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Review CornerSoftware
SimCoaster — software review
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Players take on the challenging role of assistant manager and attempt to work their way up the corporate ladder in this 3D theme park simulation. With its emphasis on business management and its clearly defined objectives, this program will appeal to children who enjoy goal-driven game-play.
 Award of Excellence
Ages: 10-up months   Subject: Adventure  Brand: Maxis/Electronic Arts
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
 
 
JumpStart Baby Deluxe 2001 Product Overview
The sequel to the popular Sim Theme Park is here, bringing a new roller coaster design kit, three fantasy themes, and an all-new objective-based plot to the fun of building and managing a theme park. The president of the SimCoaster theme park is headed for retirement, and players have the chance to prove they have exactly what it takes to replace him. Working their way up the corporate ladder will involve meeting all sorts of objectives and challenges. In fact, the retiring president is leaving behind some rather lofty goals and visions for SimCoaster!

Managing a theme park is hard work — there are so many details to tend to! Of course, in this 3D simulation, the happiness of the park's visitors is paramount and dependent on a whole slew of variables. Playing as the company's new recruit, first order of business — and there's simply no escaping that this is a business! — is populating the park with attractions in the form of exciting rides (from chutes, to boat rides, to treacherous loop-the-loops), prize booths, food and drink stands, and various shops. Attractions must be strategically placed so that they are easily accessible to the park's little visitors, who now come in three shapes and sizes — kids, adults, and senior citizens. In order to keep their park in tip-top shape, players will need to hire and train gardeners, janitors, guards, and engineers. Advancing in the game means opening up new zones (there are 3 fabulously themed zones altogether), but will only be realized when challenges from Directors are accepted and mastered. Golden tickets can be won, and promotions earned. Training centers and research labs will eventually need to be constructed in order to meet the program's many, many objectives.

Management always involves trade-offs and players will strive to maintain a good balance. For example, greenery helps to settle visitors' stomachs, but gardeners will need to be hired in order to keep the trees and shrubs from withering and dying. As the park prospers, the entrance price can be raised, but if the price is set too high, potential customers will be grumbling and turning away from the park. Managers can take out loans, but will of course need to be prepared to make repayments. Pesky realities need to be dealt with, like mischief-makers who have booby-trapped the bathroom, messy consequences of the stomach-turning rides, coasters that break down, workers threatening to strike, and even freak weather conditions.

Fortunately, an onscreen Advisor is always handy with encouraging words and helpful tips. As well, players refer to their guests' happiness meter, the park's financial statistics, their bank account, incoming "e-mails", and the objective roster. Players are actively involved as they play, and happily, the game can be quite fun. Best of all, players get to test drive the rides they have built and even cruise around their park from a first-person perspective!

The fact that there are three different types of guests in SimCoaster (kids, adults, and seniors), each with different needs and characteristics, adds depth to the game and makes the ever-present goal of keeping guests happy all the more challenging. Besides the happiness thermometer that displays a global measure of their contentment, players can view individual guests' pictorial thought bubbles or refer to statistics that display the dominant thoughts of customers for more details. A roller coaster design kit allows players to take a breather from the demands of the simulation in order to focus on building custom coasters. Once constructed, these roller coasters can then be plunked back into the theme park. This coaster editor is surprisingly easy to use, and, in fact, some users might complain that it is a little too easy.

A nice bonus feature allows children to e-mail screenshots of their park to friends via the program's E-mail Postcard feature. An Internet connection will be necessary, as well as registration at www.simcoaster.com.

There are 15 levels of play, and these quickly become challenging. This sequel is considerably more focused on business management as players are now working toward a clear goal. Our 10-year-old tester enjoyed the game, though as he advanced, he found himself easily overwhelmed by details. At one point, he opted to turn off the Advisor, complaining that she was becoming annoying with all her news of problems around the park. However, he quickly reversed his decision, admitting that her tips were indeed necessary. There is a hectic feeling to the game even in the absence of time constraints, only because of the seemingly endless problems demanding a player's attention. Despite this, our tester remained impressed with the game overall.

Kids who prefer more open-ended game-play might be better off sticking with Sim Theme Park. However, SimCoaster's business bent and clear missions will appeal to children who enjoy the challenges of goal-based games.

Technically Speaking
Windows 95/98/ME (Windows NT/2000 not supported), 233 MHz Intel Pentium MMX or AMD K6 processor, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM/DVD-ROM. 4 MB video card with DirectX 7.0a compatible driver, 3D accelerated mode requires a 16 MB Direct3D capable video card, DirectX 7.0a compatible sound card. 415 MB of hard drive space is the bare minimum, as more space is required for saved games and DirectX 7.0a installation.

Skills Covered
strategy, management, planning

Educational Value
This simulation keeps children on their toes and keenly involved. It strikes a nice balance between education and entertainment, and helps develop valuable real-world thinking skills. Careful balancing and strategic planning are necessary in order to fulfill the objectives of the game. The program gives children a good sense of the business mechanics behind enterprises such as a theme park that can easily be taken for granted. For example, they can't overspend — or under spend, for that matter — without consequences.

Entertainment Value
Children who enjoy challenges will find the game very absorbing and involving. Riding the coasters players have built is great fun, as is walking through the amusement park from a guest's point of view. The three themed zones of the park — Arabian Nights, Polar Zone, and Land of Invention — each have a whimsical and exciting look to them and boast fanciful rides and attractions.

Design
The program supports both Direct3D hardware acceleration as well as non-accelerated PCs. Load times can be agonizingly long. Because the interface is so well designed, the program is especially easy to use for children on the lower end of the suggested age group. A blue-haired, onscreen Advisor pops up to supply tips, provide encouragement, and mostly alert users to problems in the park.

Replayability
There are 15 levels to the program, golden tickets to win, and an overall goal - factors that will keep many players coming back for more. Because there are so many interdependent variables to play with, it's never the same game twice, and the simulation will hold up well over the long term.

Dollar Value
This CD-ROM retails for $39.95 US.

Released: 2001
Reviewed: February 2001