Pros: Fun gameplay, potentially infinite gameplay, popping balloons, funny cheats
Cons: No multi-player, plot or soundtrack, mowing grass
I Would Recommend If You Like: Pharaoh, Zoo Tycoon, Theme Hospital
Rollercoaster Tycoon is one of many business simulator games out there, but it is by far one of the best. Addicting and enjoyable in its simplicity, it's a softer gaming alternative compared to more challenging simulators such as Caesar.
There is no real plot in Rollercoaster Tycoon. Instead you are simply offered a choice of theme parks with their own host of objectives which you must beat in order to unlock new theme parks. Each level has its own challenges, so it doesn't get too repetitive but the premise for each one is simple - run a successful theme park which brings in the money and is competitive in terms of catering to all the customers by having a good selection of rides of varying intensity.
The fact that there's no plot allows you to play the available parks in whatever order you choose, so if you find one or two particularly challenging, you can still unlock new parks by beating the objectives on others.
Like the story, there's no real characters either. What you have are your customers - identical bar the colour of their hair, clothes, etc. And there's also your workforce, including mechanics, mascots and janitors. You can pick up any of these characters and place them wherever you want. This is both a fun and useful feature as you are able to direct janitors to messy areas for instance, but if a certain guest is getting on your nerves, you can also plonk them in the nearest pond.
There are also various cheats which you can unlock online, by which you give guests certain names which direct their behaviour - such as making them rich or even turning them into pickpockets. This is a bit of fun to while away the time as you're waiting to earn enough money to buy new rides and facilities. Or if you want just pick a favourite and call them whatever you want, you can give any guest any name you desire, as long as another guest doesn't already have the same name.
The principal idea of the gameplay is very simple - you just need to build rides, eating and toilet facilities and various other attractions to bring in customers and by extension money. You can customise your attractions quite a bit - you're able to decide how much something costs, what colour it is and what it's named. Sometimes you can also changes things like how fast a ride is or what its maximum capacity is - but be warned, faster rides are more prone to accidents!
You can also decide on how much to charge for entrance to your theme park. You may decide to employ one of many strategies here - for instance, you may decide to make all the rides free and just charge for entrance, or vice versa. Choose your prices carefully as people may decide it isn't worth what they have to pay (or they may even comment how cheap your fares are).
You also have to hire a workforce to keep your park running. These include mechanics who maintain your rides and keep them safe, handymen who clean up all the rubbish and vomit hanging around, mascots to keep people entertained in long lines and security guards who ensure that nobody's up to trouble. It's essential that you have an adequate workforce otherwise the customers will start to comment on how messy/vandalised/dangerous your park is and this will badly affect your business.
It's also worth keeping in mind that where you place things in your park can affect it positively or negatively. For example if you keep bins near food stalls the customers are more likely to throw their rubbish away rather than litter and it's a smart idea to keep a couple of benches near the more intense rides so the weaker-stomached of your guests can take a breather for a minute (otherwise things can get a little messy!)
As well as building pre-designed rides, you're also able to create your own. This is probably the most difficult aspect of the game as it's hard to make a balanced rollercoaster that's fun but not so intense that everyone who goes on it chunders everywhere. More seriously though you need to be careful that you don't create an accident waiting to happen - when you've build a ride always run a test circuit first to ensure that the customers aren't going to be careening off the end of it, as unsurprisingly, this will also negatively affect your business.
You need to cater to all your customers, which means building both intense rollercoasters and also more gentle rides for the less brave. Customers will also get annoyed if they're walking miles to get to certain rides or if the path system becomes so complex that they get lost - you are able to sell maps which help prevent this problem though. You also need to build enough toilets, food/drink stalls and other facilities such as umbrella stands and balloon stalls (one of the most addictive parts of the game is popping balloons. Just one click and pop! It's gone. I wouldn't advise you do this while the customer is still holding it though as people will quickly stop buying balloons at all).
There's a series of deals and offers, as well as advertisements that you can employ to try bring more people in. Free passes to rides and food seem to work the best in my experience - you're able to click on a customer and see if he's carrying one of your vouchers on him, so you can chart the success of any offers you put on. They do cost money though and can be carried out for varying lengths of time.
Once you've successfully fulfilled the objectives of a level, you'll unlock new challenges. They do get progressively more difficult but the majority are pretty easy, however time-consuming they may be. You shouldn't get bored as you'll also be able to research more and more new rides. There's also a sandbox mode where you can build your park from scratch, and if you so desire you can play any level on the game until the end of time.
This game's strictly one-player, so if there's several people wanting to play they'll just have to take turns. You can create infinite saves so any number of people can play.
None to speak of - any music you hear comes from the rides themselves. You are sometimes able to customise this though, so you can listen to your track of choice over and over and over again. There's also the screams of customers on large rides and general hustle and bustle of your park to listen to. Also if you click on the duck hovering around on your pond, they'll give a little quack.
Nothing special, I'd say they're fit for purpose, but nothing to write home about. All the little people look the same and you're limited in how much you can customise your rides (unless you build them yourself of course). One irritating extra is that the grass needs to be mown every now and again, and for the obsessive-compulsive amongst us, you'll have to hire a small army of handymen to cut it all. You can put some nice flowers in though - just remember to water them (yet more handymen required).
Who It's Suitable For
Beyond the occasional rollercoaster crash, there's nothing to worry about here. You shouldn't really worry about the crashes either; they're not gory or otherwise distressing. The game's rated E for Everybody.
As far as I know, Rollercoaster Tycoon will run on all systems, even newer ones, so there shouldn't be any problems there.