Rollercoaster Tycoon is one of the most influential PC game series ever. The franchise revolves around building and managing your own theme park. While that is the main goal, Rollercoaster Tycoon offers a giant sandbox where gamers create their own coasters, their own scenarios and much more.
The series has seen four main line releases and a variation of mobile spinoffs. The first Rollercoaster Tycoon was released in 1999. For this ranking, the emphasis will be on the four PC games with the title Rollercoaster Tycoon. I know Planet Coaster is developed by Frontier Developments, the same studio that made Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, but for this list it doesn’t count. Here are the Rollercoaster Tycoon games ranked.
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Rollercoaster Tycoon Games Ranked
Rollercoaster Tycoon World (2016)
Right off the bat, we have the worst entry in the series. Rollercoaster Tycoon World is the most recent PC release in the series and has more than 99 problems with it. Sloppy game design, lack of innovation, weird gameplay choices, glitches, complicated UI and a lot more. Feedback was universally negative. Fans of the series felt it was a slap in the face. Besides, Planet Coaster launched in the same week and proved to be a much better game. In the end, the entire game was a complete failure.
What also didn’t help the vibe around the game was the release of mobile games Rollercoaster Tycoon Classic and Rollercoaster Tycoon Touch barely a month later. Classic was a mobile port of RCT1 & RCT2, while Touch was a mobile version of Rollercoaster Tycoon World. Making the entire product seem like a quick cash grab by Atari Interactive.
Rollercoaster Tycoon (1999)
Just found out that my favourite game as a kid "RollerCoaster Tycoon" was developed by a single dude. And not only that…
HE WROTE IT IN ASSEMBLY CODE
If you know just a little bit about programming you know how absolutely insane that is.
— Till (@tillmusshoff) March 27, 2023
This is where it all begins. Rollercoaster Tycoon was an evolution of Chris Sawyer’s Transport Tycoon from 1994. Built on the same engine and using similar mechanics. With all expansions, the game has 81 scenarios for you to try and beat. A basic scenario usually works as follows: you gain control over a pre-built theme park and need to improve it, until you get the required number of guests within a certain time span. RCT is a great example of easy-to-learn, hard-to-master. Some are more challenging than others. Forest Frontiers, for example, is great for tutorial purposes and learning the game, while Rainbow Valley is very tricky.
Just like future releases, the game has a huge variation in pre-built rides and the ability to build your own. Especially the detail in which you can build your own park is impressive. From decorative scenery to necessary objects like toilets, the game gives you the tools to build whatever you have in mind. The game holds up in current times, while the graphics look dated, it gives a certain kind of charm. Sound design is great and impressively the AI of the guests is very well done.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 (2004)
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 was the first full scale RCT game released by Frontier Developments. They had previously developed the Xbox port of RCT1 and expansions Wacky Worlds and Time Twister for RCT 2. Frontier had big shoes to fill, as RCT3 was not primarily developed by Chris Sawyer. He was involved as a consultant, but remained mostly hands off in production. The graphics were fully in 3D, which caused some minor problems for some people. While some of the magic was lost, the spirit of the game still remained intact.
The game offered you scenarios, but now presented it to you as a career mode. Core gameplay stayed the same. You need to build the park to meet requirements. Some quality of life improvements were made, as well as bigger emphasis on guest experiences. Certainly the biggest introduction was the ability to see your park as a guest in first person view. If VR had existed back then, many kids will have thought differently about their creations.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 had two expansion packs, “Soaked!” and “Wild!”. Soaked added the ability to make it a giant water park. With giant slides, giant pools and everything in between. Famously in RCT 1 & RCT 2 guest couldn’t swim which has impacted many childhoods I can imagine. Overall, Frontier did an excellent job with this game. It’s a shame this was the “last” good RollerCoaster Tycoon game, almost 20 years later. Although, Planet Coaster is excellent if you don’t care much about name value.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 (2002)
This is the holy grail in the series in my opinion. Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 continues where RCT1 left off. More coasters, more rides, more scenery options. The variation of scenarios is quite fun. Some parks have very specific requirements, like Bumbly Bazaar. In which the player needs to generate a monthly income of $1000 through shops and stalls.
The game speaks for itself at this point. The only minor complaint about the game is the order in which the original scenarios are placed. The scenarios itself are very well done, but the increase in difficulty can be jarring for players. Especially as a kid, playing this game for hours on end, not knowing why I couldn’t beat Amity Airfield.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 is through and through an excellent game. Personally, I’ve spent thousands of hours in this game. To this day, I still come back once in a while, and it’s not too late to jump in. The community around this game is incredible and welcoming. YouTubers like Marcel Vos still make regular videos explaining the mechanics of the game. So new players can learn and play the game. It shows the strength of this franchise that over 20 years later. There are videos, forums and active Discord servers dedicated to this very game.
This ranking wouldn’t be complete without another mention of Chris Sawyer. The creator of the series. From game design, to mechanics that by and large work well, to the overall enjoyment of the game. What he built mostly by himself is outstanding. Many Tycoon games still can’t reach the level of the original Rollercoaster Tycoon games. Perhaps I should boot up one of these games right now.
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