Jul 07, 2023

Park Beyond Review

There are usually two kinds of people who play theme park builder games. Ones that try to construct the most pleasing piece of land filled with entertainment to serve your escapism needs for you and the whole family. And those that make the most cursed contraptions possible to push the limits of what the intricate systems and simulation allow you to do.

Just as the duality of action and stealth gameplay, a theme park builder/management sim will always ask you what kind of person are you: the one to build cosy theme parks and extremely cursed parks that violets every health and safety rules with the intention to inflict as much suffering to its unassuming guests.

Park Beyond, an effort by Limbic Entertainment published by Bandai Namco, is no different to the usual theme park builder and management sim. But it has one hook: what if we can push beyond the confines of realism? What if an elaborate spaghetti mess of tracks that you somehow created into a functional loop of a rollercoaster track is encouraged, if not required?

Park Beyond has neat ideas that it brings to the genre, but the execution of it all is rough and ragged where only the die-hard fans of the genre can push through.

Park Beyond aims for that saccharine cartoony aesthetic, which is cool but can come across as uncanny.

There are 2D illustrations of the main characters you meet in the story campaign and they look stylised and charming. The 3D models don’t translate as well. Something is just off, the lip sync, the stilted animations. At least the voice acting comes across okay for the most part.

The saccharine vibe also reflects how the game world looks. Most of the assets you build in the theme park have this playful, jovial nature to them that comes across as inviting at its best, or at worst reeks of mobile game knock-off energy.

Maybe it’s the dead eyes the guests give off that throw me off. Because when viewed at a distance Park Beyond looks gorgeous.

Park Beyond disobeys the laws of physics and any regulatory safety concerns to allow you to create a theme park beyond the confines of mortality. Send guests flying from a cannon whilst riding a coaster. Let that spaceship ride actually, send guests up sky-high in space and somehow magically catch them with dead-on accuracy. Why settle for one Ferris Wheel when one can squeeze multiple smaller wheels on one big wheel and have them move and dance around?

This is all thanks to what’s called “Impossification”. You can “impossify” rides, shops, and even staff members to bring additional buffs, and improved stats, and bring that over-the-top presentation along with it. Flat rides become more elaborate and ridiculous- a pendulum ride will swing the attachment with the people strapped around it and have it de-attached mid-air, only to catch it just as it falls down. These impossify rides

These Impossifications add more character to Park Beyond, and it is one of its stronger points. Flat rides get more elaborate after being doodled on the Imposssification pencil, more intense, more spectacular. And at least one is worth of being called “out of this world”.

The UI is sleek and simple. It has the designer’s sketches aesthetic going on there, and it works. The notification UI itself is a bit of a mess, with too many pings that it becomes overwhelming to sort through the metaphorical noise.

You can also play the game with a controller on PC. Park Beyond is available on consoles, and using the controller to build roller coasters as well as the rest of the park is easy and intuitive as the usual keyboard and mouse setups. Console players aren’t missing anything here.

Speaking of noise, the soundscape in Park Beyond is decent. Each ride plays its own set song only heard when you’re close by. The main tune going “ta-ta-ta-da-da-da” is a really good earworm, and the rest of the music fits the theme it’s going for. Not that many bangers, but at least it’s not irritating.

Park Beyond is a 3D theme park builder and management sim where you can freely build paths, rides and modular features that can be grouped to be its own custom building. You’ll also have to adjust budgeting and pricing for your rides and shops to ensure you’re making money and can continue to operate the business. It’s a theme park builder in the same vein as Planet Coaster.

What set Park Beyond apart, alongside the mentioned choice in aesthetic, is the rides and attractions you build do not need to be in the realm of realism.

The campaign sets up that message straight away, as it begins with you building a rollercoaster ride out of your bedroom window, navigating through the town, over a lake and into a dilapidated theme park that’s looking for a Visioneer’s touch to bring it back running and save it from being a subject of a Defunctland video. Turns out you have the talent, the Cloudstormer corporation is looking for fresh talent, and they’ll willing to try out these wild, wacky ideas you and other newcomers to the board have: making impossible rides and attractions that challenge the laws of physics, and likely bring the ire of health and safety inspectors.

