Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it
It’s worth noting from the off that this isn’t a remaster. Instead, this is the original Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 game including both the Soaked and Wild expansions. But that’s not to say it’s gone unchanged. The UI and control scheme have both been overhauled to work on the Switch. But other than that it’s the same old game from the early 2000s, for better or worse.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 revolutionised the rollercoaster building genre back in the day with a full leap into 3D rendered worlds and an expansive rollercoaster building tool to boot. I remember it taxing my PC, forcing me to buy a new graphics card a few extra MBs of RAM, so the fact that it works, and works well, on the Switch is genuinely quite impressive.
It has everything you’d expect from a park builder game — paths, scenery, shops and, most importantly, rides. One thing that can be said about Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is that it doesn’t do things by half. Each of the games selection of items is categorised into themes — pirate, prehistoric, spooky, etc. making it easy to create themed areas in your park. Rides can also be coloured to match your park’s aesthetics, truly creating a unique experience for your park goers (peeps). There’s a huge amount of options when it comes to populating your park but there’s an obvious emphasis on the types of coasters you can buy.
One of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3’s biggest features is its rollercoaster builder. The rollercoaster builder allows you to create some really unique coasters with few limitations. You start by creating the station and then the rest is up to you. Add chained hills, big drops, loop the loops, banks, you name it, the builder has likely got it. The arguably best feature is its autocomplete which will finish the track of the coaster for you should you get stuck or unsure how to finish off your creation. And to top it all off, you can ride your creation with the game’s coaster cam — a first-person perspective of the coaster in action. These may all sound like par for the course nowadays but at the time Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 released these were revolutionary and some of that feeling still seeps through today.
One of the other great features for creating your park are the game’s terrain manipulation tools. They allow you to create mountains and ravines, rivers and lakes and change the terrain texture to various types of grass, rocks, sand, paving, snow. Basically lots of options. You can even wind your coaster in and around these landmasses for near limitless park designs. It’s fair to say that Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 hasn’t half-arsed its offerings.
Gameplay has all bases covered too. There’s a campaign mode split across the three games (the base game and its two expansions) which includes a variety of scenarios to play — 39 in total. The game offers a small collection of scenarios from the off but you’d be best selecting the first as it acts as a tutorial of sorts. After that, it’s up to you to choose which scenario to play. Locked scenarios are also unlocked by simply completing x number of other scenarios so you aren’t forced down a linear path.
Each of these scenarios drops you into a prebuilt park and tasks you with certain objectives. They usually involve creating a certain type of ride, attracting a specific number of visitors or accruing a decent profit but objectives do vary. Each scenario has three sets of objectives to attain too, each increasing in difficulty, so there’s plenty for casuals and hardcore rollercoastites alike.
The second mode is a sandbox — a game mode with an empty expanse of land and infinite resources to build whatever you like. All rides, scenery, shops and coasters are available to you from the get-go so there are no barriers to creating your perfect park. It’s this mode which allows you to fully flex your creativity and quite literally build the park of your dreams. And whilst money is no object, you can still play around with the intricate details such as ticket prices, adjusting profit in stores and checking all the other techie stat stuff.
I’ll level with you. The stat stuff has never appealed to me. I’m very much a sandbox kinda guy, but there’s so much on offer here. Financial stats can be shown for rides and shops. Admission prices adjusted. Shop stock can be tweaked at ridiculously detailed levels. Customer satisfaction is logged per ride. You can even run focussed ad campaigns to bring peeps to your park. It’s quite silly how detailed this is. Like the park building tools and options, none of this is skimped on. There’s a lot for those who prefer the admin side of rollercoaster games.
None of this is news to fans of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 but something that is is its overhauled UI and controls. Fortunately, both are largely a success. Left and right radial menus, accessed by holding the L or R buttons respectively, give you full control of managing your park. The left focuses on all the bits you can put in your park and the right focusses on selected item specifics such as managing its construction, changing themes, viewing stats etc. The radials are navigated by holding in the respective shoulder button and using the left stick to select an option. You then press the A button to show a sub-menu which is navigated using the directional arrows. Subsequent A presses are used to interact with stuff within these menus and pressing B will knock you back to the radial. It might sound confusing, and it does take a bit of getting used to, but it’s quick and works incredibly well with a limited palette of controls. And the controls are always visible through the game’s options so you can always refer to those should you become stuck.
In-game controls are also intuitive. ZL and ZR are used for zooming in and out. The left stick is used to move the camera whilst the right is used for panning. Clicking in the left stick adjusts game speed. Clicking the right stick locks the camera, allowing you to use the on-screen cursor to select any rides or attractions. The minus button shows your in-game log and the plus button is your pause button bringing up the myriad of options available to you (including an option to remove the HUD should you want to get some cool captures). It’s a complex game but the devs have managed to make it work with the Joy-Cons, and that’s commendable.
While all of this sounds very positive, there are some negatives to address. The radials, whilst largely great, do sometimes get fiddly to navigate. Having to hold L/R and while pressing B to go back to the previous level of radial feels at odds although I’m sure there’s a reason for this. The UI itself sits in a slightly awkward position of it being on the small side in handheld and the large side when docked. I never considered it a barrier but those who struggle reading smaller type may. The in-game controls are also sometimes cumbersome. Path placement can be finicky and rollercoaster building rigid, especially when building in or around the terrain. You’ll sometimes find yourself battling with the camera too, especially when it interacts with the terrain. These problems are infrequent but oftentimes frustrating and do act as a barrier to creating your perfect park.
Negatives aside Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is a damn impressive feat. It works perfectly on the Switch, even with busy parks, and is mostly good fun to play. It’s a complex and somewhat overwhelming game but once you get to grips with it there’s a lot on offer here. Creatives have their outlet with sandbox mode and more administrative players will enjoy the game’s campaign. But it’s still very much a product of its time. The graphics are aged and don’t benefit from the stylistic aesthetic that the first two games do and the features, while plentiful, feel old hat when compared to newer games. But this isn’t trying to be anything other than that. It’s a portable Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. It’s a game with plenty to offer if you can overlook its issues.