November 28, 2020

Planet Coaster: Console Edition is a strong version of a sim classic despite controller struggles

Planet Coaster is still most at home on a keyboard and mouse, but this port...

Planet Coaster is still most at home on a keyboard and mouse, but this port is an admirable controller-based effort.

Strategy and management games are brilliant, but they’re often not very at home on consoles. That’s a shame, as it makes one of the best and most satisfying genres around difficult for controller players to enjoy – but over the years we’ve been treated to a range of attempts to make this sort of game work on pad.

A defining one for me was the 1995 PlayStation version of Theme Park, a port so good it made me fall thoroughly in love with the game – but also a port so compromised that the love it inspired simply made me jump ship to the PC version.

25 years on and here we are with another Theme Park design and management game making an attempt on console – this time, Frontier Developments’ Planet Coaster. I’m well familiar with the game having experienced the PC version back on its original release in 2016, but my experiences back in the nineties made me keen to test this one to answer one question: how does the console experience hold up?

The answer is, as you’d expect, complicated. We’ve certainly come a long way in terms of control methods for games like this, and in places it’s fairly elegant. Index fingers get a thorough work-out tabbing between core menus with the bumpers before you dig deeper to get to the more granular aspects of park-running.

This is the thing, really – Planet Coaster is an intensely complicated and detailed simulation game. That’s to its credit, especially on PC, where the interface of a keyboard and mouse naturally lends itself to those complexities. On controller things sometimes are a little dicier. You want that detailed control of minute elements of your park, but sometimes reaching those controls and making the edits you require is fiddly and frustrating.

The worst of this comes, perhaps predictably, when it’s time to actually build rollercoasters yourself. This is a potentially huge part of Planet Coaster depending on how you choose to play. While the game comes with a bunch of pre-set, pre-built coasters you can just drop into your park, a great deal of effort has been put into the in-depth and surprisingly life-accurate simulation of creating and then running a thrilling ride of your own design. The coaster-building system remains amazing – but it’s also where you’ll most frequently find yourself at war with the controls.

None of this is to say that Frontier has done a bad job with Planet Coaster: Console Edition’s controls. On the contrary, they’ve made an admirable, strong effort to port a hugely complex set of menus that dig into submenu after submenu and option after option to a much more limited input device.

There have been far worse attempts to bring games like this to console, and crucially nothing is so frustrating or annoying that it’d be likely to drive you away. What’s clever is that the design of the game itself is such that you can ease yourself into these more stressful park-running situations.

Planet Coaster is an accessible game that lets you focus on the big picture of your park if you so desire. Doing that is less rewarding, but also something that far more people will be able to easily enjoy – especially unshackled from the PC platform.

That’s what Plant Coaster: Console Edition delivers. Simply by merit of the platforms it’s releasing on, it’s a more easily accessible edition of the game. Changes, tweaks, and additions for the console edition are all welcome and well-done, and none of the colourful charm of the PC version has been compromised. Similarly, it’s still packed with things to do – campaign, sandbox, endlessly building coasters that push the limits of sanity – it’s all good stuff.

Where it sometimes struggles is in those controls, as mentioned. Even then, they’re nowhere near problematic enough to spoil a fun experience, and with patience dedicated players should be above to master them for even the most complicated parks and coasters. This version is going to let more people play a great game – and that’s no bad thing. Add in the fact that Planet Coaster: Console Edition is available on Xbox One, Series S & X through Game Pass, and it’s easy to justify giving it a try – and you just might get hooked.

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