Thrills, speed and explosive vomit showers
Any reference of roller coasters and video games always end up with the incredibly addictive Rollercoaster Tycoon by Chris Sawyer. When I first got my hands on it, little I know the amount of hours I would devote to creating the most amazing amusement park ever.
Coaster Crazy from Frontier Developments — the same people behind LostWinds — picked some parts of the successful formula and dress them with a very distinguishable style. Perhaps knowing about the amount of gamers approaching their thirties who graduated in roller coaster engineering playing Tycoon, Coaster Crazy is a more approachable, casual but equally witty roller coaster builder specifically designed for touch devices.
The game starts introducing you to the crazies. These tubby characters are real roller coaster fans with their very special expectations of what a good ride should be. In addition to being unconditional testers for your designs, they set the goals you need to achieve to continue to the next level. These range from track length, special features, air time, fun factor and other roller coaster important measurements — apparently. These challenges work as a guide for your designs while encouraging the player to test different options, tweak the track and try different things. The three goal objective per level is somehow reminiscent of the one used in Jetpack Joyride. It works.
Less tycoon, more building
Coaster Crazy focuses exclusively in roller coaster design. There's no micromanagement, arranging attractions on a park or anything like this. You buy land in different locations around the world and are allowed to build one single roller coaster. Every plot, or level, comes with its own limitations, objectives and at times, parts of track already built for you.
The building part itself can feel too finicky at the beginning but it's based on some simple rules and attributes for each component of the track. Soon you'll gets used to the touch mechanics to make a loop wider, smooth a slope and twist the track slightly inwards in a sharp curve. I know this sounds a bit complex but it makes sense when you are at it.
Compared with my previous engineering experiences in Rollercoaster Tycoon Deluxe, the touch screen controls give you a huge amount of options. There's and incredible amount of detail and choices for tweaking. The few limitations such as the height, track length and amount of mechanical pieces you start with make sense and never get in the way enough to annoy you.
Sit back and watch
While my favourite part is the design itself, Coaster Crazy forces you to test your ride until you get it right. The game collects an incredible amount of data, which in most cases is so cryptic that doesn't help you in anyway. The final report will tell you your nausea factor is high but you don't really know what to do to reduce it.
All the testing involves watching a repetitive set-piece with the Crazies as your roller coaster guinea pigs. The 3D animation is really well done, mixing brilliant character design and animation with different camera angles to showcase the best parts of the ride. In practice, it becomes tedious to see pretty much the same animations, specially when you cannot skip it. I would appreciate any way to speed it up, or see it from a bird's eye view to appreciate the speed of the cars.
After every test run you get a score and the result compared against the level challenges. In the early levels is easy to get everything even on the first attempts, later becoming increasingly difficult. The frustration here comes in how cryptic the scoring system is, not really knowing why your roller coaster ranks so low when it's clearly superior than the previous one you designed that scored much higher.
I wouldn't mind the swing of tweaking and testing if I didn't have to watch the same animation with the same repetitive music again. It's quite disheartening to watch the 30 second sequence to get a low result not knowing exactly why.
There are some visual clues in the test runs that I have been using as a reference. In addition to being penalised for losing one passenger, this shows where a track turn is too radical. This has an easy fix. Then you can use the amount of people throwing up as a guide — the game guide says it has to do with G forces — and try to smooth the areas involved. The more I progress in the game the more vomit showers I'm getting from the Crazies, so maybe this is a good thing. I'll never know.
Doesn't feel like a freemium ride
Coaster Crazy is free to download and uses some minimal in-app purchases to speed up the timers. The premium currency (gems) is used to purchase cool special track parts and to accelerate the acquisition of land rights to expand your park empire. Other than that, the game feels pretty generous and is perfectly playable before hitting any paywall.
Overall I'm really pleased with Coaster Crazy. Sure, this isn't the tycoon game that made me fall in love with virtual amusements parks, but seeing the direction of simulation games in the last years, I'd rather have this than a RollercoasterVille.
The production level here is of an astonishing high standard. The character design is fantastic, bringing a lot of the style seen in LostWinds. The 3D animations, playback and gesture interaction feel superb, closer to a premium gaming experience of graphically superior platforms.
Given the constrains of the App Store and the general casual audience, Coaster Crazy does a great job introducing design and building concepts that would be otherwise too complex or niche. The end product doesn't strike me as a perfectly round product, mostly for the endless video repetition you are forced to swallow while testing your designs.
The developer just told me there's an option to skip the animations tapping on the screen. Didn't do the trick for me with the current version.