Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 09/30/01 | Genre: Action
After the titanic success of Rollercoaster Tycoon and its expansion packs, any new game about coasters will of course draw comparisons like cow paddies draw flies. Where Tycoon puts you in charge of an entire park, the Ultimate Ride focuses on giving birth the scream machines that we all know and love. Instead of watching 2D repair people mow grass and sweep up barf from your bird's eye view, you sweep around in a fully 3D-rendered environment adding loops, turns, and adjusting the banking of your creation.
Honestly, I didn't want to like this game; there was even a gigantic 'D' rating floating around in the back of my head. No, it's not Rollercoaster Tycoon. There's no micro managing to do, like adding bathrooms or fry stands - no merry-go-rounds or Ferris wheels either. If you were some kind of sick-o who would give a rat's right eye to watch your riders hop off of your coasters and immediately spew your 3 buck fries all over the platform, the rodent population will be happy to know that the only spewing that'll be going on is your own, assuming you have a weak stomach. Ultimate Ride is part simulation that lets you build, test, and ride coasters and part puzzle solving. Once you get over the "drawing comparisons" phase, most thrill ride fans with an ounce of imagination should enjoy this one.
Parents take note: As you would expect from a Disney title, this game is 100% non-violent.
The game has two modes of play: free build and imagineering. Free build lets you hop into an empty environment and sculpt your imagination into existence for your riding pleasure. You also have the option to email your creation to friends, so they can take a spin on your suicide ride. In my book making your buddies blow chunks all over their expensive 21" monitors scores you a 1000 points easy. You can also upload your track to the Ultimate Ride website (ultimateridegame.com) and vie for the coveted title of "rollergod". Downloading and rating other people's coasters can be a good learning experience for all would-be rollergods out there.
While the free build mode is a hoot, the imagineering mode is what adds the challenge to the simulation and creates a game. Each challenge plops you in the midst of a pre-created coaster with certain objectives to solve before you can finish the ride. Most have to stay within certain safety requirements for the average rider - wouldn't do to be killing off your riders, while other missions require that the coaster never falls below a certain speed. Don't expect the parts that are already in place when you start a mission to be perfect either. Your second scenario requires a chain-lift on one of the hills, or it will be a long walk back to the station. The train rocking back and forth between two hills was worth a good chuckle at least.
Luckily, you are provided with a rather powerful track editor to get the job done. It can return information like what the G-force and speed will be for a particular segment in relationship to the rest of the track, so you can tweak your run without having to test the entire track every two minutes. Saying that it allows you to tie the track into a giant pretzel wouldn't be stretching the truth much, since you can adjust the banking, the length of different segments, or bend them left or right and up and down. It's not without its flaws, because you can only edit existing track so far before you have to delete anything that was attached after it for certain changes.
Visually the game only has a few drawbacks. When I was riding one of the coasters, one of the first things that I noticed was how bad the texture and level of detail looked for the track itself in relation to everything else. I'm assuming it was a symptom of making the game so flexible, but it definitely took something away from the feel of the game. Also, what the heck is holding the trains together, and where the heck are all the passengers? When I discovered that I could look around with the mouse while on the ride (I usually don't read the instruction manual until after I've played a game for a bit), the game took on a whole other dimension and overrode most of my graphics complaints - most mind you. You can place a modest assortment of nifty props around your ride that are interactive with your train. A bit less modesty here would have ruled.
The music was all right at first, but it grows stale faster than week old pizza. I was hunting for a way to turn it off altogether, when I stumbled on the option to use your own MP3s - something that other games should offer. Now, I have to say that the music is only as lame as your personal collection.
So if you liked Rollercoaster Tycoon but found that it only fueled and never sated your creativity, Ultimate Ride offers a perfect outlet. No micromanagement with this one; just a pure hit of coaster action.