Want to build an amusement park? Johan has been digging into the newly released Namco title Park Beyond.
There have been a few amusement park games over the years. Theme Park, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and Planet Coaster to name a few. What most of them have in common is that they try to be somewhat realistic when it comes to park management. Park Beyond tries a new teacup-style spin on its rides.
And it probably takes something special to break into this genre these days. A genre that had its heyday decades ago. Because apart from Planet Coaster, it's not exactly a successful market. Parkitect received great reviews five years ago, but never reached the masses and now has 200 to 300 daily players on Steam compared to Planet Coaster which has ten times as many. Otherwise, it's dry on the front of theme park builders. The developers Limbic Entertainment know this and chose to go for a mix of the classic formula and pure madness to make their game stand out.
Because at its core, it's a regular park sim. Open shops, rides, roller coasters, hire cleaners, keep the economy in the green and so on. There are the classic things like pirate ships and Ferris wheels and it would have been a perfectly fine game if they had just stuck to the tried and true. But what if we put a real cannon on that roller coaster and shoot the carriage free in the air over to the next part? Or what if the pirate ship suddenly splits into three when it swings around and is attacked by tentacles? Or why not take the Ferris wheel and add more wheels to the same attraction, like some kind of gears? It's stuff like that that takes Park Beyond over that hump to feel special. I've always been a fan of this genre and it's fun to try things that are not so expected.
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A good place to get started and learn the basics is the campaign mode. The whole story is based on the fact that the large corporation Cloudstormer is now in a bit of trouble and needs something new to become what they once were. And the one to save them is, of course, us. It starts with one of the employees finding one of our drawings we made in our apartment and we immediately get the chance to meet the managers. Phil is a real old maniac who wants to see everything new and exciting and dangerous. Izzy is the more serious one and tries to keep the budget above water.
The characters are decently written if you think that's important in a game about carousels. It starts simple with how you draw paths, place attractions and shops and so on. Then comes a choice about which target group you want to focus on for the first park. The game divides visitors into three different categories, which are families, teenagers and adults. These three groups like different things. Each shop and attraction shows how much these groups like it and if you're trying to attract more adults, you might want to put out a shop that sells coffee, which adults love, but families (children) and teenagers hate. Calm rides are favorites with families, but not with teenagers who prefer dangerous stuff and energy drinks. It's never confusing about who likes what and it's always clearly shown. The campaign is divided into eight different chapters with more and more difficult challenges. I would have liked to see a longer campaign and I hope more will be added eventually.
Once you have completed, or feel done with, the campaign mode, you can jump into the sandbox mode and create the fairground of your dreams. There are 26 different maps to choose from, which is obviously a lot. Unfortunately, there are no automatically generated maps or the ability to change anything before you start playing each map. What can be changed is how much money you start with, difficulty level and the like. Once inside, you can shape the park however you want with different tools to adjust land masses, add water and more. Things we're used to seeing from similar games. The same goes for researching new attractions. This is done by reaching the next park level based on cleanliness and fun.
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And to add to the fun for visitors, the aforementioned modifications come into play. These are called 'impossifying' and make the impossible possible. Besides having different target audiences, each attraction also has three scales for profitability, amazement and fun. For example, the Pirate Ship starts with three, one, and five for the aforementioned attributes. But by impossifying the ship, the new number becomes four, three, and seven because the ship is now split into three, water is added under the ship, and tentacles appear on the side. Every attraction gets this crazy new stuff and it's entertaining to watch. So are the employee upgrades. These only require a full stack of points to accumulate compared to the five levels of attractions and two levels of shops. So you have to wait longer to upgrade a ride compared to employees. Upgrade a cleaner and they will get a flamethrower to destroy garbage. This made me want to keep playing to upgrade every ride just to see what would happen.
What I miss is a bit more from the management side. You can change prices and other things, but that side of the game is not as deep as it could have been and it feels like the game is more designed to have fun than to sit and fiddle with menus. Something that needs to be tinkered with is the walkways. These can sometimes be frustratingly difficult to lay as they are either too high or too low or some obstacle in the way. In addition, mechanics are not always so smart and refuse to fix that broken ride that just stands and costs money and instead they just walk away to tinker with a perfectly functioning shop. It should be added that I got access to the game after the launch date and had a couple of good patches to download. I have read that many who played before these patches had major problems with bugs. So far I have not encountered any problems on the PC version so hopefully these are fixed now.
Park Beyond isn't a genre-changing game, but it's a fun sideshow that isn't as serious as other games. You can tell it's designed to be fun and a little bit silly in a good way. Shooting people out of cannons during their roller coaster ride or giving mechanics robot arms is something you don't get the chance to do every day.
7 / 10
Wonderfully crazy ride designs, entertaining, competent park builder
Could have been deeper in a couple of places, possibly some short campaign mode, employees are quite stupid