The RollerCoaster Tycoon name may have been tarnished by more recent releases—I’m looking at you RollerCoaster Tycoon 4, RollerCoaster Tycoon World and RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures—but Planet Coaster seems to be the true successor to the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, as Atari just can’t be trusted to put out good games using the IP anymore. But if you want to see Planet Coasters’ roots, and play the last (and arguable greatest) RollerCoaster Tycoon game, it’s back on Steam—and has made its way over to Nintendo Switch as well.
This is it. This is the classic premier RollerCoaster Tycoon experience. RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 is a park management game where you play as a manager for several different parks, guiding them to success (or failure!) and meeting certain objectives on the way. Or you can choose to play entirely on your own terms—even without money requirement in sandbox mode—and build the theme park of your wildest imagination. Then you get to skip the line, and get in a first person view to ride the rides you put down, or designed. It really doesn’t get much better than this, and even for a game that originally released in 2004, it still holds up.
Sixteen years of video games haven’t really changed Tycoon-style games too much, and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 feels almost modern. Of course, for a game that’s sixteen years old it’s definitely showing its age. The PC version has been enhanced slightly to be compatible with widescreen monitors, but it doesn’t support any resolution above 1080p. That’s a bit of a disappointment, though just a small one. I was expecting a sixteen year old game, but if they upgraded it at all, I wish more would have been done to modernize it.
RollerCoast Tycoon 3 Complete Edition comes with all of the DLC—even though I think they were even still calling them “expansion packs” back then. Soaked! Is all about water park features, and comes with its own challenges to work your way through. Wild! Is similar, but with an emphasis on animals and enclosures—and which features mechanics are very familiar to the Jurassic World management game that came out a few years ago. No dinosaurs in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, but you still have to cage dangerous creatures so they can’t get out and attack your guests.
So what makes Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 the best of the RollerCoaster Tycoon series? Well, first of all, Frontier Developments worked with series creator Chris Sawyer at different stages in development, so the feel of the first two is definitely still alive for the third. But Frontier added a lot of their own touches, like multi-tiered challenges, and tweaks in the way the customers enter and interact with the parks. Park guests, of course, have desires that you have to fulfill to keep them coming back, and make your park to be profitable. Probably the best thing about RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 is the freedom it gives you.
When you play one of the parks in the career mode you’re given a series of objectives. To pass, you have to complete at least one—but if you complete all three, you’re proving you’re the best park Tycoon there is. The most glorious thing about this is that you can approach these objectives any way you’d like. There isn’t someone constantly telling you what you can build or not—that’s only limited by space and money.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is absolutely packed with content, especially with the two expansion packs. There are hundreds of rides and scenery pieces, dozens of shops to take your guests’ money, and about twenty or so animals to put on display. Each of these are full 3D objects, even though that’s 3D from 2004—but it still holds up.
Graphically, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 surprisingly holds up. It is by no means AAA quality, but it is almost compatible with modern graphics—almost. Zoomed out, especially with lots of pieces, parks look pretty impressive. But when you zoom in, you can really see the low polygon counts. Fortunately, the art style is cohesive enough to make it not really matter so much. It’s really a bummer that the UI is so damn tiny though. It gives plenty of information, but you have to click through frustratingly small icons to get to it all.
Even after 16 years it’s hard to make an argument against RollerCoaster Tycoon 3—and it remains one of the best park management games out there, and definitely the best RollerCoaster Tycoon title. Heavy nostalgia recommended, but definitely not required to enjoy this classic.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR
You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites at twitch.tv/bokor