Park Beyond Review – Just Add Popcorn and a Barf Bag

Park Beyond Review

Way back in a long-ago day, I thought Rollercoaster Tycoon was the absolute pinnacle of sims. I spent hundreds of hours with that game and, especially, its sequel, building rides and parks. It’s hard to imagine it now, but I thought those primitive, pixelated theme parks and rides were totally realistic. I could smell the popcorn and feel each drop and loop in my stomach. Decades later, we have Park Beyond. Does it earn a spot in my personal pantheon of theme park games?

Nothing’s Impossible

As you can tell, I have a soft spot for theme park and coaster builders. For the past several years, I’ve turned to the excellent Planet Coaster for my coaster-building fix. Park Beyond aims to occupy the same approximate niche. It has a stylized, lighthearted cartoonish style. It isn’t a hardcore coaster design tool for physics nerds. But it does one thing that the other sims don’t.

That special hook is being able to — in the game’s lingo — “impossify ” rides. Meet certain conditions and you can impossify a ride, shop, and even staff in all sorts of ridiculous ways. This means that, in addition to the usual coaster elements like loops and drops, you can add cannons or impossible, hyperspeed launchers, just to name a few, tamer tools. The idea is to move away from realism towards giddy, “what if” scenarios.

Unlocking an attraction’s impossification comes from its amazement level. This stat is one of a handful of variables to keep track of, including fun, profit, and cleanliness. Compared to some sims, the number of stats is relatively manageable but the game doesn’t always explain what they mean or how to boost them. Some stats, like fun, can feel wildly inconsistent. Ride placement or an exciting design isn’t always important to your finicky guests.

Even the ability to impossify a ride beyond the basic level is locked behind an escalating amazement requirement. The more you want to add ever-more-ridiculous elements, the harder it becomes. It seems a little contrary to Park Beyond’s mission of crazy, unhinged-from-reality fun. 

Design Chops

The campaign’s tutorial takes you from someone dreaming of fanciful rides to the basics of building coasters through a twisty urban environment. The campaign keeps adding to your toolbox as it tosses design and perhaps too many stat challenges your way. Of course, while the campaign is great for learning the ropes, I — and I’m sure many others — head to the sandbox mode as soon as possible. That’s not to cast shade on the campaign. It’s lighthearted and definitely establishes the vibe the Park Beyond is going for. But it can be a creativity-draining slog, too, prioritizing hitting stats over fun.

In addition to the usual food stalls, shops, restrooms, and other amenities, Park Beyond divvies up the attractions into the coasters that you cobble together, and flat rides, which are pre-fab attractions you can plop down anywhere there’s space. Like Planet Coaster, Park Beyond allows you to get very granular when customizing the look and theme of your buildings. The coaster design process, however, is quite different. In Park Beyond, you connect the start and end of the track, then push, pull, and twist into the shape you want.

Maybe it’s because the controls in Planet Coaster are so familiar — either with mouse/keyboard or controller — I felt less immediately successful in Park Beyond and didn’t enjoy the building process as much, especially using a controller with the PC version. The camera was harder to finesse, and there were some bugs and issues with collision detection and precise placement of objects. Frame rate drops and stutters were a frequent guest during the campaign.

Colorful as Cotton Candy

Both Planet Coaster and Park Beyond share the same basic aesthetics. The park guests are likeable cartoons and the worlds are vibrantly colorful. Both are stylized, but Planet Coaster focuses a bit more on realism, especially when it comes to the physics of rides and attractions. The core of Park Beyond is to build impossible creations that defy both the limitations of the human body and real-world engineering.

Theme park and coaster sims have come a long, long way since Rollercoaster Tycoon hijacked my free time. Park Beyond is a generally approachable and inviting sim that’s definitely not for the realism-minded. Its campaign is held back by an unpredictable and not well-explained economic model, but it’s pretty easy to get lost in the sandbox, enjoying the intentional impossibility of your creations.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Colorful and appealing visuals
  • Fun “impossible” upgrade mechanic
  • Engaging sandbox mode

The Bad

  • Frustrating economics
  • Bugs and framerate issues
  • Building controls are finicky