to all types of players. If you aren’t creative enough, or don’t have enough patience to fiddle with custom design, you can simply pretend it doesn’t exist. There’s a huge selection of pre-designed shops and amenities covering several different themes. And so even by simply picking and placing items already made for you, you can still make an incredibly impressive park.
There are two main modes to jump into: the Campaign, and Sandbox. We’ve had a great time playing through the Campaign, which offers up eight levels, each focusing on a particular element of the game. Sure, it’s sort-of an extended tutorial, rolling out features and functions piecemeal, but it’s also brought to life with fantastic cutscenes, lovable characters and bite-sized challenges that are fun to complete. It takes around 12-15 hours to complete, give or take, and it’s well worth spending the time with.
You don’t have to, though. Sandbox is available from the outset, letting you hit the ground running with creating a park exactly how you want it. You can make Sandbox mode as challenging or open as you’d like: you could give yourself unlimited money, unlock all attractions from the outset, and go wild. Or you could give yourself a tight budget and really work hard to grow a park over time. Nothing’s stopping you trying both.
“Packed with personality, plenty of gameplay and some truly wonderful ride designs, Park Beyond is a must for theme park sim fans”
Our time with Park Beyond hasn’t been completely flawless, however. We’ve encountered the odd hiccup while playing on PS5, but nothing game-breaking. The most annoying has been during the campaign: building a second roller coaster has inexplicably broken our queues for our first roller coaster, meaning we’ve had to build them again for the ride to be in operation. We’ve also had one or two crashes – but thankfully autosave has meant we’ve never lost too much progress. These minor issues haven’t affected our time with the game too much, but we’re hoping they’ll be ironed out in an upcoming patch all the same.
Does Park Beyond capture the magic of Theme Park World from the early 2000s? Not quite, but damn, it tries. It feels like a nice, happy medium between the complexity of Planet Coaster and the simplicity of Theme Park: stick to flat rides and prefab coasters if you want, but if you’re the more creative type, you’ll get a huge kick out of the freedom Park Beyond’s coaster building and design tools give you. Packed with personality, plenty of gameplay and some truly wonderful ride designs, Park Beyond is a must for theme park sim fans.