From the moment the theme song starts being piped out of your TV speakers, you can’t help but be cheerful when you’re playing Planet Coaster. It’s a park builder that has embraced the candy floss, the ecstatic cries of joy, and the freedom of a few hours shorn of any worries beyond whether the person sat in front of you is, in fact, going to vomit during a 90mph loop the loop. Few things in 2020 are quite as vibrant, welcoming or engrossing as what Frontier have deigned to bring to your home console, and it’s fair to say it’s exactly what we need.
We love to build digital things. By ‘we’ I of course mean gamers, and by ‘digital things’ I mean tiny replicas of things we would like to experience every day but probably can’t. Frontier are arguably the best in the business at this, having been helping you create lifelike zoos, obviously lethal dinosaur paddocks and packed theme parks for years.
If you ask me, they’ve taken a few too many years bringing Planet Coaster to console given that PC players have been enjoying it since 2016, but that’s the notoriously greedy side of my personality that I try to keep away from the biscuit tin. Still, it’s arrived just in time to hop onto both 8th and 9th generation consoles, so perhaps I’ll forgive them.
If it isn’t immediately obvious, the aim of Planet Coaster is to build spectacular theme parks, ideally with a roller coaster or two as their biggest and flashiest attractions. You build the park, starting with the odd path that takes you to a solitary ride, and before you know it, you’ll suddenly find that you’re the owner of Alton Towers and you’ve got hundreds of staff on the payroll. It’s as much about money and business as it is fun and frolics, but then again, isn’t everything?
Planet Coaster is nothing if not characterful. Oswald B. Thompson is your guide through Console Edition’s opening tutorial and beyond. He’s a cheerful Scottish sort who’s only interested in guest’s happiness and helping you to do simple things like putting down rides and clearing areas of unwanted junk.
He’s given a nudge along the way to take care of business by Cynthia the accountant, who of course just wants you to put prices up, and young influencer Lucy whose 900 followers mean she must be listened to at all times. So, just like in real life then.
The tutorial gives you the majority of tools you’ll need to make the transition to Planet Coaster on console, and it’s fair to say that Frontier have done an effective job of wrestling the in-depth park builder onto a gamepad, even if it’s occasionally obvious that it’s not its natural home.
Shorn of the straightforward clicking of a mouse button, you’ll find that the majority of your interface is managed using the shoulder buttons for moving through the main park tabs before relying on your trusty D-pad to get into the nitty-gritty of each menu option. The tutorial occasionally leaves you hanging, only nudging you when perhaps you want clearer instructions emblazoned across the screen, but I soon got the hang of moving around the park and focussing in where work needed to be done.
Like its sibling Planet Zoo, Planet Coaster is a menu heavy park builder, and making that acceptable on console could have been a tall order. Players can rest assured that Frontier are masters of their art though, and despite the fact you’re now hitting a round A or Cross button instead of a mouse button, once you’ve learnt the shortcuts you’ll be merrily constructing your magical kingdom as efficiently as you would at your desktop. You could always plug in a mouse and keyboard if you really wanted, but then maybe you should have bought something that rhymes with teepee instead of a PlayStation.
There’s a wealth of content, beginning with the Career mode where you’re handed an array of parks in various states of disrepair, anarchy or apathy. You’re then expected to sort them out, help them turn a profit, and return them to the place of happiness they’re intended to be, all while the difficulty level steadily cranks up. Misplace a few things later on and you’ll be on the unemployed park manager’s list in no time at all.
Once you’re done with Career you can head off to the Sandbox and let your imagination run wild, creating a park entirely in your own image, or at least as far as you can mixing pirates, fairytale castles, sci-fi, the old west and modern theme park elements together.
If you can’t find an asset that fits with what you’re trying to do, you can either try to construct your own – which is a painstaking if rewarding endeavour on a controller – or you can head to the Frontier Workshop and check out other people’s creations.
Find something you like and you can download it to your own roster, before bunging it into your park. You can subscribe to your favourite creators, rate their work and favourite the best examples. It’s a great inclusion that should keep the interest flowing in Planet Coaster on console for years to come.
It’s a shame that there’s no inter-connectivity between the PC building community on Steam Workshop, particularly when creating with a mouse is inarguably easier, but I’m sure console players will soon fill the relatively bare gallery with masses of options.
Planet Coaster: Console Edition certainly retains the same clear and colourful graphics as that of its PC predecessor, though there are occasionally a few nips and tucks that are apparent to shore up the game’s performance – we were playing on Xbox One X while patiently waiting for a launch day Series X to appear. This is nothing we haven’t seen before from Frontier’s console editions, and just like Jurassic World Evolution you’ll find the odd bit of pop-in on the horizon, and the occasional hiccup if you spin and rush through a particularly built-up park.