For every time a theme park construction platform gets dropped, it seems another is erected immediately after. With Park Beyond, being the upcoming contender in the fold, making its way to join the roster, now seems to be as good a time as any to resurrect the genre that once engulfed the gaming monopoly and won over the hearts of millions.
Time and time again, we've shifted our weight around as park tycoons, eager to make the next global sensation. We've hired, fired, and most definitely perspired, all to reach that bittersweet victory with a million dollars of debt, and a trending resort with a litter of kids fueled by ambivalence. The question is, which video game captured the heart of the genre in the best possible way, and which one are we still happily sinking hours into even to this day?
5. Theme Park World
Personally, Theme Park World brings back more memories from the early noughties than most PlayStation One games combined. So strewn in iconic moments and quotes is it, that I often struggle to sleep at night, knowing full well there's a chance that the tedious blob, professionally known as the Advisor, might just intercept my dreams and tell me I need to adjust my ticket prices for the eightieth time.
Having said that, there's a reason why Theme Park World was so darn memorable. It was Bullfrog Productions at its best, filled with excellent tracks, coasters, settings, and of course, features, by the boatload. Roaming the shambles of a park I spent four hours constructing only to have it go up in flames along with every last cent I owned, in all honesty, were some of the best highlights from my childhood years. Even today, the park disasters that plagued my console still echo in my mind, reminding me of all the times I had with Theme Park World‘s vivid suite.
4. RollerCoaster Tycoon 2
RollerCoaster Tycoon is hands down one of the most influential theme park simulators of all time. Excluding the fact its third entry didn't sit all that well with long-term fans of the series, its overall appeal still shines bright to this day, and we'd be lying if we said we didn't miss its earliest achievements, mainly RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, which launched back in 2002.
Besides the wider variety of coasters and features, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 also went the extra mile by implementing customizable scenarios, as well as giving the whole appearance a well-deserved overhaul. For its time, it was a revolutionary concept, complete with all the bells and whistles to sponge hundreds—if not thousands—of hours out of the creative waterfalls locked within.
Whenever I think of Thrillville, I immediately recall the hundreds of hours I spent hunched over a PSP in the back of a car, listening to KT Tunstall's “Suddenly I See” as I patrolled the borders of my newly erected theme park, clicking my fingers and devising new ways to draw visitors to the fruits of my labor. That, to me, is Thrillville, in a nutshell.
Excluding the park building aspect of the game, being able to simply create a character and walk around the park was a pleasure on its own. Sure, it's a pretty common feature these days. But in 2006, it was viewed in a whole other light, and was partly the reason why so many flocked to its defence when new games started to steal its thunder. All in all, Thrillville was a barrel of fun, as well as a worthy accessory to the park management and sim network. The best construction game on the market? Not quite.
Breaking into the best of the best, it's Texel Raptors' Parkitect, a 2016 park management simulator that brewed all the familiar sources that once helped build the beloved Theme Park World. And that's partly the reason why it was so successful. It refused to beat around the bush and be something else entirely. Instead, it proudly stapled its greatest influences to its core, and simply chose to embellish them with a few minor changes.
While Parkitect is somewhat reminiscent of the chain of Bullfrog works from decades prior to its release, it is still very much a prime example of how one particular design can still become a roaring success. With a crisp and almost cartoonized style to accompany its in-depth management tool kit and dashboard, it quickly becomes a new family favourite, with all the features to keep creative minds trucking on for months on end.
1. Planet Coaster
If you're genuinely interested in losing years to a theme park construction game, then Planet Coaster is, quite simply, everything you will ever need and more. It goes way beyond the norm in terms of available features, and thrives on giving its players an endless palette of tools to build whatever the heart desires. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
From customizable firework displays to sky-high coasters, interactive animatronics to underground cafeterias, Planet Coaster has the whole shebang wrapped up in one incredibly meaty package. Its settings are vibrant and vigorous, and its every nook and cranny offers a boatload of opportunities to branch out and build something fresh and exciting. Whatever it is you're drawing up in your head, chances are, Planet Coaster will give you all the necessary tools to bring it to life.
So, what's your take? Do you agree with our top five? Which theme park games would you have ranked the highest? Let us know over on our socials here or down in the comments below.