ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON REVIEW
It's that time again. The chance that comes around only two or three times a year. The opportunity to look at a completely unfamiliar pinball playfield and fathom out the shots, the rules and the reasoning.
Readers of Pinball News will of course already seen the RollerCoaster Tycoon playfield pictures and learned a great deal about the game, but what it all boils down to, is that you can never know a game until you've played it.
First impressions are often as far as a pinball game ever gets in a crowded arcade, so how does RCT (as I'll refer to it from now on) fare in this regard?
You've seen the pictures and there's no denying that it's a striking game. The bold use of colours on the playfield, lighting, inserts and wireforms makes the look like a cross between The Simpsons (no, the Data East version) and Roadshow. In reality, the colours are much warmer than any flash photography can illustrate making the game look inviting and friendly.
When you first see one you'll want to take a moment to survey the playfield before you pop your money in the coin slot because there are a lot of targets and several surprising ball paths at the top.
Politics aside, press the start button and out pops the first ball. The music is low key - neither irritating nor inspirational.
Finally, you can plunge the ball hard to send it round the right loop into the rollovers and/or the pop bumpers. Making the rollovers increments the bonus multiplier. Getting it up to 6X lights extra ball at the right ramp.
So we plunge the ball and get the most bizarre sound quote. I think it says "The park is open" but the "open" bit is missing and replaced by a Klaxon type sound and the whole thing is very echoey. If the volume was cranked up it would be turned down again very quickly as this sound is annoying and puzzling. As you get this with every attempt to score the skill shot I hope it's a bug as there are a few sound problems in this revision of the software, but even so it's not a great start to the game.
This is crucial because several times the ball was ejected unexpectedly - once it was half way through a replay animation - with no verbal or display warning. It may reduce ball time but it leaves you feeling cheated.
Anyway, we've got the ball at the flippers so what do we shoot for?
The aim of the game is to `build' several rollercoaster attractions - you do this by shooting each of them three times to change their associated traffic lights from red to green. When you've opened all three rollercoasters, the centre ramp (Flying Ghost) and left ramp (Chicago Loop) are lit for lock in the left shooter lane.
You can lock two balls and then shoot the right ramp (Flying Turds, sorry I mean Turns) to start multiball. This starts with a great display animation - easily the best of the game - and leads to various ramps lit for jackpot or super jackpot. I found it confusing and hard to know which ramps score jackpots and which don't. There are inserts to let you know but it's hard to look for them during multiball.
Multiball doesn't earn huge amounts - even with loads of Super Jackpots - which makes for a well balanced scoring system. The biggest earner is the Park Tycoon mode which you get once you've played all six regular modes. You can earn over 5M points in this wizard mode without too much effort, which is a lot of points (I think Super Jackpot raked in a modest 200K) for this low-scoring game. Default #1 score was 15M but that obviously didn't last long.
A lot of fuss has been made about the Troll/Doll character at the top left of the playfield.
And while I'm talking about that area of the playfield, it's worth investigating the various loops and paths up there. It's vaguely reminiscent of Independence Day with a choice of loops or shots from the upper right flipper but it's got more targets including a row of drops and several standups - both grouped and individual. It takes quite a while to get to know them all and what they achieve, but it's time well spent as it's one of the game's highlights for me.
By way of contrast, the lower left flipper is a modest little affair, hiding it's charms under the lock diverter. It only has two shots - the skill shot sinkhole to build the snack booths and the row of three E-A-T standups below it, so it's easy to forget all about it but it plays an important roll in preventing left side drains and the angling makes it hard to shoot the ball straight down the right outlane.
The exit of the Scrambled Eggs can be tricky if the ball dribbles out but it's not a sucker shot - the only shot to fit that description is the Info Scoop which gives out random awards so it's a player friendly game in that respect.
Ball drains came from failed centre ramp shots, weak Scrambled Eggs exits and dubious Info scoop kickouts. The potential for failed Chicago Loop shots to go SDTM didn't materialise making the game as much fun to play as it looked.
There was no sound when a ball drained down an outlane which isn't something you usually think about but it was very noticeable by its absence. You did sometime get a delayed quote of "The Chicago Loop is" which isn't a huge help.
Once you've got used to the idiosyncrasies detailed above it's a thoroughly enjoyable game. You can build a good rhythm of ramps shots (Chicago Loop > Flying Ghosts > Chicago Loop etc.)
I did see some nice ones during attract mode "Other games thought they had a monopoly on this sign" but that aside it seemed under-utilised. How about counting down the number of points needed for a replay or to get a place on the high score table?
So now it's time to rate the individual elements and the overall package that is RollerCoaster Tycoon.
The imagery is lovely. Nicely detailed and bright with the usual Youssi cheeriness. The coloured wireforms look totally appropriate and the bold side cabinet artwork, while not exactly inspirational, benefits from a well designed initial logo to create a well blended whole.
Perhaps I'm getting used to it by now, but the lack of animated backbox lighting has slowly ceased to be an issue. It's true that it detracts from the overall light show at celebratory times but that aside I think I'm reluctantly accepting the change. The rest of the lighting is very nicely done. The clear ramp glows red from the rollover lane separators and the doll's hair picks up colours too. The multitude of coloured inserts adds to the carnival feel.
Sound is probably the most disappointing element for me. In fairness, the music level was quite low on the game I played, but the quotes never made me chuckle and occasionally had me wondering what was going on. When the ball is trapped behind the maintenance man standup there's a jumble of different quotes, some cut short by the next, making it hard to know exactly what is happening. I'd like to hear more of the music before making a judgement on it but nothing caught my ear.
The game's rules were surprisingly easy to get the hang of and left me thinking there are a number of niceties I've yet to understand, which is how I like to leave a game after the initial play - it makes you want to come back and find out a bit more next time. After some confusion with Monopoly I think these rules are clearer with distinct modes and the prospect of a wizard mode at the end. Multiball is slightly unclear but not enough to stop you planning a path towards it. The game coped well with the very few hardware problems that occurred and there was no cause to remove the glass.
Whenever we get these first tastes of a new game it is always a combination of excitement and trepidation, expectations and disappointments, hopes and fears. Is this the holy grail of pinball games or is it a real dog not worthy of fitting a power lead?
In reality, it's always somewhere between these two and often the true worth is only revealed after many many plays. RCT has some very nice features and they are really the product of intelligent playfield design, not based on toys which will break or become tedious. The rules fit around the theme without suffocating it. The sound needs improvements but importantly those improvements can be made whereas a poor initial design cannot.
I think this is Pat Lawlor's best designed game for quite a while - I think we probably need to go as far back as RoadShow to find anything comparable, possibly before that. And when you start the show with a good design, it takes a lot of poor supporting players to foul up the performance and thankfully that hasn't happened here. RollerCoaster Tycoon has shown itself to be a very capable game. It's not a great game, but it is very good and you should seek out one to play.
Finally, a big thank you to Kevin Weir and the good folks at Electrocoin for their hospitality and supporting pinball in the UK.
© Pinball News 2002