Remember to keep your arms and legs inside the car as we throw you around the rollercoasters in the best theme park games of all time!
There’ve been plenty of theme park games in the last few decades – but which are the best? Let’s find out, as we check out the best theme park games of all time!
10. Screamride (Xbox 360/Xbox One, 2015)
Kicking off our list of the best theme park games of all time is this 2015 title from Frontier Developments.
Less tycoon-style and more of a series of puzzles involving the creation of extreme theme park rides, Screamride takes players through 50 challenges and three distinct modes.
Engineer mode sees players tasked with meeting specific ride criteria with limited funds, Screamrider mode has players actually taking control of rollercoasters and trying to ensure that passengers remain safe on the rides and finally, Demolition Expert sees players take on 3D, Angry Birds-style, physics-based destruction challenges.
Though not as much of a theme park simulation as we’ve come to know them, Screamride is an unusual adventure through different aspects of theme park rides; it even includes a Sandbox mode, for extra freedom in putting together extreme experiences for your guests!
9. Ultimate Ride (PC, 2001)
Perhaps a little bit ahead of its time, the Disney Interactive-published PC title Ultimate Ride saw players constructing rollercoasters in full 3D, which was genuinely impressive upon release in 2001.
Players were encouraged to share their creations by uploading them to the online ‘Coaster Exchange’ website – where they could also download and try out the rollercoasters that other players had created too.
Rated in three categories – Adrenaline, Technique and Originality – the top five rated rides each week were given the honour of having ‘Roller God’ status bestowed upon them by Disney.
Sadly, it wasn’t to last: Ultimate Ride originally launched in October 2001 and the website had already closed down by 2003. Though mostly forgotten these days, Ultimate Ride more than deserves a place on the list of best theme park games!
8. Thrillville: Off the Rails (PC/PS2/Xbox 360, 2007)
Much more story-based than other games on this list, Thrillville: Off the Rails picks up after the conclusion of the first Thrillville – which saw players ridding the theme park industry of the dastardly Globo-Joy.
However, it seems that Globo-Joy survived after all – and managed to get a spy installed in Thrillville! Stealing ideas from Thrillville to help bring Globo-Joy back from the dead, the spy must be found and unmasked.
Of course, this is mostly window dressing to the usual theme park construction and rollercoaster riding, but it’s a neat touch that isn’t seen very often in the genre!
Adding to this are various single and multiplayer minigames, giving the game a bit more scope beyond the usual strategic trappings we see in theme park games; this was another interesting entry in the pantheon of theme park games from Frontier Developments.
7. Rollercoaster Tycoon (PC/Xbox, 1999)
Having made his name with the critical and commercial smash hit Railroad Tycoon in 1994, developer Chris Sawyer turned his attention towards the world of theme parks for spiritual sequel Rollercoaster Tycoon.
It’s a far more serious and grounded title than many others on the best theme park games list; however, this attention to realism allowed the recreation of real life theme parks and their rides, with scenarios featuring British theme parks or attractions such as Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach eventually being released as extra content to the base game.
For its day, the construction of elaborate rollercoasters was impressively flexible, though this also had a learning curve as steep as some of the rides themselves!
6. Theme Park World (PC/PS1/PS2, 1999)
Taking the basic formula of its predecessor and adding in new themes – the prehistoric/ancient history Lost Kingdom, fairy tale-based Wonder Kingdom, scary Halloween World and sci-fi Space Zone – Theme Park World was a visually and tonally bright game that really kept the fun aspect of theme park management games intact.
It also had a genuinely exciting new feature that added huge appeal – players could tour the park from a first person viewpoint and even try out the rides themselves!
Though this is dated and not unusual by today’s standards, it was a really impressive touch and felt pretty revolutionary in its day.
5. Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 (PC, 2002)
Though visually only a marginal upgrade over its predecessor, the lure of the Rollercoaster Tycoon series was never its isometric, fairly functional graphical style.
Where Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 succeeds so we’ll is in its deep and rewarding gameplay; here, the wealth of options in building rides is expanded hugely, with the possibility of taking rides and scenery fully underground or at any elevation the player chooses above ground.
User created scenery items and even a scenario editor also featured for the first time in Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, giving the game an incredible flexibility – as well as near limitless replayability.
4. Parkitect (PC, 2018)
An indie homage to the Rollercoaster Tycoon games, Parkitect retains a similar isometric viewpoint as those classic titles.
However, Parkitect has a much more appealing, modern visual sheen and feels less overwhelming in terms of its learning curve – this is a game that benefits from years of improvements in accessibility since the original Rollercoaster Tycoon games were released.