And that’s Park Beyond’s entire gimmick: Impossification. First, you need to build rides with high amazement value, the more amazed the guests are, the more the Impossification pencil charges up. Have enough stored and you can Impossify your staff so they are equipped with wacky gadgets to make their job easier add special items on sale and an eye-catching sign to attract more guests to buy up things (Impossify a coffee shop and they’ll serve up a cup of Kopi Luwak, for example). Impossify a flat ride and the safety checks are off, with the buildings sporting wilder animations.

But Impossifying roller coasters adds a challenge. Roller coasters are usually custom-built, and the game encourages you a lot in making your own coaster ride rather than depending on using prefab ones. Each coaster can be assigned a Hook, conditions which you must fulfil for the coaster to have more desirable stats. Some ask you to have the ride go faster than 140 km/h, that’s faster than the speed limit for any car on a Malaysian highway. Another hook asks if you can get the coaster above 50 meters at one point in the ride. Though not all hooks are aimed for thrill junkies, some require to not go faster than 20 km/h for a more chilled experience, for example.

Impossified Hooks go a step further, asking you to do wild things. Have the cars in a train of coaster separate, and then merge back at the end of the ride in a different order is one as such. It requires you to use the wilder modules for the roller coaster which includes track forks, car lifts, elevators, cannons, ramps, springs and more. The other Impossified Hooks really challenge you to make even more cursed rides, and it’s all good fun.

The first few levels of the campaign are just letting you have it with building coasters. There are challenges that nudge you into making use of the excellently designed maps to full use. Have the coaster run through a mine shaft, through the deserted Wild West town, go under a lake and through a waterfall. When Park Beyond encourages you to have fun with its tools, it’s a good time. Some players will naturally gravitate toward doing stuff like this even without being prompted, but it’s really nice that you are encouraged to not make boring coasters. Go absolutely wild with it, and then Impossify it and go even wilder.

However, Impossifying stuff won’t lead you to snowball yourself into making guests splurge endless money into your pockets. The more guests experience Impossified rides, the more likely they’ll get “Newphoria” which must be treated by your staff paramedics before they can get on more rides. So there’s always a check and balance.

But in the campaign, it’s not just about impossifying rides. Progression requires the increase of Park Level, which is done so by increasing Park Appeal, which is done by accumulating enough Fun and maintaining enough cleanliness. Honestly, this system seems flawed. You don’t know how exactly Fun generation and Cleanliness threshold are affecting the Park Appeal number at any time. And trying to force guests into having more Fun generated seems to be a tad difficult. Guests are a fickle bunch, and Fun generation here isn’t an accumulated stat like Amazeness is. It can fluctuate, and you need to pass a certain threshold before you can level up and unlock new rides, shops and roller coaster modules.

If you’re in a downward spiral of not making money, it’s really hard to claw your way back.

One of my main gripes is how Park Beyond emphasise too much on micromanaging. All I want is to build a new ride and expand the theme park built on a handful of small lands sitting 200 meters above sea level but the budget keeps on fluctuating like crazy. The thing I just didn’t get is how rides can come and go in popularity. A ride that’s been queuing people, being a stable source of profit, can suddenly have no lines and can cause your budget to drop in the red at a flip of a dime. The influx of new guests wanting to try out the cool new thing is something I understand, but there’s no really any indication when guests start to not think the ride is worth their time anymore. They were just suddenly gone.

And for some flat rides, Impossifying them just make them less profitable. Not only because of the increase in maintenance costs (so you have to jack up the ticket price or operate at a loss), but the action can also tank its popularity, where these rides used to have long queues full of willing guests. So that’s a waste of five pencil charges I can’t get back. And now the whole pathway around the Impossified ride is full of puke.

In one of the campaign missions, I just couldn’t get the park I’m running to produce a stable monthly income, every in-game day or week I have to check what rides are still making money, and see which ones need to be closed. It becomes a game of Whack-A-Mole but through spreadsheets. It’s not fun.

Now, if the game tells you upfront that there’s a soft limit on how much you should be adding flat rides and coasters before it outstrips demand from your capped visitor number, then that makes sense. But some missions in the campaign will push you into expanding the park way more than your budget allows you to, leading you astray and into a downward spiral of debts.

