Have you ever walked through a theme park, looking at all the twisting and looping metalwork of a rollercoaster and wondered how much fun it’d be to design one of your very own? As a kid – and hell even now to be honest – that very thought would pass through my mind with the RollerCoaster Tycoon games being the perfect tool to achieve that. I cannot even begin to imagine how many hours I’ve sunk into the RollerCoaster Tycoon series over the years, the joy of building and managing my own adrenaline-fueled theme parks something that never wanes.
Of course, RollerCoaster Tycoon has since seen better days, recent entries being relegated to poor and stripped-down versions devoid of what made the series great in the first place. So, on first thought, bringing over one of the last well-received entries in the series seems like a smart idea especially on a system that could always do with a few more construction and management sims on it. Has time been kind to this fifteen-plus-year-old PC game though and how well does it translate over to console?
The RollerCoaster Tycoon series is all about giving you the money and tools and sending you off to build your own park your overall goal being to guarantee its success. That means not only filling it with exciting new attractions that draw in the crowds, but managing your staff, setting prices, making sure food, drink and bathroom needs are met, keeping any animals you have happy, monitoring feedback from visitors and so on. There’s a lot to get your head around at first but RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Complete Edition not only does a top job explaining its systems but makes them all feel approachable without becoming overwhelming.
Of course, the rides are the star of the show here, rollercoasters in particular as much fun to piece together as they are to watch in action when finished. With literally hundreds of attractions to try out and each of these offering plenty of options and toys to mess around with – loops, corkscrews, launchers and more – you’ll find yourself discovering new additions even tens of hours in. Even simple elements like experimenting with the topography or adding scenery pieces can elevate your creations into Disneyland-esque levels of detail and theming. It goes without saying that the level of freedom and choice on display is stupidly big.
The game’s campaign features a selection of scenarios each one putting you in a different situation as you aim to get your theme park to hit certain goals. These range from raising your park value, building rollercoasters that meet a certain excitement level, achieving high guest attendance and more. Each scenario has three ascending tiers of goals encouraging players to stick around and improve their park further if they wish even after meeting the minimum requirements.
The variety between scenarios helps to keep you on your toes with everything from landscape and land size to attractions to the amount of starting cash switched and swapped in order to force players to make the most of what resource they have. Of course, if you just want to be let loose with an infinite pool of money and space then the sandbox option offers exactly that. Whether you’re trying to replicate Disneyland Paris or simply want to test out some new track designs, this is the place to do it.
Since this is the Complete Edition, also included are both the Soaked and Wild expansions, the first introducing water park features and the latter zoo elements. Each expansion adds a handful of extra campaign scenarios to complete but more interestingly a healthy injection of new rides and attractions.
Throwing animals into your theme park brings with it new challenges since these are living breathing things after all. Different species require different care meaning it’s essential to make sure you build sufficient enclosures tending to their thirst, space and cleanliness needs. Building your own water parks meanwhile proves great fun complete with wet and wild waterslides. Both expansions add even more exciting content to an already stuffed game and I found myself having the most fun when combining all three elements together – zoo, theme park and water park.
Since this was originally a PC game requiring use of a mouse and keyboard, the big question was always going to be, how does it all translate over to a control pad? First off, the lack of any touch screen options is disappointing, though not really surprising considering the number of games that seem to forget this feature of the Switch entirely. As for the button controls, the end result is playable but definitely a little cumbersome. Using wheel menus (similar to Super Mario Maker 2) is a wise decision especially with so many elements to keep track of. It’s confusing at first especially as you get used to what button triggers what menu but it’s something you’ll definitely learn the layout of over time. Camera movement and building rides prove a little more troublesome than it should often leading to many a fight with the camera or the misplacing of track pieces. Again, as a PC-based game being controlled via a controller, it works fine, it’s just nowhere near as intuitive nor slick as using a mouse and keyboard combo.
Visually the game disappoints, an expected outcome sure for a game that’s now sixteen years old by this point, but one that highlights just how much the looks have actually aged. Everything has a rather ‘rough around the edges’ look about it, this feeling only raised further when you start to pull the camera skyward and notice attractions dipping massively in detail and visitors disappearing entirely. From a performance perspective, the action remains smooth for the most part, although as my parks grew more and more packed with crowds and attractions, I did start to notice some slowdown. Sure, the PC version was guilty of this same problem (or at least on my older setup anyway) but it’s something you’d hope to see tidied up for this newer update. Still, it never became so much of an issue that it interrupted my enjoyment playing docked or in handheld.
Also disappointing is a lack of any online functionality. For a game so focused on creativity, being able to share ride designs or even full-blown parks would have been much appreciated offering the chance to see what my friends have been up to or even take some inspiration from far more talented creators. If the developers have taken the time to rework the control system then it seems a missed opportunity not to add some sort of modern sharing functionality too.
Disappointing visuals and cumbersome controls aside, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Complete Edition still proves just as much fun now as when it released on PC back in 2004. RollerCoaster Tycoon will always be best suited to a mouse and keyboard setup of course, but the Nintendo Switch version makes for a decent alternative and a great reminder of how great this series can still be.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Frontier Developments