Roller Coaster Tycoon is easily one of the greatest tycoon games of all time. It is a classic that will probably not be remembered in ten years, but definitely deserves a spot as one of the most memorable PC games of the 1990s. This is one of the first "tycoon" games and focuses on building and managing a successful theme/amusement park. I love this game because of its ability to take many concepts and turn them into a simple computer game that even 6 year-olds can enjoy.
The game itself is pretty basic. There are 21 different missions where you are thrown into different maps that start as either blank lots or already thriving theme parks and given a goal to achieve a certain park guest count and rating in a set amount of time. The maps range from forests to deserts to islands and even to little lots in rural areas. Each level is very different and provides new obstacles for players to adapt to. Parks might contain a giant lake, tons of trees to remove, or there just might not be enough space to work with, meaning you will have to buy more land and zoning rights. Considering there is no other gameplay mode, this handful of maps does a great job providing variety and fresh scenery to alter the way players create their parks.
Roller Coaster Tycoon has a great selection of rides and attractions to make the perfect theme park. There are six types of features you can build: transport rides, which include rides like monorails and chairlifts to help visitors move around giant parks; gentle rides, which include the (boring) standard amusement park rides like merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, hedge mazes, bumper cars, and haunted houses; thrill rides, including the more exciting rides like go karts, swinging ships, and drop towers; water rides like log flumes and river rafting rides; eleven shops and stalls ranging from burger joints to cotton candy stalls to souvenir shops (don't forget the bathroom!); to the seven show-stealing wood and steel roller coasters. Everything has a lot of options to customize the way they fit into your park. Paint jobs, prices, safety features, and more are up to you to decide. One of the best features of Roller Coaster Tycoon is the ability to design your own rides.
Let's talk about roller coasters. Roller coasters are by far some of the main highlights of RCT. I mean, come on, they're in the name of the game! As I mentioned before, there are seven types of coasters that you can choose from, and each has its own special traits. My favorites are the steel coasters because of their ability to do loops, corkscrews, and other cool spiraling and twisting tricks. Of course, I would never combine all of these features on a single coaster because it would make guests so sick that no one would ever ride it. The physics behind the coasters is amazingly realistic and I strongly believe that they will help teach kids basic physics. If a track causes a coaster to fall and then has it try to rise back up a hill that is too high, the coaster will not be able to make it up the hill unless it has the lift chains to help it up. This is a very simple demonstration of the conservation of energy that will make it easy for any child to understand. At the same time, normal force is also demonstrated as rides without restraints (like a wooden coaster or log flume) will launch off the track if they are moving too quickly on a hill. Designing coasters in RCT is very fun and challenging because players have to work to create exciting rides that won't make their guests too nauseous.
Roller Coaster Tycoon is great at demonstrating physics, but it is even better at teaching microeconomics and managing. As I mentioned earlier, all prices are up to players to decide. From the entrance fee to the fee to use the restrooms, the player is given total control over each and every attraction. Basic controls, menus, and charts are available to provide any level of attention. As a kid in the 90s, I'd set fair and static prices that applied to the entire park and basically ignore them for the rest of the game, which basically worked. As I got older, however, I realized that a smart player can make faster profit by controlling prices dynamically. I now pay much more attention to the charts that I previously ignored and do much better because of them. As the value of my park goes up, I slow raise the admission price to the park a few dollars at a time. When I open a new ride, I jack up the entry fee as high as $5 per ride for good rides and slowly lower the prices as the rides get older and people grow bored of them. I sell park maps at high prices near the entrance and make them less and less expensive at information kiosks located deeper and deeper into the park so lost (and broke) guests don't complain as much. When bad weather threatens and rain begins to pour, I crank up the prices for umbrellas and make almost double the profit until the storm is over. In terms of managing, I also work to keep costs low by organizing my handymen, security guards, and mechanics by manually setting patrol areas for each so that I don't need as many wandering throughout the whole park. When I'm building a new path to a new area in my park, I make sure to plan the area out and make lots of grids of paths, minimizing the number of dead ends so that my guests don't get confused or lost. I constantly pay for advertising campaigns in order to increase the visitors coming to my park. I don't make big roller coasters any more in order to cycle as many people as possible through them and make the maximum profit. Managing a park this meticulously is completely optional, but this is how older and smarter players can get extra enjoyment out of a game that they would otherwise be playing at the same level as a kid who is just making cool roller coasters.
I have a huge amount of respect for the graphics in Roller Coaster Tycoon. The game is very old by now but has aged remarkably. The graphics are all sprite-based, but the level of detail put into the sprites makes them look practically 3D. Considering players can rotate the screen to get four different angles, zoom in and out to three distances, and build complex and multi-level theme parks full of dynamic roller coasters and entirely customizable objects, the game might as well be called 3D! The sound is also great, and allows players to really feel like they're really in a theme park. I love the realistic sounds of the coasters, including the ways the crowd screams at different levels on each drop. The merry-go-round music is beautiful and archetypal of all the nostalgic merry-go-rounds we know and love. I really love the cartoonish feel of this game and honestly can't get over the amazing environment players are immersed in.
As you, the reader, have probably figured out by now, I am a raving madman for Roller Coaster Tycoon. This is easily one of my favorite games of all time. I grew up with this game, and still play it today. Although I might not have realized it, I think that Roller Coaster Tycoon is partly responsible for giving me a head start in concepts in physics, economics, and more. I really love this game and think that it should be experienced by everyone, gamer or not.