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RollerCoaster Tycoon (PC)
MSRP: $19.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Chris Sawyer
Publisher: Microprose/Hasbro Interactive

Rating:
****
out of
*****

For as long as I've been playing PC games, I've enjoyed those that provide an experience you simply can't get anywhere else. I've especially enjoyed the games that make up the "God game" genre, like Civilization and Sim City. So, it comes as little surprise that I'd be interested in a game like RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Although not really a "God game," you are in charge of all operations of an amusement park. Sound like 1995's Theme Park? Well, it is, but it's a lot more detailed and a lot more realistic. It also places a lot more emphasis on designing and building your own rides and attractions, rather than competing with other parks or selling stock.

The game moves through different scenarios which ask you to complete certain goals to move on to the next. The first, for instance, asks you to take a park called Forest Frontiers through one year of operation and finish with 250 guests and $10,000 in cash. (You can also complete a tutorial on how to play the game in order to skip this first scenario.) Each progressive scenario ups the ante by increasing the number of guests required, the approval rating your park must receive and the amount of cash you must have on hand.

Each scenario also allows different types of rides, depending on your park's surroundings. In some scenarios, such as the rainy Katie's World, you must provide a lot of indoor attractions to keep your approval rating high. In the desert setting of Dynamite Dunes, you might want to sell ice cream at a higher price than you would in a cooler climate.

The real fun of RollerCoaster Tycoon isn't really found in the financial aspects of the game, it's in the building and upkeep of your park. Aside from building the rides (or designing the them from scratch), you have to hire handymen, mechanics, security guards and entertainers. You also have to build snack bars, information kiosks, bathrooms and provide adequate staffing to keep the guests happy.

Watching the guests is a lot of fun too. Thanks to the detailed graphics, you can watch them eat, vomit, read maps and complain about things. If your guests enjoy a ride, they'll jump for joy as they exit. You have to keep an eye on their comments to find out what you're doing right as well as what you can improve on. Does a ride cost too much? Is a rollercoaster too intense? The guests will tell you and it's up to you to act on their suggestions to keep them happy.

Aside from keeping the guests happy, you'll have to watch out for broken rides, vandals, and poor park design (i.e. paths that don't go anywhere, etc.) You can even name each ride and watch as the name is displayed on a scrolling banner above its entrance. There's a lot to do but, thankfully, the game is so well designed, it's fun to do it all.

The game is controlled through a series of pull down menus and mouse commands. The park is designed in a grid-like manner, so adding an attraction is as simple as picking it and placing it on the grid. The game's biggest flaw is that sometimes during the design of a ride, it can get a bit tricky finding a way to line the tracks up right. This isn't a major flaw, just a frustrating one that takes a little getting used to. Other than that, the game's fairly intuitive and easy-to-control.

The graphics, while not top-of-the-line 3D, are detailed and downright charming in their intricacy. The guests double over as they puke, the entertainers dance in that dopey costumed character manner we all hate, as well as many other nice touches. The game allows you to single out guests and employees and watch them in a window of their own, so it's easy to keep track of what everyone's doing. The game plays equally as well in 640x480, 800x600, or 1024x768 resolution.

The game's sound and music do a good job of providing an amusement park atmosphere. As you move around the park, you'll hear your guests as they mill about the park, the roar of the rollercoasters, and the music from the merry-go-round. Aside from the occasional cough of someone throwing up, there isn't a lot in the way of sound effects. However, what is present is detailed and life-like.

RollerCoaster Tycoon, with all of its details, goals and customizable attractions, might sound like a game too daunting to be tackled by anyone. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It's addictive, easy-to-play and, most importantly, a LOT of fun.

With all the recent hoopla about how violent videogames are, RollerCoaster Tycoon provides a welcome alternative. It's family safe, non-violent and still manages to be adult enough without being too simple or kiddified. If it weren't for the minor control flaws, it'd be damn near perfect.

RollerCoaster Tycoon is my pick, so far, for PC game of the year.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 (200 MMX Recommended), 16 MB RAM minimum (32 preferred), Windows 9x, 1 MB SVGA card (2 MB SVGA recommended), DirectX 5.0 (included), 4X CD-ROM drive (8X recommended), and 50 MB of disk space.

Tested on a: Intel Pentium II 233, 32 MB RAM, 32X CD-ROM, 4 MB AGP video card, DirectX 6.1, AW35 PnP soundcard, Logitech MouseMan, and Windows 98.

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