There’s also a litany of graphical issues, as mentioned previously, with some affecting gameplay. On launch, there were bugs where guests lining up to ride a coaster just couldn’t get in, for no reason. The paths are finicky to make and it sometimes just refuses to connect because the paths I want connected come from a weird angle, and yet I managed to make other connections where the paths look like it’s connected in a weird angle, or overlapping each other. And why is there no way to edit an existing path? I spent a good minute making a suspended bridge only that’s so finicky to get it to look right and then I realise I forget to put railings. I’m not spending more time on that, hope the guests don’t fall off to their doom then (they don’t).

Guests sometimes don’t have their proper walk animation animated so they float along paths. And I have so many reports of them leaving the park unhappy because they can’t find food or drinks store, yet from my observation, I see various guest groups simply refuse to stop at the row of FNB stores that they walk past them only to go into another queue for a ride. And I have laid enough stores to cover all the demographics, yet the gall they have to say they can’t find any. Maybe because I designed the park like a city, with grids and intersections that some guests refuse to look around, which in some way reflect how real park guests behave. Maybe having the park just be one long path has its merits, because Park Beyond’s AI is behaving in ways that I consider to be not smart.

Park Beyond wants you to go hog wild and make the cursed rides of your dreams come true. Yet, the reality is there’s so much micromanaging that needs to be done and be done effectively, and you aren’t really being let loose to create fun rides. I like that the story in the campaign plays off this idea- the board is split between folks wanting to make fun theme parks and those that want to ensure it’s profitable so they can keep creating more theme parks. But from a gameplay perspective, Park Beyond would have benefited so much for letting players loose, but you’ll be bogged down with micromanagement, just like any other theme park builder.

Park Beyond has a decent amount of content. There are eight missions in the campaign introducing you to the many systems the game offers. And there’s the pure Sandbox mode where you can just build a theme park from scratch, at various difficulty levels, with optional challenges you can opt-in. Or don’t, for the full sandbox experience.

There are 27 maps, a good handful of themes and flat rides, as well as three coaster types to build in the base game. Surely, there will be more rides, themes and coaster types to be included in either free updates or paid DLCs. But as it is right now, there are plenty of assets to build your theme park.

It’s missing dark rides though, since Planet Coaster has those. It would be cool to see Park Beyond’s interpretation when you Impossify those.

Mod support, via, for PC and consoles are also coming later down the line.

Park Beyond is certainly my kind of jam. At first. The flavour of this jam sounds scrumptious by reading its label and looking at the jar, but when it’s spread on toast and taking a bite of it, this is not how I expected it to taste.

The ridiculous need to micromanage really sours my mood with Park Beyond. And so is the apparent lack of polish in many aspects of the game.

But I do like the game in principle. Park Beyond being self-aware of its ridiculous attractions being a safety hazard and weaving that bit into the campaign story really is great to see. The corny jokes don’t land as much, but the campy writing is charming in its own way. The wild Impossifcation rides are truly a sight to behold, a thrill seeker’s dream and a nightmare for the realists who prefer staying alive. The game actively encourages you to make cursed roller coasters, the more cursed the better. This should’ve been a fun time.

Unfortunately, it didn’t for me, as a casual fan of theme park builders and a big fan of city builders. Maybe it’s just that I’m not good at balancing sheets, but I don’t remember my time with Planet Coaster being this micromanage-y. Hence, I can see more hardcore players in the genre can find more enjoyment out of the game than what I got out of it. So the joke in the review title doesn’t apply to those folks.

However, there is a Sandbox mode with unlimited money and all buildables unlocked from the get-go. Which is something I will be messing about more in my free time. The main campaign, and the standard game, could’ve been special, but as of right now three weeks after launch, it still needs to sort out its many kinks.

Park Beyond set out with a strong premise: be another 3D theme park builder but with more imaginative rides and embrace the wild tendencies players have in designing roller coasters by making it a feature.

The Impossify gimmick is fun and has surely been crafted with love, but it’s built on shaky foundations. A litany of bugs and some uneven balance in the economy that forces you into micromanaging every little aspect takes away the fun of building impossible attractions.

Park Beyond is neat for veterans of the genre to play around with the rollercoaster builder and push it beyond its limits. As a theme park builder and management sim for more casual fans of the genre, it’s hard to enjoy most of what it offers right now. The game could use a couple more months of polishing still.

Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by the publisher

Park Beyond is neat for veterans of the genre to play around with the rollercoaster builder and push it beyond its limits. As a theme park builder and management sim for more casual fans of the genre, it's hard to enjoy most of what it offers right now. The game could use a couple more months of polishing still.