Who would have thought way back in the late ’90s – when PC gaming was producing some of its biggest and most beloved hits – that a simulator all about building and maintaining a theme park would prove to be an enduring classic in its own right? And while the RollerCoaster Tycoon games took something of a nosedive once creator and programmer Chris Sawyer departed for digital pastures new, the first three titles remain some of the best sims to ever simulate.
So, of course, there’s some genuine excitement surrounding the franchise’s debut on Nintendo Switch. The genre has come a long way since the early ’00s, and RollerCoaster has made the jump to both consoles and mobile in the two decades that have followed. The latter iteration is the basis for RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures, a port of RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch (which itself is a port of RollerCoaster Tycoon World on PC), and sadly, it makes for a muddled experience where glimmers of that once potent magic are overshadowed by performance issues and technical hangups that should have been phased out in the porting process.
Thankfully, the microtransaction-based coin system from the mobile version has been completely removed (this adopts a full-price approach rather than the free-to-play model used in Touch) so there’s no need to worry about spending an age waiting to build one measly ride. Right out of the box, you get access to four modes all based around the zen-like art of theme park construction and management. 'Tutorial' is a short ‘does what it says on the tin’ experience that introduces you to the basics of the game, but most of your time will be spent in the 'Adventure', 'Scenario' and 'Sandbox' modes.
Drawing from the controls of RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch, RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures does a remarkable job of transposing an experience that was once locked to keyboard and mouse into a hybrid of analog inputs and touchscreen manipulation. You can adjust the length and heights of a RollerCoaster with a few swipes of Switch’s display or use the Joy-Con sticks and buttons to place amusements and build paths. You can spin the camera around to see your gradually-expanding theme park and zoom in to see your rides and your visitors up close and personal.
Apart from the Creative version of Sandbox mode (which unlocks everything from the start, so you can just start building with infinite cash and access to every ride), Adventures kicks you off with a modest-sized site, a respectable pot of cash and a handful of amusement choices. Want to use that cool observation tower? Fancy adding that rad haunted house? You’ll need to spend money researching new options and increase your park rating high enough to earn a new permit (which in turn, unlocks new things to research).
It sounds slow and tedious in theory, but in application, it’s a measured approach that finds the right balance between keeping you satisfied with new ‘stuff’ and making you work diligently enough to achieve them. You can adjust entry prices to your park, and the cost of admission for each ride, restaurant and piece of entertainment so money is never that hard to accumulate, but hike them too high and your park rating will drop and customers will start leaving in disgust. Much like the old games, there’s a tangible pleasure in placing Ride Maintenance buildings to fix broken rides or Janitor stalls to mop up post-rollercoaster vomit.
The problem is, the transition from mobile to Switch hasn’t properly adjusted the amount of automation Adventures implements in its core gameplay. In the old games, you’d have to manually request janitors to clean said chunder, or tell mechanics to fix a faulty set of dodgems. It was an extra dimension that made the classic RollerCoaster Tycoon formula much more of a hands-on experience, but by using the Touch setup as its blueprint, Adventures simply automates all these processes by giving each utility a radius so nearby problems will be solved automatically.
You can’t hire and train workers like you can in Zoo Tycoon, or mix-and-match ride designs in the way you can splice dino DNA in Jurassic World: Evolution, so your only real concern is researching new rides, keeping customers satisfied and the general design of your park. The latter is still an engrossing experience – including using themed decorations to create distinct areas and designing path layouts the maximise space – but you’re still left hankering for the extra challenge of the older entries.
You can, however, design your own rollercoasters (there are multiple styles to choose from including 'ye olde' wooden variants and sickness-inducing inverted versions) and using both the touchscreen and the Joy-Con makes for one of Adventures’ best features. It’s a shame you can’t terraform the land to make these creations (and your park in general) so you’re perpetually locked into working on an amusement-filled plateau, but just being able to create rollercoasters that fit the space of your site and the limits of your imagination is a blast.
There are, unfortunately, some significant issues with performance. RollerCoaster Tycoon World had its own problems with slowdown, and its grandchild of sorts has inherited these flaws, both in handheld and docked modes. When you’re building on a small scale (such as when playing through the 16 Scenario missions, which task you with meeting different tiered challenges) things run relatively smoothly, but once you start adding lots of rides (each with their own animation cycles) the frame rate begins to plummet. It’s still playable and enjoyable, but if you really want a RollerCoaster Tycoon game on Switch you’ll have to accept a camera that chugs as you sweep through your park and button inputs that sometimes take too long to respond.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures is both incredibly enjoyable and considerably infuriating. There’s just enough of that classic magic in there to make the design and management of a theme park a consistently rewarding experience, and using permits and research to space out your access to the good stuff makes this a genuinely fun time sink. However, the level of automation that’s migrated over from the mobile iteration really does negatively impact this Switch port, and issues with overall performance place a big caveat around its neck. While it's not a total disaster, RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures does leave you wanting a little more – especially if you're a seasoned fan of the long-running series.