Game Review - by James Allen
A new type of simulation surfaced with the appearance of RollerCoaster Tycoon: theme parks. Not only could you run an entire theme park, but you could design the rides as well. But, the lack of a 3-D environment, or the ability to actually ride from a guest's perspective was missing. Sim Theme Park gave you the ability to ride the rides, but the theme park environment was too unrealistic to make you feel that you were actually riding, rather than watching a cartoonish rendition of real life. Along comes Ultra Coaster, a game published by relatively newcomer Reactor Software that solely concentrates on roller coasters. Don't try looking for this game in stores: it's only available for purchase online. Will this seemingly small-scale operation actually be a contender for theme park simulations?
The features of Ultra Coaster seem basic at first, but after a while, the complexity becomes evident. The game consists of an editor, and the simulator, which renders the ride in three dimensions, from on board anywhere in the train, or a "free" view, which shows an overall picture of the ride. With the editor, the possibilities are endless. Rather than using pre-built pieces and connecting them together, Ultra Coaster lets the user do almost anything. The editor lets you rotate around the X, Y, and Z axes, so any real world creation can be replicated, with enough time. The only constraints come from rotating a piece too much, which bends the track in strange ways. In addition, banking is handled weird. Rather than spreading the bank equally over the length of the piece, most of the change is conducted in the middle, which results in jerky transitions, especially in inversions. Practice is needed to correctly replicate loops and corkscrews so that they feel right. During several instances, I was actually hoping for some pre-built pieces, to ease some of the difficulty in making some of the most basic coaster elements. For the casual roller coaster designer, the inclusion of pre-built pieces would alleviate some frustration.
There are also several different types of tracks, from brakes to LIM launchers, which can be used to speed up the train when you accidentally made the next hill just a bit too high. Unfortunately, different styles of track (like inverted or stand-up coasters) are not included, so you are stuck with the two-wide version.
The physics are really well done, although it does seem that the friction of the track is a little overkill.
Also, Reactor Software has set up a trading post of the best coasters, available for download by registered users, which leads to expansion of the game. Overall, the editor and simulator are well done.
The sound of the game is very basic, but cute in some instances. The sound consists of the locking restraints, the lift hill chain, and the whoosh of the train, plus some other sounds for LIMs and brakes. The sound does not distract from the game, since the sounds included are really the only sounds you hear while riding a steel monster.
Addressing a gameplay category for this game is hard, since it's more of a simulation and designer than a game. The gameplay consists of building and designing roller coasters, both of which can be considered as features, rather than gameplay. Now, as for the graphics…
This is where Ultra Coaster earns its stripes. Although it looks like a simple environment (trees and distant mountains), it's complex enough if you live out here in New Mexico, where everything is either a tree or a distant mountain. Everything is rendered in beautiful three-dimensional graphics. I can honestly say that, while riding in the front of the train, I felt a little sick looking at the next drop. Although simplistic, the graphics really deliver, and make this game really darn cool.
Ultra Coaster is a roller coaster design program, and it doesn't try to pretend to be anything else. If you are looking for a theme park simulation, try somewhere else. However, if all you want is roller coasters, Ultra Coaster is well worth the cost.