Casual Friday: Roller Coaster Tycoon Touch
I never enjoyed another RCT game the same way. The freedoms of the first game seemed to give way in exchange for options to become heavily goal-oriented. Suddenly, the scenery around my attractions wasn't mine to command, it had its own progress bar and guest satisfaction stats, and it became work. The graphics got better, and the focus was put on "Build your own 3D roller coaster, then RIDE it!" which, um. Sorry, I didn't want to watch an animated POV video of a cartoon roller coaster, even if I designed the thing myself. I'm here for the "Oh no! People are spewing all over the path around the Nausea-O-Whirl and you need balance your janitor budget!" That stuff got removed pretty early on in the franchise, along with the cheeky ability to fire a loop-de-loop coaster at 200mph into the artfully sculpted bullseye made of roses and pansies that occupies the back of the park.
So, anyway, I went to check for any mobile version of the original Roller Coaster Tycoon, and lo and behold, there is a full port of it that comes in at $5.99, which is honestly a pretty reasonable price for the amount of hours I've spent playing that game. Before pulling the trigger, I decided to test the waters with one of the freemium versions of the franchise that Atari has built for Android and iOS. While "Roller Coaster Tycoon 4 Mobile" appears to be more grounded in social media sharing and simulated gambling, RCT Touch seemed to be a stripped down version for singular casual play, just what I was looking for.
The initial loading time is staggeringly long for a game of this caliber, but after that everything is pretty instant and responsive. There's a bit of lag when lots of guest bubbles and animations clog your screen or you try to navigate too quickly. The basic gameplay is fine, the standard RCT activity is solidly produced with each attraction and decoration organized on a grid. Each also has its own menu, with the ability to change paint schemes and pricing and to view the attraction's stats all working great. But the modern touches have really clogged up the whole experience by putting all park assets on a card-based leveling system. I'm sick to death of "cards" in mobile games. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes seemed less a combat game than a complex system of level-up processes, and now Roller Coaster Tycoon isn't content to just let me use in-game currency to buy a cotton candy stand...it needs me to collect a second currency through goals and achievements in order to make my cotton candy stand better, somehow. Frankly, I thought I'd leave that to my virtual cotton candy artists, because I'm much too busy building giant spectacles. Or, rather, unlocking card decks that might grace me with the ability to spend my money on a spectacle.
The game looks just great. Cartoony, but in a pleasant, pastoral way. Much like the original, but with the sharper, SimCity 2000 edges sanded down to a more modern look. I did find the "Seasonal" settings and content quite tedious, this being January and my options for decorations cluttered with santas and snowmen, et cetera. The snowy weather was just making it more difficult to see my pathway mistakes, so I turned it off. I never really understood why mobile games have ever had a temporary holiday theme glued on for a month or so, and some of them are downright militant about it from mid-September through April. RCT Touch is no different, with a Valentine's Day and Easter set on the way.
Similar to the card leveling, every aspect of the park is now a player goal, including how much scenery and decoration is surrounding a ride. This. Sucks. I don't want to spend all my time trying to re-position my begonias to overlap the three tiny rides I can afford, giving each of them a whopping two percent of decoration. I didn't even want begonias! And putting the decorations and scenery on this grid-based system with rides and other buildings, so that every tree or rock can serve to increase your stats, just makes organization a headache.
The amount of grinding is almost draconian, but luckily the achievements that pay out both currencies don't plateau too early, and if you step away from the game for an hour or so your revenue will always fill up, helping you along to your next little passion project, be it a salad shack or another haunted house. It's one of those time-wasting apps that seems designed, much like Candy Crush, to get you just far enough that you will consider making a real world purchase to move forward. But the sandbox element of the original is there, in miniature, and it's free. Can't complain too much, but it's weird that I'm seriously considering spending six bucks to just get the real game without all this micro-transaction, wait-gate nonsense that plagues the mobile platform.