It’s time to pull down that safety harness and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle as we check out the best Roller Coaster Tycoon games!
When Theme Park came out on computers and consoles in 1994, it created a whole new sub category of strategy games.
Suddenly, building and management games didn’t have to be set in dreary urban environments or against the backdrop of warring, pseudo-medieval fantasy factions.
It was possible to have fun; to have your cotton candy (that’s candy floss to those of us in the UK) and eat it too.
So when those floodgates opened, naturally the possibilities for expanding what could be done with theme park-based strategy games exploded too – check out our list of the best theme park games for more on this – and few other games, at least initially, capitalised on those possibilities better than the Roller Coaster Tycoon games.
The series is still going strong since the first game was released in 1999 – but which ones are the best?
Let’s find out, as we loop the loop through the best Roller Coaster Tycoon games!
Table of Contents
Though most of the Roller Coaster Tycoon games, are strategy and management titles, Roller Coaster Tycoon Joyride goes in an entirely unexpected and unusual direction.
Unfortunately, Roller Coaster Tycoon Joyride is a truly awful game, completely unworthy of the Roller Coaster Tycoon name.
A PSVR title exclusively for PS4 – thankfully, no other format has been subjected to this game – Roller Coaster Tycoon Joyride is, bizarrely, an on rails shooter.
Though as you may expect, it is at least an on rails shooter where you build the rails – as in the roller coasters – yourself.
It’s just a very limited, seemingly unfinished game that disappoints on just about every level.
Still, at least the only way is up from here – on the best Roller Coaster Tycoon games list!
9. Roller Coaster Tycoon Story/Puzzle (2020)
Somewhat confusingly known by two different names – Roller Coaster Tycoon Story and now Roller Coaster Tycoon Puzzle – this free to play game tries to shoehorn a story into a match 3, Candy Crush style puzzle title.
That story sees you trying to repair and rebuild the Eagleland theme park, using puzzle matching based around rails.
There’s lots of elements that make up Roller Coaster Tycoon Puzzle, but it’s all so wrapped up in delaying gratification – and trying to make players pay to proceed – that it can’t help but trip over itself and be a bit of a disappointment.
It’s a shame, because – unlike Roller Coaster Tycoon Joyride – it’s a pretty polished, colourful and charming experience, but it’s far too obviously geared towards timers and microtransactions to be enjoyable for very long.
Building gloriously torturous, twisty theme park rides in glasses-free 3D Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D should have been an absolute slam dunk, shouldn’t it?
Unfortunately, despite this being the first ‘traditional’ Roller Coaster Tycoon game on this list, it’s also the most disappointing.
That’s because there are so many limitations and issues that it just isn’t anywhere near as fun as it should be.
Poor camera, a terrible user interface and ugly, dated visuals all make this a pretty unappealing game.
Yet for quite a while, this was the only real option when it came to playing Roller Coaster Tycoon in portable form!
Don’t get me wrong – there’s still some appeal to putting together your theme park and its roller coasters, but it’s hampered by odd design flaws such as not being able to adjust the terrain or even the height of your coasters!
In short, this one is definitely the worst ‘traditional’ Roller Coaster Tycoon of them all, though it’s a close run thing, as you’ll soon see from our next entry on the best Roller Coaster Tycoon games list!
Releasing just one day before the brilliant – if shallow – Planet Coaster, Roller Coaster Tycoon World certainly had an uphill track to climb just as it was getting started.
Its early access release was months beforehand, however – and was immediately met with terrible feedback from both critics and disgruntled, long-term Roller Coaster Tycoon fans.
A troubled production – which saw the game pass through the hands of three different development companies – didn’t help, but nor did the fact that both the Early Access and final release of Roller Coaster Tycoon World showed a game that was technically inept, buggy and lifeless.
It is still fun to build roller coasters, however – and that’s one thing that Roller Coaster World does get right.
So at least it’s better than Roller Coaster Tycoon on the 3DS, right?
Despite being a bit buggy (an issue which does seem to plague the series) and having a slightly awkward interfact, Roller Coaster Tycoon Adventures on the Switch sees the series return to its former glory somewhat.
It’s certainly not perfect – from a technical standpoint it’s disappointing too, lagging badly if you try to create more than one monstrously twisting coaster – but Roller Coaster Tycoon Adventures was definitely a step in the right direction for the series.
It doesn’t overwhelm the player with deep strategy – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on which aspects of the series you prefer – but instead allows you to decorate and customise your theme park without needing to worry too much about the management side of things.
Though not the best series entry on the Switch – as you’ll soon see – Roller Coaster Tycoon Adventures is a much more satisfying experience than Roller Coaster Tycoon World.
