Anyone who's ever stepped off of a roller coaster with a huge grin and an idea for a ride of their own will appreciate the immense appeal of Coaster Creator 3D's concept. It combines the classic video game experience of going really fast with the medium's unique ability to let you do things you wouldn't necessarily be able to in real life — namely, design and ride your own roller coasters. It's a winning formula, equal parts puzzle game and sandbox, and even with its confusing interface and somewhat bland presentation, creative coaster-lovers will get a real kick out of Coaster Creator 3D.
Coaster Creator's Career mode is where new players will spend their first few rounds around the track, and features twenty challenge levels to complete. As coaster building apprentices at Classic Coasters, players are given rides in various states of completion to tinker with and objectives to complete. You might need to spice up an old wooden roller coaster with dips and turns, modify a track's path so that it hits specific areas or speed targets, or take loop-de-loops out of a coaster to make it suitable for the virtual children you'll soon send screaming down the track. Many of these challenges have some sort of restriction — like only being able to remove track — that turn them from design tasks into proper puzzles, and make it incredible satisfying to come up with a winning plan. Once you think you've got your coaster ready, you can take it on a virtual test ride to see if it passes muster.
Challenges generally take about five to ten minutes apiece, though you can easily spend much longer perfecting a ride and there's always more than one way to solve a puzzle. And while there's no hands-on 'tutorial' as such, the initial Career challenges do a good job of introducing you to the different features of the track editor one by one. They don't necessarily do the best job of explaining how to use those tools, however, so this is one game where the excellent manual and in-game help are pretty much required reading.
As you complete the Career challenges, you'll unlock cart and track styles, attachments, decals, and new themed areas that you can use in the game's Sandbox mode — and while the challenges are good fun, the Sandbox is where Coaster Creator really gets going. In this mode, your sole objective is to envision, build, and tweak the coolest coasters you can think of to your heart's content. There are a few sample tracks to get you started, and you can use any of the coasters you've cleared in the Career challenges as templates, but the real fun comes from starting from scratch.
After picking a lifter style and height (for the coaster's initial climb) and sketching in a rough track outline, you're ready to go. All the editing options are open in this mode with no restrictions, so any twist, curve, or bump in the track you can imagine is fair game. You can create corkscrews and loop-de-loops, dips and rises, banked turns and downhill dives, and there's a super helpful Track Wizard tool that lets you add common track embellishments using prose instead of precision editing — "double loop here" or "corkscrew to the right here". It makes things much simpler, and we had the most fun starting with these options and tweaking them from there. For manual adjustments, you can set the 'brush size' from one to five, which changes how many pieces of track your stylus affects at a time.
Beyond designing the layout for your coaster, there's plenty you can do to customize the tracks and cars themselves. There are several different types of track and cart styles, a whopping sixty-four colour options for cars, seats, track and support posts, and plenty of decals and unlockable extras. Want to have the front of your car decked out in a lucha libre mask, or look like a giant insect head? Done and done. And though the focus is definitely on the coasters themselves, you can also do some light park customization to help give each ride its own unique feel. There are tons of interesting objects that you can place around your track, from volcanoes and bouncy castles to Aztec statues, but certain items are sadly restricted to coasters in their own thematic areas.
Of course, as in the Career mode, half the fun comes from taking your Sandbox designs out for a spin. There's a wealth of options for enjoying your ride, including several different camera angles and the ability to skip right to the top of the lifter for instant gratification. You can even pick which seat to sit in for the in-the-car view — real-life coasters feel different from the front to the back, after all, and it's great that your virtual ones can, too. Another neat feature is being able to look around from the cart view using the 3DS' gyroscope, by holding down the R button and moving the system.
Riding your coasters around is gratifying enough, but it's even more fun to put them through their paces in Star Roller, a fun mini-game that uses your creations as its courses. You blast through three laps around a tracks, using the D-pad or Circle Pad to move a hand above your coaster to either the left, top, or right positions to try and catch stars littered along the way. There are also left and right arrows that appear from time to time, requiring timely presses of the L or R buttons to pass. It's simple but lots of fun, reminding us quite a bit of bonus stages from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, and it adds an appealing interactive element to riding your creations.
Finally, one of Coaster Creator 3D's most exciting features is the ability to export your creations as QR codes, and to scan codes generated by others to import their tracks. This adds a huge amount of potential reply value - you can ride and Star Roll around imported tracks just like any other saved coaster, and provided you've cleared the necessary Career challenges, you can edit them as well.
Coaster Creator 3D is a surprisingly powerful coaster-building tool, and a fun game, but it's not without its flaws. Our biggest problem with Coaster Creator comes from the editing interface itself, and while that's not the deal-breaker that it sounds like, it can still be frustrating. The main issue is that coaster building is split between a 3D view on the top screen, and a 2D diagrammatic representation of the track on the bottom screen. Since you use the stylus to edit your creations, you'll be manipulating the coaster — a three-dimensional task - entirely on the bottom screen, with its two-dimensional view.
This is done by adjusting the viewing angle of the bottom screen's camera using the D-pad. To move the track along the X or Y axes, for instance, you'll need to position the camera at a bird's-eye view. To raise or lower the track along the Z axis, you'll move the camera to a side view. That makes sense, but the bottom screen's camera moves independently from the top screen's, which is controlled with the Circle Pad. It's much more intuitive to look at what's going on with the actual roller coaster up top while editing, but you'll need to ensure sure both cameras are synced up at approximately the same angle manually — the game won't do it for you. When they're out of sync, it leads to wildly unintuitive situations where pulling the stylus one way pushes your track in the opposite direction. That said, once you get past the editor's interface quirks, there's quite a lot of powerful coaster customization at your disposal, and playing around building tracks is still a great time.
Coaster Creator 3D's visual presentation is colourful and fun, even if it's not really out to impress on a technical level. There are some nice touches, such as the lively facial expressions on the Mii-like riders, but the graphics can feel somewhat generic. As you'd expect, zooming around a roller coaster in stereoscopic 3D is a blast, but that effect is marred here by a substantial frame-rate hit — you'll get a much better sense of speed with the 3D off, which is disappointing. The soundtrack, however, is a great fit for the attraction-building action — it's relaxing and catchy, but stays in the background enough that it doesn't grate during extended editing sessions.
It starts with a steep learning curve, the interface can be creaky, and it's not the prettiest attraction around; but there's still plenty of creative fun to be found in this capable coaster creator. Swapping designs with others using QR codes adds a ton of replay value, as does the Star Roller mode, and the simple act of creating and riding your own coasters is as enjoyable as ever. It's obvious that someone at Big John Games really loves roller coasters, and like-minded players will definitely enjoy their ride with Coaster Creator 3D.