04 July 2018
A good idea flies off the rails
In the classic computer game RollerCoaster Tycoon, the player can remove a section of track while a train is hurtling around a ride, launching the virtual carriages into open space before they plunge towards the ground. Coaster Park’s madcap physics-based coaster construction captures some of the same entertainment of watching things fly off the rails, but everything inevitably comes crashing down.
The game’s main attraction is its 3D pieces of track, which are slotted together to form tracks for a marble to travel along. It’s delightfully original and a lot of fun to actually see your creations take form, before having to test the combination of steep launch hills, curving bumps and more extravagant features – including jumps, plateaus and even a show-stopping loop recommended for ‘extreme’ players. Track sections only score points if the marble successfully makes it over them at the end of the game, so real-world physics plays a big part in scoring the win.
Coaster Park’s inventiveness in relying on tracks actually working is its defining feature, but it’s also one of its major flaws. The cardboard pieces are wildly inconsistent – even with three attempts to score a successful run, marbles can end up flying off relatively unadventurous tracks or simply encounter a combination of hills that instantly kills the momentum, giving players with multiple matches under their belt a notable advantage. Putting together the pieces is often fiddly and awkward – the rules even suggest bedding in the loop a few days ahead of time – which further detracts from the tangible joy of sending marbles whizzing down the ramps.
All of this is attached to simple auction gameplay that cements the feeling that Coaster Park is better as a curio than as a game to be played. A single section of track is given a set price and each player is given a chance to accept that price, pass or pay a coin to test their track instead. That’s it. The ‘take it or leave it’ format falls flat – especially with fewer than the maximum four players – and fails to inject any excitement into what should be an exciting theme by default. It’s rollercoasters, for Chrissakes!
Outside of their physical shapes, the sections of coaster being auctioned also lack the flamboyant presentation you’d hope for from a game about theme parks, consisting solely of plain wooden and steel tracks – there’s none of the gleeful mashing up of pirates, ninjas and whatnot seen in lively park-builder Unfair, for instance. From the studio behind the ballsy style of Wasteland Express Delivery Service and two of the artists responsible for the eye-melting visuals of Dinosaur Island, it feels like a major missed opportunity. In fact, the most eye-catching feature in the box is the seven-inch-tall crane model used as an active player marker, which is both clumsy in its loose multi-part assembly and so big as to look utterly ridiculous.
Secret scoring objectives for each player and the chance to hire experts with ongoing or one-off abilities attempt to dress up the basic auction action, but it’s not enough to distract from the impression that Coaster Park is more gimmick than game. There’s certainly some fun to be had as marbles go flying, and reward to be found in finally finding the right mix of slopes and ramps, but the shallow gameplay and frustration that follows the initial amusement doesn’t offer enough to invest in a return ticket – unless you’re simply after an expensive box of cardboard tracks for kids to play with. Forget the Big Dipper – this is just a big disappointment.
Coaster Park is certainly unique, so it does have something to offer to those after an original easygoing, unpredictable dexterity game. Beyond the novelty of its often frustrating 3D tracks, though, there’s little to keep those seeking a true thrill ride coming back.
Designer: Scott Almes
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya, Peter Wocken
Time: 30-60 minutes
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