That may sound like we’re daming Roller Coaster Tycoon Adventures with faint praise, but it is definitely a title that earns its place on the best Roller Coaster Tycoon games list!
Way back in the last year of the 20th century, Roller Coaster Tycoon was born.
The brainchild of developer Chris Sawyer – who’d become mostly known at that stage for 1994’s Transport Tycoon – Roller Coaster Tycoon was born from Sawyer’s interest in real life roller coasters.
Using the engine he’d been developing for use in a sequel to Transport Tycoon, interestingly the first Roller Coaster Tycoon game is entirely based around completing scenarios, with no sandbox mode.
The final stage – Mega Park, which unlocks once all other scenarios are complete – does come close to being a sandbox, however; it has no objectives, but funds are still limited.
Roller Coaster Tycoon was such a success that it received a console port in 2003, though only on the Xbox, which was perhaps the only console at the time that could truly do the game justice.
Overall, Roller Coaster Tycoon is a solid game that laid the foundations for what was to come in the series!
With such a big hit on his hands in the form of the first Roller Coaster Tycoon – which had sold more than 6 million units prior to the release of Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 – it’s no wonder that a sequel arrived three years later from Chris Sawyer.
Though criticised at the time for not being particularly revolutionary – with the interface and visuals remaining largely unchanged from those found in the first game – there’s no doubt that Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 is a more enjoyable game.
Once again scenario based, Roller Coaster Tycoon 2’s stages are all available from the beginning, divided into categories by difficulty level, with players able to tackle them in any order they choose.
It even contains a category named ‘Real’, which features the actual, real world Six Flags theme park, pre-constructed and ready to be destroyed or improved upon, depending on your skill level!
Two expansions – created by Frontier Developments – were also released for Roller Coaster Tycoon 2: Wacky Worlds – which focused on international theme parks – and Time Twisters, which took players on a journey through theme parks in different time periods.
Despite the isometric viewpoint – and its age in general – Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 is still one of the very best games in the series.
No wonder we find it near the top of our best Roller Coaster Tycoon games list!
The third game in the series adds a proper sandbox mode for the very first time!
So really, it’s no wonder we see this ranked so highly – though scenarios are still available in career mode, the sandbox mode gives players unlimited money and time to truly go crazy with their theme park creations!
This time, the development reins were passed from series creator Chris Sawyer to Frontier Developments, who not only added a sandbox mode but also brought the series into proper 3D for the first time, moving Roller Coaster Tycoon away from its isometric roots (Frontier also created the excellent Jurassic World Evolution – which you’ll see on our list of the best dinosaur games!).
Its cartoony aesthetic still holds a certain charm to this day too – almost 20 years after it was first released!
Roller Coaster 3 also arrived on iOS devices in 2015, in largely the same form as the original PC release – so now you can play this absolute classic on the move too!
Though having an iOS device isn’t the only way to play Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 on the move, as you’ll find out from reading the next entry on our best Roller Coaster Tycoon games list!
OK, yes – this is essentially the same game as our number three entry on this list.
However, being the Complete Edition and being a modern release of the game that can be played without fuss, either on the move or at home, warrants a separate entry in our opinion.
Included in Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: Complete Edition are the original game’s two expansions: Soaked! – which introduces, as you may expect, water-based attractions such as swimming pools and water slides – and Wild!, which adds zoo-style attractions including animals and safaris (and if you enjoy those, check out our list of the best zoo building games!).
Though it retains the fairly steep learning curve of the original PC game, there have been refinements and simplifications here and there to ensure that the experience is as user friendly as possible on the Switch.
Despite its age, Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: Complete Edition really has held up very well – and is streets ahead of its 2014 sequel: the terrible, mobile-only, microtransaction-riddled Roller Coaster Tycoon 4 Mobile (which we stayed well away from when compiling this list of the best Roller Coaster Tycoon games!).
Despite the enduring popularity and timelessness of the brilliant Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, for some players the first two Roller Coaster Tycoon games remained the high points of the series.
Their pixel-based, isometric viewpoints with deep layers of strategy and focused scenarios – rather than the open sandboxes, simple mechanics and cartoony aesthetics of later games – do still hold up, especially now that pixel art is much more accepted and welcomed as a visual style once again.
So this iOS release – which saw the first two games combined into one title – is undoubtedly the best game in the series for many fans.
Not only does Roller Coaster Tycoon Classic deliver an authentic and nostalgic blast of genuine, original Roller Coaster Tycoon strategy and simulation, but it does so with touch screen controls, which are brilliantly suited to the overall experience.
So there you have it – though we’ve omitted a few absolutely disastrous and poorly received titles from Roller Coaster Tycoon’s long history, we at Retro Dodo hope you’ve enjoyed your journey through the ups and downs of the Roller Coaster Tycoon series!
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.