Coaster Creator 3D
Developer: Big John Games
Publisher: Big John Games
Release Date: 2/28/13
Roller coaster and theme park design games have a decent following on the PC, thanks to gems like Theme Park and Roller Coaster Tycoon, but their market and appeal are somewhat less significant in the console market. While games like Theme Park and Theme Park Roller Coaster have certainly come out on the consoles, the genre isn’t particularly well represented or especially popular, so when a new game does come out it’s generally something of a surprise. Coaster Creator 3D seems to be more interested in the “create a roller coaster” aspect than any other part, as it eschews the park management ideas most games attack to the concept altogether. Instead, it’s simply a game that allows you to make roller coasters as you see fit, test them to make sure they work, then zoom around in them for laughs. In theory, the idea is a novel one, and with 3D visuals attached could make for a lot of fun, whether you’re more interested in riding around in your creation or in designing it in the first place. In practice, the game is limited in appeal given its overall price point, and mechanically obtuse to a level where I’m only reviewing this because the first reviewer gave up in frustration, making it a bit harder to recommend.
There are two ways to play Coaster Creator 3D: Career or Sandbox. In Career mode, you’re put into the position of attempting to renovate the theme part “Classic Coasters” which has seen better days. You’re hired by Gill McGee to renovate the existing coasters as a way of trying to attract new customers, which is a thinly veiled way of teaching you different mechanics that are available by way of challenging you to accomplish tasks using said tools. Playing this mode also unlocks new tools for Sandbox mode to allow you to customize your tracks with more options. Sandbox mode is exactly what it sounds like: you’re allowed to specify a background, track type, lifter turn angle and height, then sketch out a basic track before going to the 3D editor to adjust the angles and such. Both modes ask you to tweak out the track proper in the 3D editor and allow you to ride the tracks as you wish, but you’ll basically play Career to unlock all the available creation options, then head to Sandbox to make absurd coasters. You can share your coasters with QR Codes if you’re so inclined, or even build your own park to surround the coaster (though you can’t go play in the park or anything). There aren’t a lot of modes, to be sure, and the game lacks any kind of significant online sharing option, but for someone looking to create a coaster on the go, you’ll definitely have that option here.
From a visual standpoint, Coaster Creator 3D is cute and generally looks interesting, and mimics how you’d expect your local Six Flags or what have you to look from a design perspective. The game is bright, colorful and cute, featuring vibrant park themes and coaster colors to give the game a really lively feel that compliments the experience nicely. The game obviously isn’t pushing the processing power of the 3DS, but it’s interesting enough aesthetically that it can get away with that. The 3D effects aren’t bad, also, and when riding the track around you’ll have fun watching the world pass you by, though they’re less useful when designing the track itself for obvious reasons. Aurally, the game uses a small roster of songs for the menus and creation sections, a small handful of effects for testing and riding coasters, and that’s about it. It’s not a terribly aurally involved game, in other words; what’s here is certainly fine, but it’s nothing special, and there’s not really a lot of it to speak of either, so you’ll not really notice it too often.
The actual gameplay boils down to the track creation system, which essentially gives you a large map of the coaster on the bottom screen and a full view of said coaster on the top. In Career mode you start with the coaster built for you, while in Sandbox mode, after choosing your design options, you’re allowed to draw out the basic path of the coaster as you see fit, add in hills, and so on before the game makes the coaster for you. Either way, at this point you’re given a three dimensional map that can be rotated with the D-Pad, while the analog stick allows you to rotate the top camera as you see fit. The bottom of the design screen offers you the option to run the cart normally or at various speeds to see how the cart takes the track (IE to see if something meets speed requirements or can’t clear a hill). The right side of the design screen, however, is where you’ll spend most of your time, as this is where your design tools are located. From here you can choose the level of brush (IE how many tiles of track move at one time), rotate selected track pieces, add in loops, corkscrews, twists and so on, and more, as you see fit. This is the bread and butter of the system, allowing you to manipulate whole sections of the track as you see fit so you can make the track to your specs. Want ten corkscrews in a row? Want to make the riders spend the whole track upside-down? GO NUTS. For those who absolutely love coaster design, this is easily the best part of the experience, as it allows basically as many options as you can think of for track design and modification.
