Over the course of the last few years I have come to own a lot of games in some pretty weird ways. From winning them in card games to finding them in the trash, but by far my favourite story is how I got my copies of the first two Roller Coaster Tycoon games: in boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And after I enjoyed that teeth-rotting, sugary goodness I sat down, started to build my park and never looked back. So when Atari announced that they were bringing one of my favourite childhood games to the Nintendo 3DS I was as thrilled as a kid on a carousel. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to start feeling sick.
The first concerning signs started to pop all the way back when the game missed its original March launch date… then its June release… then its August date… then its September launch, before finally releasing at the tail end of October. So when I finally got to tear into the shrink wrap I was starting to get a bit antsy at the prospect of re-visiting one of my favourite franchises. Sure enough, I was soon left feeling like I was in a long, never ending queue. Yep, I was already bored.
You get the ‘feeling’ that you are that you are playing a Roller Coaster Tycoon game at first but it soon becomes apparent that many of the franchise's staples have been cut, and so it quickly becomes tedious. Here’s a quick list of a few of the features that were cut from past Roller Coaster Tycoon games:
• The ability to build pre-made coasters.
• Managing your park’s finances.
• Setting prices for your park and rides.
• Customizing your rides.
• Seeing your peep's moods, preferences and finances.
• Moving your peeps around the map.
• Building water rides.
• Constructing bridges and tunnels.
• Buying more land and expanding your park.
• Any research and development or marketing for your park.
• Building ‘death rides’ (you know you did).
• Landscaping (yes, all of it).
So, basically, everything that made the older games worth playing.
Now you may be asking yourself: 'well if all that content isn’t there, then what is?' Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D does offer up a first for the series - story mode. Here you are placed in the shoes of an ambitious young coaster designer hoping to get into the business. You quickly start taking on jobs at various theme parks which come in the form of objectives for you to complete, such as building a certain amount of rides, having a high park rating, etc. While this might sound fun on paper, the execution is shoddy. First off, the levels are far too short, and the game often gives you the tools to complete each one within minutes. Secondly, the levels that aren’t short have you simply waiting around for ‘something’ to happen, usually a V.I.P. to be impressed by your work, though the game gives you no indication on how to do that.
However the worst crime committed by Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D’s story mode is that, despite all the knocks that the game has going against it already, it manages to suck even more fun out of the experience. You never end up feeling like you are a tycoon, running your park from the sky, managing everything. Instead, you are simply handed a checklist to accomplish and any deviation from this list will be punished. How so? Well, on one level, while I was waiting for my funds to grow so I could complete my thrill ride, I decided to build a small ride to boost cash flow. So I did. Only problem is, once I finally had the capital ready the game would not let me build it because I had ‘reached the limit on park objects’. That’s right: this game puts a limit on everything you build, from the coasters and rides, to the concessions and even the paths your guests walk on. So not only do they want you to follow the checklist, they also don’t want you to experiment at all.
Other than story mode there's also a Coaster Creator mode, where you can build the roller coaster of your dreams and save it for use in the game’s story mode (more on this later). You can also share them via StreetPass with other people who are playing the game (those poor souls). Also, the game has a Park Sandbox mode, which actually turns out to be the game’s high point, allowing you to build the park you’ve always wanted (well, providing you do so within the game’s harsh confines, of course).
There are also some tedious technical setbacks. First off, why can’t I save in the middle of a story mode level? Having to put my 3DS to sleep until I decide to finish a stage is not a very intuitive approach. Then there's Coaster Creator’s issue of only letting you save nine rides at a time, which is pretty limited. The real problem for me is that, let’s say you build a kick-ass roller coaster in the story mode, there is no way to save it to use later - you have to have built it entirely from scratch again in Coaster Creator. Then there's Park Sandbox, the game’s best mode, which for some reason only lets you save one park. Yes, one measly park at a time. It’s like this game is actively trying to stop you from having fun.
Using the touch screen to play Roller Coaster Tycoon should, in theory, be a dream come true. In reality, it just made me want to find the exit that much faster. All of the touch screen options are hidden behind layer after layer of confusing menus, and once you finally do find what you’re looking for actually placing it on the map is a hassle in and of itself, since you can’t manipulate the land in any way.
There are, however, a handful of positives to note. Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D makes interesting use of some of the platform's lesser used functions. For example when riding a ride in first person mode you can choose to either use the Circle Pad or the Gyroscope to look around. Also, if you placed a camera on your roller coaster, once you pass it in first person mode you can take an in-game snapshot of you riding your ride with the handheld's inner camera. Pretty neat stuff.
The presentaton is, for the most part, extremely poor. The textures look muddy and blurred, and the character models look like low-res versions of the block heads from Minecraft. Surprisingly, though, the 3D effect does add a fair degree of depth to the game and doesn’t look all that bad, especially when riding in first person mode. The music in the game is nefarious, sounding like a mix between random crowd noises and a cheap porno soundtrack (or so I’m told…). Making matters worse is that this is the game's one and only song, so get ready to slide the volume control all the way down. The crowd also repeats the same lines over and over and over again (I get it, you like the Carousel!), giving you all the more reason to play this game with the volume set to zero.
In the original Roller Coaster Tycoon, you could spend hours upon hours designing the perfect theme park. In many ways it felt like you were given a big box of LEGO and a free afternoon. Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D's story mode on the other hand will only take about five hours to complete. That’s less time than I spent on the first park in the original game. Coaster Creator and Park Sandbox can add some additional playtime, but neither are exciting prospects. There is a slither of a silver lining, however, in that Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D is priced at $29.99, so if you absolutely, positively have to get a theme park simulator for your Nintendo 3DS at least you're not going to be paying top whack for it.
I’m almost at a loss for words. I just don’t understand how, in 2012, a game can be released with so few features compared to its predecessor, which was released over a decade ago. It’s bewildering. Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D takes one of my favourite childhood memories and turns it into an absolute wreck, removing almost everything that made the original games so enjoyable.
This review is based on a 3DS copy of Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D.