The RollerCoaster Tycoon series is an undeniable classic. But, like an actual roller coaster, its over two-decade history has been dotted with a mixture of both ups and downs. RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures for Switch marks the first entry in the series on a Nintendo platform since 2012’s RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D on 3DS. That wasn’t very well received. But, how does its new home console brother stack up?
I didn’t get into the RCT series until sometime in the mid-2000s after RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 released. I fondly remember pouring many hours into that as a kid, and it’s the only entry other than the new RCTA that I’ve played. Interestingly enough, that’s also the highest-rated entry in the whole series, so I think it’s fair to partly base my opinion on RCTA in comparison to that.
Right off the bat, I can say that RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures feels very safe. Like, if an amusement park were built with everything layered in bubble wrap. The whole formula is simplified; as if there’s no real risk or consequence. The whole purpose in every RCT game (and basically every other park-building game in general) is to construct theme parks and keep them profitable. RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures offers the same experience, but the depth of its approach is puddle-deep.
Gameplay Depth as Wide and Deep as a Puddle
The new ‘Adventure’ game mode is the perfect example of this. Here, you start with a small, empty plot of land and gradually expand it as your park grows. As time progresses, you’ll be prompted with two-option decisions which subsequently affect your gameplay. For example, one prompt asked me whether to go with an all-new insurance company or stick with the one I already had. I took a chance on the new company, and then one of my rides ‘exploded’ (not actually?), but the pay-off was insane and literally added millions to my bank account. These prompts continue throughout the Adventure mode, but I have yet to select an option that had a truly negative effect. They’ve all either been super helpful or just mildly slowed my progress.
The other game modes ‘Scenario’ and ‘Sandbox’ are mostly the same as how they’ve been in past-entries as well as other park-building games. While the various parks in the Scenario mode have different difficulty levels, some of the harder ones still didn’t really present much of a challenge. Really, for the most part, the whole game just feels easy, so much so that playing in Sandbox doesn’t have the same appeal as it does in other park-builders. It’s still fun to have a no-limits map to tinker with, but I’ve essentially been able to do the same thing in Adventure mode, just at a slightly slower pace.
On that note of pace, RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures does feel like it’s constantly in warp speed. In-game days last only for a handful of seconds, and the day-night cycle is especially noticeably short. After about a half-hour, basically any rides you constructed at the beginning of your gameplay session will be considered outdated by your guests. You can’t refurbish them, so you have to replace them entirely. That’s usually not an issue, due to time flowing so rapidly. Thus, funds will come in relatively consistently as long as you’re managing things correctly, so on the odd chance where you don’t have enough to do something, you literally just have to wait for about five minutes and they’ll be there. No wonder why there’s not even an option to take out a bank loan. Admittedly, an easier experience may very well be inviting to some. I can see the appeal, but I wish that didn’t also apply to the whole park designing aspect.
Old Dog, No New Tricks
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures still relies on the old grid-snap style that the series has basically always had. Yet, it’s somehow quite limited here, even compared to the likes of the 14-year old RCT3. For instance, that game had terrain deformation and manipulation, along with building-block style constructible objects. None of that is present here in RCTA. Thus, you cannot build coasters that go underground or even construct simple things like stairs for your pathways. Placing a building or ride over water results in a small island just magically being made for you, thus making it questionable as to why water is even present. Hills are also tile-based, so you oddly wrap them around structures and they look almost out of place. Even small things like park benches, lights, and trash bins are all added in for you with no option to edit them yourself. You also can’t rename buildings or rides, nor can you even edit ride wait times. A lot of processes I’ve grown used to in other park builders are essentially automated if not just outright not available.
Having this limited grid-style was especially off-putting for me since it felt like I was assembling a collection of pre-built LEGO bricks. As a result, all of my different parks fundamentally started to look very ‘samey’. This is mostly because everything looks odd unless you have the objects forming perfect square-shaped patterns. This especially makes creating smoothly-curved paths essentially impossible. I much prefer the design of Planet Coaster, which allows you to dot objects around the map mostly as you please. This is also how similar titles like Cities: Skylines work.
Rather ironically, the most overly-simplified building mechanic in RCTA is the coaster track designer. Unlike in other games, the builder here doesn’t rely on specific track pieces. Instead, you (rather awkwardly) have to trace the shape of your track with the cursor, make sure it loops back to the station and boom—your coaster is fully up-and-running. Physics absolutely do not matter here, as you can make the most outrageous twists, bends, inclines and declines, and your coaster will still operate completely normally. The track nodes can be adjusted to smooth things out but since it doesn’t even matter how perfect the shape is, it ultimately just feels like a waste of time. Somehow, despite being an overall poorly-received game, RCT3D on 3DS had a better, more traditional track builder.
Two Steps Back
The use of the touchscreen here does at least make the normal building process more smooth, even if it is still limited. It’s a feature I yearned for in the aforementioned Cities: Skylines on Switch. But, this still has its quirks due to the fact that tapping on an object won’t actually select it. You still have to make sure your cursor is hovering over it. Thus, it really ends up being mostly a combination of touchscreen and controller inputs.
Another area where RCTA feels odd in is the presentation. Visually, it’s an okay looking Switch title. Everything is bright and colorful, just like past entries. But, character animations seem stiff and robotic. The camera is also very restricted, as you can’t zoom in to ground level to fully examine the area. There’s not even a coaster/ride cam. This is quite the step back, as every main series entry since RCT3 has had such functionality (including the 3DS version). The framerate here also leaves much to be desired. While the game runs at native 1080p in docked mode and 720p in handheld mode, neither option produces smooth gameplay once your park starts filling up. But, unsurprisingly, handheld mode fares the worst. Having two coasters near each other also seems to put a noticeable strain on the game, as this is where I encountered the framerate diving to single digits.
Seeing that Rollercoaster Tycoon Adventures came from the same studio (Nvizzio) that produced RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch for mobile and Rollercoaster Tycoon World on PC—both of which were massively criticized—I didn’t have high hopes for RCTA. That said, while I’ve certainly been railing on RCTA throughout this review, I can’t actually say it’s a bad game. Really, it’s just an incredibly simple game. The core formula has been stripped back to the bare essentials and given a somewhat modern coat of paint. If anything, this seems to be more of a port of the mobile version rather than a fully-fledged RCT console experience (a lot of the same assets are even present).
When Simplicity Doesn’t Win
If you want a simplified take on a park-builder, then you might enjoy this wholeheartedly. As for me, I’d rather stick with the much more complex Planet Coaster. In fact, I jumped back into that to compare the two experiences, and I actually ended up getting sucked in for over two hours because I find it so much more engaging. Again, RCTA isn’t a bad game, but the lack of any real challenge and overly-simplified design aspects may very well turn away seasoned virtual park builders. As a result, I’m extremely hesitant to call this a simulator, as it feels far more like a casual game.
Release Date: Dec 13, 2018
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Nvizzio Productions
The publisher provided a code for this review.
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Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.