The most successful tycoon series finally lands on mobile but, unfortunately, all the magic is lost in this disappointing incarnation.
When Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 landed on the App Store yesterday, I was excited. The series is by far one of my favorite game series of all time, and certainly the most successful tycoon series to ever grace the PC. The idea of a good theme park simulator in my pocket was a tantalizing prospect. I was hopeful when I dropped that hard-earned $3 for Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 but sadly, I'm left utterly disappointed.
Though if I'm being honest, I can't say I'm surprised by the way the game turned out. It's pretty much on par with every other game in its category. Despite the $3 price tag, the game offers plenty of in-app purchases, which I entirely expected, but I was hoping it would avoid the same gameplay mechanics that are all too common in the world of iOS gaming. Much to my distaste, I was let down. RCT4 Mobile is another game where each attraction has an associated build time and profit rate. Players spend coins to purchase attractions, shops and decorations which can be placed around the map. Controls are as intuitive as you'd expect, simple dragging and a few buttons to tap and it's all really straightforward. When an attraction is placed, tapping the build button begins the construction process. And then it's time to wait. Like most games in this space, however, players may use a special currency (in this case tickets), to build attractions immediately. At the start of the game, players have an allotment of coins and tickets to spend to get started. By completing various "goals" players may earn larger sums of coins and tickets to keep things rolling. Otherwise, it's a waiting game as rides and shops earn coins to be collected.
Each attraction in the park contributes to a percentage score called "buzz". It's roughly equivalent to the park rating featured in the previous desktop installments; the higher your number, the more attracted to your park people are. As RCT4 constantly reminds you, "more buzz = more peeps = more coins". Each ride has a maximum "buzz" potential that contributes to your overall score. Rides may be upgraded (for some fee of coins) to increase their buzz rating, but rides sometimes breakdown, which will lower its buzz rating. Collecting coins and fixing rides is often as easy as tapping a small icon hovering above the ride or shop. It's a pretty clever way of simplifying the interactions required to manage your park on a small screen, but it's this area where the game sincerely falls apart.
The magic of the Rollercoaster Tycoon games was hardly ever in ride construction. Building everything (aside from rollercoasters) was trivial. Pick your ride, place it, done. The entire thing was about management. Hiring the right amount of staff and organizing them appropriately, keeping an eye on what your guests wanted and building the right rides, pricing things appropriately to keep steady profits, laying out pathways in strategic ways to maximize the time spent in the park by each guest... Every management aspect was dictated by the park and rides you were given and what the long-term goal was. Whether it was profit from ride tickets, 800 guests in your park by the end of year 3, or building 6 rollercoasters with an excitement rating of at least 6.00, the way in which you managed your park mattered. Your decisions mattered. In the mobile offering, this is not at all the case.
Gone are the financial management woes, ride research decisions, price adjustments and long term goals. Instead, you have a system where the end goal doesn't exist, but you're tasked with tiny goal after tiny goal and left waiting around for things to be built. Unless of course you want to shell out a few bucks and buy your way through the game. The very fabric of Rollercoaster Tycoon is lost in the modern adaptation of this once-great game. Atari has given fans a game where the fun quickly dies and any illusion that this is a real Rollercoaster Tycoon game fades into oblivion. While the cash-grabbing nature makes sense for the struggling Atari, they'd have to start from scratch if they want the game to be well-received by fans. It takes more than a brand to make a great game.
Rollercoast Tycoon 4 Mobile: 4/5 piles of poo.