Everyone needs a little bit of magic in their life. For most people that’s somewhere on the spectrum between the simple joy of a child’s smile and Gandalf facing battling the Balrog, with theme parks right in the mix as man-made solution to weave a sense of wonder and magic in people’s lives. It’s this sense of amazement that Park Beyond is attempting to replicate in digital form, and there’s enough magic here that might have Gandalf reassessing his life choices!
Park Beyond is definitely personable. You start off meeting up with the peppy Blaize Ultra (yes, that really is her name), who happens to be flying around town via jetpack (also yes, really) when you hit her with a paper aeroplane containing a bunch of rollercoaster designs (she doesn’t really like theme parks, by the way). As job applications go, it’s almost as unique as some of Park Beyond’s ride designs, and you soon find yourself becoming the newest protégé of Phil, the energetic coaster-building Colonel Sanders.
While he talks a good talk, you discover that Phil’s career has been littered with failure, and now it’s up to you to fix all of his previous mistakes via Park Beyond’s Campaign mode. This is all under the watchful eye of the third member of you cohort, Izzy, whose focus on health and safety marries well with her acerbic sense of humour. She’s there to rein in Phil, and their playful sparring is a pleasant break from all the building. Finally, you’re joined by the down-to-earth Sofia, a wheelchair-bound engineer who helps to ‘Impossify’ your rides and upgrade your array of attractions. They’re a fun bunch to be around, and luckily they manage to avoid becoming annoying distractions.
Park Beyond tasks you with building a steady stream of parks, aiming to create a vibrant, well-liked and (hopefully) profitable attraction that will pull in the crowds and keep them there. You’re constantly aiming to increase your park’s rating, allowing you access to new rides, amenities and amusements with which you can decorate your park. Whether you’re doing a good enough job or not is then all down to the throngs of punters coming through the gates.
You increase your rating through Park Appeal, which is a combination of ‘Fun’ and ‘Cleanliness’. It has to be the most streamlined way of working out whether something is good or not I’ve ever seen, and when you think about it its benefits are clear – a universal rating system that can be applied to most things in life, from underpant choice to relationships.
Having spent a lot of time with both Theme Park and Planet Coaster on console, there’s some clear déjà vu about how things are done in Park Beyond. From the way that a ride’s entrance and exit are dealt with, to having to keep things tidy, or just the constant need to manage your visitors’ experience, there’s plenty of common ground. Of course, as a genre in and of itself, park building fundamentally requires building a park, and there’s little you can do to escape certain trappings of its forebears. Park Beyond’s personality helps it stand out from the crowd, especially thanks to its wilder and more fantastical approach to ride design.
That wild approach is termed ‘Impossification’ and as you progress, expand and upgrade your park you fill the Impossification Pen gauge. Once full you can choose a ride, a shop or even a member of staff, and Impossify them, ditching their ordinary, hum-drum appearance and replacing it with something crazy and likely, utterly impossible. Ferris wheels with ten wheels, multiple stacked merry-go-rounds, samurai sword-wielding kebab shops? They’re all here, and each and every Impossification drives your park closer to fantasy than reality. While Planet Coaster has the edge in terms of depth and detail, Park Beyond’s approachable and wildly creative outlook makes it a joy to experience, capturing a childlike-vision of the magic of theme parks.
As a park builder on console, Park Beyond can be a little bit picky about selecting and placing your latest rollercoaster creation, but it does make altering track types and deleting portions very easy. While it’s never going to offer you the precision of a mouse and keyboard setup, Park Beyond is very playable with the DualSense in hand, and largely makes sense of its myriad menus and options. Once you’ve grown accustomed to where things are you can whizz through the building stages of your park with remarkable speed.
Rollercoasters obviously form the centrepiece of your park, and there’s some interesting nuances to how you operate them. Hooks are goals that you set for your ride, and they decide its final rating and how the visitors feel about it. What that boils down to is making sure that your coaster reaches the criteria you’ve set for it, so if you want it to be a thrill ride it has to maintain a certain top speed in order to do that, while a family-friendly number might ask you to keep it under 80kmh. If you’re not feeling that creative there are pre-built coaster designs too that can streamline things for the sake of simplicity.
There are certain tools that will make your role easier, and Park Beyond’s heat map overlays are particularly useful. These allow you to see where there are weaknesses in your park, and where issues are being caused, whether through poor toilet placement or because you’re making everyone sick. When a visitor reaches 0% happiness they’ll leave the park, potentially leaving you with a bunch of questions alongside feelings of rejection and self-loathing – depending on how seriously you take this sort of thing.
Park Beyond currently has a couple of rough edges at launch on PS5, with some occasional graphical glitching from pathways – they’ll be invisible at times, or struggle with some of the level scenery like cliffs and bushes. I also experienced one hard crash where the game kicked me back out to the PS5 home menu. However, the game saves regularly and I only lost a few minutes work so it wasn’t the biggest of issues. Hopefully, these bugs will be dealt with in the very near future, but just be aware that they’re lurking there right now.