The Career mode is where you’re going to spend your first few hours with the game, for three reasons: it teaches you how each of the different tools work by making you use only that tool, it unlocks most all of the neat tools you’ll want to use to customize your track, and it’s challenging to solve the trials presented to you. The trials themselves start off simply enough, but become progressively more intense as you go, asking you to reduce G-forces on tracks or use twists and turns to avoid targets, and you’ll really stretch your thinking to complete some of them, so for those who want a challenge, you’ll have some fun there. Once you’ve unlocked everything, the Sandbox mode is where you’ll spend the rest of your time, designing tracks to emulate your favorite roller coasters or simply to entertain yourself. You can change out the design of the carts, tracks, and even the theme park itself if you have the inclination, as you can buy all sorts of novelties to sprinkle around the park to make it your own. If you want to share your coasters with friends you can export a QR code to your 3DS and allow friends to scan it in to test your coaster, and perhaps even tweak it in ways you hadn’t thought of. For those who love design simulation games or roller coasters, Coaster Creator 3D will give you hours of fun times, easily.
However, well… I’m not sure Mick Foley owns a Nintendo 3DS, and outside of him, I’ve never spoken to anyone, ever, who’s indicated the sort of interest in roller coasters this game would require. For one thing, it’s a ten dollar roller coaster creation tool, and that’s about it. That is all the game lets you do. For five dollars or less that might make a certain amount of sense, but at the ten dollar price point the game should let you do more than just design a roller coaster, no matter how in depth it is. It’s not even like you can share your coasters online without great difficulty since there isn’t some kind of online server to connect to and upload files to; the QR codes are basically your only option here, which is kind of a roundabout way of doing things. Further, as I noted above, I ended up having to take over the review from another staffer because the mechanics of the game are so obtuse that said staffer couldn’t make heads or tails of what was supposed to be done. This is because the game is very bad at explaining itself, leaving you to spend far longer than you should playing with the mechanics. Now, this is problematic on two levels. First, it’s problematic because as the game goes onward, it becomes frustrating to try and resolve how, exactly, one is supposed to reduce G-forces on a coaster when one does not understand physics to the level the game expects, to the point where one simply gives up and stops playing. Second, it’s problematic because the one group of customers who might like the idea of watching a roller coaster go around the track, IE small children, will be so wholly ill-equipped to understand any part of the design aspect of the game that this is literally impenetrable to that audience.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the audience for a game like Coaster Creator 3D is so minute that it could probably dance on the head of a pin, as while the game does a very good job of allowing you to make roller coasters… it’s not likely there was a terribly large audience looking for that sort of experience. This is the thing: the game looks and sounds nice, and there’s enough content here, between modes and general options, that the player can see that the game is well off enough to be worthwhile to its audience, and the design system is certainly quite robust in the amount of control it offers. However, the game has a very old-school PC sensibility to it, where it explains very little in a useful way and does a lot of its work in an awkward fashion, which is frustrating as the game is designed for extreme enthusiasts only, which seems to be an extremely small market. If you’re the sort of person who plans every family vacation around states that have theme parks you’ve not visited and rides you’ve not seen, thanks for reading Mick, loved Have a Nice Day! If not, however, Coaster Creator 3D is basically in no way worth its asking price, as it really only does one thing that’s meant to appeal to an extremely small, possibly non-existent, audience… if you’re in that audience, you’ll love this game, but for everyone else, not so much.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Coaster Creator 3D feels like a well designed game aimed at a market that doesn’t really exist. Its design is generally aesthetically solid and the game is quite functional, offering a fairly extensive set of tools to work with and modes to play around with. The mechanics offer depth and substance and the Career mode offers plenty of challenge, while the Sandbox mode offers the player a lot of tools to customize the roller coaster of their dreams. However, this is a ten dollar game that allows you to… make roller coasters, and that’s about it. The game is aimed at an extremely niche audience, as it allows you to do one specific thing, gives you a lot of detailed but unintuitive tools to do so, offers a tutorial that explains to you very little about how the game works, and basically makes itself hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t a diehard roller coaster fan. It’s not that Coaster Creator 3D is bad so much as it’s aimed at an incredibly specific, narrow niche market, and while that market might exist, and will have fun with the game if it does… the game is otherwise completely impenetrable to the vast majority of… well, everyone.