Launching in 2016, Frontier's Planet Coaster arrived as a modern-day successor to the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, which appeared to fall off the face of the earth after its third main instalment. The sim has built a passionate community of creatives over the past four years, and it has expanded with several content packs - some of which are in collaboration with major franchises such as Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. Planet Coaster now has its sights set on the console market and has opened up its doors to a whole new audience of players. Along with the expected control tweaks, the Console Edition has made many changes to the experience across the board, but are these for the better?
Upon booting up the game, you'll have the option to delve into three different game modes, which are Career Mode, Sandbox Mode, and Challenge Mode. The main meat of Planet Coaster is within the Career Mode, which helps you get to grips with its various mechanics. Here you'll enter the role of a rookie park owner and must save several failing parks from the brink of ruin by completing various tiers of objectives. Taking you under his wing is theme park impresario Oswald B. Thompson and a cast of other self-proclaimed park experts, such as the social media dependent teen Lucy Summer. I found there to be a great back and forth between these characters, as they often butt heads and disagree on what is best for the park and your learning. It was great to see a simulation game, which is often associated with keeping track of the finer details such as facts and numbers, have so much personality.
Sandbox Mode is a creative's dream, as all restrictions (including money) have been removed and you are free to let your imagination run wild. Challenge Mode offers similar freedoms, as you are given a blank canvas to start with, but you are given challenges to complete and have to choose between one of four difficulty settings. The difficulty setting you select has an impact on factors such as your starting cash and how frequently rides in your park break down. The challenges I previously mentioned are completely optional, but they are a great way to receive an easy injection of cash in a tight spot. One challenge, for example, may task you with keeping staff retention high for a period of three months.
The gameplay loop here is so addictive. You need to build your park in size, whilst ensuring that you're in control of aspects such as the happiness of your staff, the reputation of your park, and ensuring that you have a healthy income stream. To look after your money you'll need to ensure your rides and entrance fee is appropriately priced, and limit your spending so that you have enough money left over to pay for your staff. Your guest happiness is dependent on many different factors and you can monitor their thoughts on what they like and dislike about your park. Guests may be disgusted by the litter or crave more drink stands, so it's up to you to continually monitor and address these different needs.
There's so much depth here alongside many options that are available to you when considering your next step forward. You can run an advertising campaign to increase awareness on your park and you can also request a loan if you're looking to buy that next shiny coaster outside of your budget. You will also need to consider rebranding different coasters and rides as their appeal declines over time and guests are drawn to the park by brand new experiences. Basically, your path to success is not as simple as just following a handful of steps and there's plenty of options here for you to experiment with to lead to a better outcome.
Something that I was deeply concerned about approaching Planet Coaster was how well its control scheme was going to adapt to a controller. Using a mouse and keyboard for these types of simulation games just feels fluid and intuitive when having to filter through the many different menus. I am pleased to report though that things feel pretty good, for the most part. Using the left analogue sticks you can navigate the camera, and the back triggers can be used to zoom in and out. When browsing menus, you also use the LB and RB buttons (on Xbox) to toggle between the various different categories of assets. This worked fine, for the most part, but it did feel awfully fiddly when I was trying to find one specific item. Searching for keywords using the Xbox controller was no fun either, but this issue is pretty unavoidable.
Those purchasing the Console Edition should be aware that the base game isn't a definitive edition with all previous DLCs released for the PC included. There are still DLC packs to be bought here if you're wanting to own absolutely everything available. A completely inexpensive way to grab some more bits and pieces for your park is within the Frontier Workshop. This houses thousands of items of user-created content and here I was able to download entire parks, as well as some hilarious assets such as a giant statue of Toy Story's Woody and the Millennium Falcon. I found this a great way to unite the community and expand the title's replayability, but as far as I could see there was no cross-play support. There is, however, cross-generation support, so those on PS4 and PS5 will be able to share ideas, but it doesn't appear to be possible for those playing on different platforms.
Playing on Xbox Series X, I was able to experience Planet Coaster in all of its 4K glory, and I found myself blown away by its lighting and water effects. It by no means looks built ground up for the platform, but I can gladly say that this is the best-looking theme park sim I have played. There are few blemishes though within the visual department, however. When zooming in and spying on my guests, I noticed that they would clumsily bump into each other and glitch all over the place, and I found character models to lack a lot of facial detail. That said, a lot of this I can kind of forgive as it's impressive from a technical standpoint to have thousands of 3D models at a time interacting with your park in their own ways.
As for new content on the Console Edition, there's a metric called the Oswald Eugene Counter, which tracks how close you are to overloading your console with content. Playing on Xbox Series X this was something that didn't present a concern, as I was able to build some pretty large-scale parks, but prospective players should be aware that this may be different for last generation consoles. Those looking to build huge intricately designed parks on PS4 and Xbox One may find this a disappointment though, as there is a limitation in place unlike on the PC.
The Console Edition may not be the definitive way to experience the excellent Planet Coaster, but I'd still argue that it is an absolute must-have for sim fans who don't have access to an adequate gaming PC. Also, using a controller isn't nearly as smooth or intuitive as using a mouse and keyboard, and the Frontier Workshop doesn't appear to offer cross-platform interactivity. That being said, watching your park flourish and grow as a result of your hard work is extremely addictive, and the toolset present offers creatives plenty to tinker with in its bright, exciting worlds.