Back when I was young, Playstation was king of the household with Nintendo being mostly for handhelds (still had a Gamecube that introduced me to some… Sonic the Hedgehog games). Along with that, there was also the PC. Back before Steam was ever a thing, the likes of Hydro Thunder and Worms 2 were all the rage. We also owned two Sonic the Hedgehog games. Then there were the simulation games.
Theme Hospital was always a fun game, and Mall Tycoon offered some short-lived fun, but the series to grab my attention was RollerCoaster Tycoon in 2002. For someone who loved creating, the second RCT game felt a dream come true for a game, allowing me to map out an entire park and the rides that it held. Along with designing the tracks of the coasters, the rivers and pools along the park, I enjoyed the freedom that the sandbox mode offered to create it all.
That’s not to say I didn’t also jump into the challenges the game offered, but I was certainly happier not having to worry about money and keeping everyone happy. The isometric view allowed easy customisation of the world, but also meant there were some restrictions if ever you decided to get too technical or overload the park with a massive amount of things.
Then followed the third game two years later, bringing a completely 3D view to the world with a fully controllable camera, and though the strict four-directional grid remained for building, it still felt a step above that second game. The reason for that was probably the ability to ride creations from a first-person view, which is something I spent a lot of time doing – and even to this day still enjoy doing on other games.
I might not have been the greatest at completing the challenges in a timely manner, but I would always be back on the sandbox mode to build another park in a completely messy and uncoordinated way, having fun all the way through. There were things that I never touched when building my parks, though. I had tried using the scenery objects to build sculptures and other things, but I just never seemed to be much good at it. Until recently, where I succeeded at doing so on the Switch port.
And that Switch port is where this is leading, but there’s one other game I have to mention first. Planet Coaster – made by Frontier (who had developed the third RCT) – has also been a great game to be playing. Fully unrestricted sculpting and building tools, the map truly was my own to create whatever I wanted. I’ve enjoyed winding coasters around buildings in a way the RCT games could never allow, but owing to something I can’t even grasp – I’ve not been one for playing on PC over these last few years.
I still do play on PC. The mammoth seven hours on Watch Dogs 2 in one session is testament to that. But most games don’t ever get returned to, and those that do will see weeks or even months between play sessions. Enough trying to figure that out, though, as the Switch port of RCT3 is here. The port that allows me to play on a console – and even a handheld – the game I’d spent so many hours with on PC. And despite the low-poly people and all the returning restrictions of being an old game, it still feels like home.
I also now have two expansions to mess around with. The expansions that I’d never owned on the PC version. While I’ve only experienced Soaked, I do like what I’ve been messing around with. They bring new life to the old parks, allowing new ways to lay out the parks and achieve success. And within the sandbox, it allows for a complete park to be built based just around water, which I am certainly wanting to get started on.
In later years, I’ve not really found a true competitor to what Chris Sawyer and Frontier achieved. The RollerCoaster Tycoon series – and the third game in particular – were the standout games for theme park simulation. Such is probably what brought about the rise of the Tycoon games – such as the aforementioned Mall Tycoon series – as other developers tried to cash in on the success with other business management games. Very few truly understood the core of that type of game, however.
There are plenty of business simulation games that get such right these days. In a sense though, much like I could never call Thrillville a business simulation game, I feel that the RCT games and even Planet Coaster are more than just business simulation games. They have that one core element that wouldn’t fit with most other games. That being the sandbox, and the freedom to do what you want with little rhyme or reason. Create a masterpiece of a park, or crude drawings with the pathing tools. Those choices and more are present, and that is precisely why I love these games.