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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: February 26, 2001
The origins of the amusement park construction game on the personal computer trace back to 1994 when the British company Bullfrog first developed Theme Park. It took five full years and the emergence of a highly successful major competitor, Microprose’s RollerCoaster Tycoon, for Bullfrog to develop in 1999 the sequel, SimTheme Park (known as Theme Park World outside of the United States). The “sim” prefix normally applies only to Will Wright’s Maxis offerings, but neither Maxis nor Will Wright had any involvement in developing this title. Now a little over a year later Bullfrog has developed the next installment, SimCoaster (known as Theme Park Inc. elsewhere). Can this latest release, published by Electronic Arts, finally return the dominant position of critical and market success back to the originator of the genre?
Unlike other similar games, SimCoaster actually has a background story. The president of SimCoaster, a company focusing on amusement park management, is nearing retirement and wants you to prepare to be his successor. Beginning as an Assistant Manager, you have to satisfy ambitious benchmarks established by the Board of Directors and at the same time keep your customers happy. Your ultimate aim is to become the majority shareholder and assume the Presidency. To pursue this end, you may engage in a variety of activities, including taking out loans, expanding stock, designing theme parks, overseeing security, hiring staff and managing labor disputes. You receive an unending stream of demands from executives to help spur you on in your quest to accomplish your objectives.
The changes from SimTheme Park to SimCoaster are not revolutionary. The developers have added more depth by introducing both specific mandatory challenges to be completed and an easy-to-master roller coaster design kit, allowing you to make roller coaster and log flumes for placement directly into your park. Now three different age groups — kid, adult, and grandparent — are present and have distinctly different desires from any amusement park. In addition to janitors, engineers, entertainers, guards, and scientists, in this latest release you even have the option of hiring gardeners, who can expertly plant greenery and tend to it for you. As you construct a full blown park, you find much more going on to absorb your interest, including much more intriguingly diverse and detailed options in practically every dimension of the gameplay.
In constructing your amusement park, you can select from a staggering 100 rides, roller coasters, log flumes, shops, and sideshows in three new play zones: Land of Invention, Polar Zone, and Arabian Nights. The zone choice is admittedly smaller than the four themes in SimTheme Park (Space Zone, Lost Kingdom, Land of Wonders, and Halloween), but nonetheless more than adequate given all you can do within each one. Unlike in SimTheme Park, where you could choose the “instant action” mode and begin with a pre-built park complete with staff, in SimCoaster you need to start your park from scratch. At the beginning of the game you have access only to Land of Invention, and you have to work quite a bit to open up the other two zones. Golden tickets serve to make functional some special rides you find along the way. As in SimTheme Park, in SimCoaster each zone sports similar types of rides, only with appearance changes to suit each theme. 18 kinds of roller coasters are available, and in contrast to SimTheme Park, where you had to build all of your own coasters, here you get good selection of pre-assembled ones. You need to choose your rides carefully, as how successful each is depends (among other things) on both topography and weather.
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