Though it is a lot easier to get to grips with than many classic theme park games, Parkitect gives players a lot more control over the managerial aspects of the park than its more famous contemporaries, such as Planet Coaster.
It’s a shame that there’s no option to actually ride the coasters, but Parkitect is ideal for players looking for a spiritual successor to Rollercoaster Tycoon – which retains plenty of depth – but with more modern design sensibilities.
3. Planet Coaster (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Xbox Series, 2016)
Currently one of the most popular theme park games on the market, Planet Coaster is yet another title from the theme park video game experts, Frontier Developments.
Taking a much more cartoony, visually appealing approach to the genre, Planet Coaster may be lacking in strategic depth, but it gives players a remarkably flexible set of tools with which to create spectacular rides.
Challenge and Career modes are the closest approximation to playing a classic theme park management game, but the Sandbox – which gives players an empty plot of land and unlimited funds – is where some of the most impressive creations can be constructed.
With a great selection of DLC packs – including some fantastic, officially licensed content that features park elements and scenarios for Ghostbusters and Back to the Future, as well as more generic extra content – Planet Coaster is an accessible, well designed and well supported game.
Though Rollercoaster Tycoon and the games it influenced can sometimes feel a bit dry and lacking in fun – especially considering the subject matter – Planet Coaster never forgets to leave players with smiles on their faces; just like the guests in their theme parks!
2. Theme Park (Amiga/Mega Drive/SNES/3DO/PS1/Saturn) 1994)
The first Theme Park management game and still (very nearly!) the best, in our humble opinion, Theme Park was an absolute dream when it arrived in the early 90s (check out our list of ultimate 90s toys for more on that decade!). It was Theme Park that was responsible for making me realise in real life that having saltier chips/fries meant that fast food outlets were able to sell more drinks – those clever swines!
And it did this in a cute, accessible and incredibly fun manner. Not just responsible for owning and creating a Theme Park, your manager could take care of small but brilliant details such as how salty to make the fries – and also, making sure that food stands weren’t too close to the most intense rides; if they were, players needed to be prepared for a vomit-covered park!
Though simplistic by today’s standards, Theme Park felt like a comprehensive and fairly deep management sim – as well as a theme park creator – in its day, but that same lack of complexity gives it an accessibility that’s still compelling even now, almost thirty years later.
It was converted to just about every format it was capable of running on back in the day – with ports available on (deep breath) MS-DOS, Amiga, 3DO (though Theme Park didn’t quite make the cut, check out our list of the best 3DO games!), Mega Drive/Genesis, Mega CD, Amiga CD32, Mac OS, Atari Jaguar, FM Towns, Sega Saturn, PlayStation and SNES. It’s even made it to the DS and iOS more recently (though the iOS version was a bit of a travesty, being full of predatory microtransactions).
It’s probably fair to say that without Theme Park, the list of best theme park games may well have never existed at all!
1. Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 (PC, 2004)
When it comes to the Rollercoaster Tycoon titles, the absolute pinnacle is this third game – which has, in our humble opinion, never been bettered either by other games in the series or other theme park games.
Moving away from the fixed isometric view of the previous two games, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 feels full of life and is filled with character. Though it has a lot more personality than Rollercoaster Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, importantly it does retain a great level of strategic depth.
In a series first, players could actually hop onto the rides themselves – and it was even possible to import coasters designed in the first two games, to be built and tried out in the new game!
Themed areas of the park, a day and night cycle which changed the demographics of the park’s customers (known as ‘Peeps’) and expansions that allowed the creation of water-based and zoo attractions brought even more appeal to Rollercoaster Tycoon 3’s flexible, fun and still rewardingly deep strategic simulation.
It’s probably not surprising that Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is yet another title that was developed by Frontier Developments (with series creator Chris Sawyer involved as a consultant).
Responsible for nearly half of the titles on the best theme park games list, Frontier Developments have proven themselves absolute masters of the genre, having also created other theme park games that sit just outside this top ten.
What makes theme parks so enjoyable?
We all love having fun, right? Spending a lovely warm day eating junk food and being thrown around on elaborate rides, designed to thrill and sometimes terrify you, is one of the great pastimes available to us in the modern world. So it’s no wonder that it’s also a popular subject for video games too!
What’s special about video game theme parks?
The coolest thing about video game theme parks is that we don’t just get to check out the rides – most of the time, we get to try our hand at actually building and managing the park too.
With so many examples of theme park games over the years, now you know which ones are the best!
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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.