RollerCoaster Tycoon was a seminal work in the theme park simulator genre, and introduced an entire generation of young gamers to the wonders of high-speed digital thrill rides, and the perils of capitalist ambition. In the decades since it launched, the game has spawned a number of competitors looking to grasp the free-form excitement and inspiration of this unique experience – to varying degrees. Park Beyond, from Limbic Entertainment and Bandai Namco, could very well succeed.
During a recent preview, GamesHub was able to go hands-on with the game over several hours of park creation that fuelled a strong sense of 1990s PC nostalgia, and enthusiasm over what’s to come. Developer Limbic Entertainment seems to understand exactly what makes theme park sims magical, and it has injected Park Beyond with a range of well-established and brand-new mechanics to bottle the fun of classic creation, in a more modern form.
Within the game’s story mode, you’ll act as the prodigious creator of a modern theme park who works alongside two creative engineers – Blaize and Sofia – to imagine new possibilities and surprises for your raft of rides and food stalls. But while your imagination is seemingly your limit, you’ll also have to contend with the forces of capitalism early on, as park board members Izzy and Phil stand in the way of your success.
Izzy is a numbers-focussed and pragmatic businesswoman concerned about the potential of your park’s monetary success. Phil is an enthusiastic and carefree creator who wants the biggest and best ideas. Balancing the two voices is necessary as you determine the target market for your theme park (adults, teenagers, children, families), pick a decorative theme, and begin your adventures with a blank canvas.
Those familiar with theme park simulators will find much of the game’s strategies and ride-building systems familiar – but there are many clever tweaks that make Park Beyond a more refined and enjoyable experience than the sims of yesteryear. The most obvious is in the game’s heightened level of customisation – which includes easy building tools, smart locking paths, and pick-and-place structures.
You can build entire rollercoasters from scratch in this sim, tweaking and twisting tracks by clicking or scrolling a mouse. Push up, and you’ll increase the height of your coaster. Hold a button, and you can determine the angle of your track. Along the way, you can add chain pulleys, cannons, diverting tracks, drops, and plenty of unlockable features to make your coasters feel unique – without the hassle of worrying too much about whether your design is technically realistic.
In fact, there’s plenty of scope in Park Beyond for sweeping coasters that twist around your park with zero bounds, thanks to a clever customisation system that doesn’t depend too heavily on support struts for the perfect ride. Would these coasters fly in real life? Absolutely not – and that’s where Park Beyond derives its fun.
Creating the ‘impossible’ is your primary goal as proprietor of your new theme park. While the vast majority of rides you’ll unlock over the course of the game are stationary, Park Beyond advances its goal of ‘impossification’ with a unique mechanic that allows you to jazz up each of your rides.
Each visitor that enters your park is actually a useful force for good. Rather than being a static entrant to exploit for cash, they will provide you with multiple currencies, including excitement, which fills up a special ‘impossification’ meter, and eventually allows you to level up your park, and unlock new rides.
The gameplay loop is not only about building the prettiest, most high-octane park, it’s also about serving the needs of your target audience, and exploiting their preferences to generate more excitement for the impossification meter.
Once this meter is filled, you can go about transforming and heightening your park, one ride at a time. While the ‘impossification’ name is decidedly silly, the impact of these transformations is wonderful. By impossifying a ride, you’re essentially levelling it up, giving it a new cosmetic form, and giving your visitors a more exciting experience.
What begins as a basic pirate ship-style swinging ride featuring a big octopus eventually ‘impossifies’ to become a giant tank with a real-life octopus grabbing submarine pods with visitors inside, and throwing them into the air. What is a generic taco stand becomes an award-winning restaurant topped by a giant cactus, wielding dips and a taco hat.
It may be a simple gimmick, but the way impossification brings parks to life is impressive. By transforming each element of your park, you’re essentially refreshing the excitement of your guests, bringing in more people and generating more money in an endless loop of reward.
Beyond providing incentive to keep building out your park one ride at a time, it’s also extremely enjoyable to watch the levelling process as the Kraken comes to life, or vines grow from your alien rocket ship, or your staff members gain a special bazooka to take out the trash.
Wild and over-the-top it may be, but this twist energises the process of park building, and provides a unique incentive to keep bulking out your park. While some management sims encourage idling as visitors flow in, there’s a sense of urgency and purpose behind Park Beyond‘s gameplay.
You can certainly sit and watch, but as your impossification meter advances, the potential for unleashing a weird new ride on your unsuspecting guests is temptation enough to push you onward. In sandbox mode, this directive is amplified, as your sole motivation comes from dabbling in creative changes, and levelling up your rides as the guests flow in.
While this gameplay loop does not dramatically change the formula, in tweaking and improving on existing systems by providing new reasons to be creative, and keep striving forward with park growth, Park Beyond brims with a colourful, creative sense of fun.
Limbic seems to have recaptured the nostalgia of the RollerCoaster Tycoon era by amping up the magic of experimentation, using modern sensibilities to reinvigorate classic gameplay. Should the full game continue the sparkling joy to be found in this preview, Park Beyond will be a worthy successor to the RollerCoaster Tycoon crown.
Park Beyond launches for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PC on 16 June 2023. A closed beta test will be held for select players on PC from 9-19 May 2023, and you can sign up now for access.
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