Reviewed: November 15, 2002
Released: April 2, 2002
It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been to Disney’s EPCOT center in Orlando, Florida, but I can still remember as if it were yesterday the Imagineering station that let you design your own virtual roller coaster then ride it in 3D. Keep in mind this was years before the first PC computer, so this was pretty big stuff.
Jump ahead to 1990 and you might recall the PC version of a very similar simulation called Coaster. It featured low-res VGA graphics but still allowed you to design your own custom coasters with a variety of track pieces. You then tested your coaster against a panel of discriminating judges who ranked it on a variety of criteria and made hilarious comments like, “I’m gonna hurl!”, while riding.
Time warp to 2002 and we get the latest in roller coaster construction simulations making use of all the new video hardware and rich with Disney charm. Ultimate Ride Disney Coaster gives you the tools to create an unlimited variety of wood, steel, and futuristic roller coasters of all varieties. Unlike those other coaster games, you aren’t required to build or manage a theme park. This game is all about the coasters, building them, and riding them.
Ultimate Coaster offers two options of gameplay; the builder mode and the” Imagineering” mode. The latter has you building special coasters to meet certain objectives or goals. While this can be challenging, your end designs become a victim to the rules of the simulation and are seldom creative or fun to ride.
In one of the first missions you must connect several structures to pick up three Disney characters and get them to Mickey’s birthday party within a certain time. This gives you little leeway in your design and you end up with something resembling a train rather than a coaster. Some missions can be fun and allow for a bit of creativity. One level has you creating a track that must pass through several preset loops in a certain direction, plus you must decorate your track to make it more appealing.
Of course the real meat and potatoes of this title is the builder mode. You will get lost in this part of the simulation for literally hours on end. The first thing to do is choose from the five various types of coasters, steel, wood, standing, etc. and then pick your environment including several authentic Disney locations such as Frontierland, or Main Street USA. These selections give you the basic setup for parts and overall environment.
Once you place the loading station you can then start placing your track using the intuitive menu along the bottom. The icons are very explicit and feature pop-up help if you forget what the symbols mean. As you build your track piece by piece, you can change the height and curves and create loops, corkscrews, and twist your track in all sorts of physics’ defying angles.
You can move through the various pieces of track by rolling the mouse wheel and get an instant display for the speed and other physical attributes for each section. You can also modify track segments with brakes, accelerators, chain drives, and other controls. Despite your ability to create coasters that would never be built in real life, the game does follow the rules of physics and you must maintain speed throughout the entire track.
Once your design is finished you can test your track from the front seat. Your first ride is always the best part of the design phase. Once the track proves itself of sound design you can then enhance the environment with a library of environmental and special effects. Pick from theme objects from the various Disney lands, trees, statues, and all sorts of visual and audible effects that can be cued to the coaster itself.
These extra effects will add tremendously to the overall experience and actually earn your higher scores from your review crew. If you have a towering summit you can place the sound of howling wind or the eerie silence of crickets chirping. You can trigger a burst of fireworks to synch with your train coming out of a tunnel or create smoke or water effects to delight your riders.
Along with all of these smaller effects you can also pick the time of day and various global effects like fogging. There are so many options to tweak you can spend as much time perfecting the riding environment as you will creating the coaster.
There’s no real reward for building the ultimate coaster except for the sheer pleasure of riding your creation and continually tweaking it to perfection. If you seek outside approval you can pick an assortment of Disney character judges who will ride your coaster and give you some feedback. Each character has their own preferences for the perfect ride, so it will be quite challenging to please everyone with a single coaster, but it can be done.
The graphics in Ultimate Coaster are exceptionally good considering the simple nature of the title. While the selection of building environments is limited, each is well done with great texture detail and unique surfaces allowing for creative design possibilities. There is even a futuristic grid environment to create the new “dark ride” style coasters like Space Mountain.
There are all sorts of familiar objects you can place including famous landmarks and rides from the Disney theme parks. You can fill in the blanks with trees, shrubs, and tons of buildings like old hotels and saloons from Frontierland, or popular buildings from Tomorrowland or Main Street USA. Some of the larger objects like Mark Twain’s paddleboat come complete with working smokestacks and sound effects.
The available cameras are excellent and offer a varied perspective of the action. You can choose a tethered camera that is attached to the train with a rubber band or a cinematic camera that captures the action from exciting angles. Surprisingly, these angles are virtually endless and change with each ride making each trip new and exciting. There is the sky cam that let’s you survey the entire coaster and pan and zoom around, but in the end there is no better seat than the front seat.
Riding your coaster is a true virtual reality experience. Using your mouse you have free control to look around in any direction just like you were really riding the coaster and turning your head. This provides for some truly stomach turning situations, as you peak that first rise or look out to the side as you spin through a G-Loop and watch the world go upside down.
The special effects like fireworks feature amazing particle effects that billow out in a rainbow of colors and shapes including giant Mickey ears. Water geysers and smoke effects are all realistic with volumetric fogging, and there is real-time lighting and reflections including some excellent lens flare effects during the daytime and dusk rides.
My only complaint with the visuals is the lack of any visible riders in your coaster. It just seems unnatural to send empty trains through my wonderful designs, especially when you can hear them screaming. And when I select my five Disney reviewers I would like to see them in the cars. You have the option to ride in any of the cars and it would be so much better to see a bunch of screaming riders with hands in the air as you scream down that hill at 90mph.
The first 14 screenshots included with this review are from my latest coaster design. These show the construction of a coaster from the initial phases all the way through item and effects placement and end with some exciting screenshots taken while riding the final coaster. This was a steel coaster set in Frontierland and managed to win favorable reviews from all five Disney Characters.
There are huge libraries of sounds ranging from the tiniest effect like chirping crickets to the piano playing in a nearby saloon. You can place these sounds independently and even choose their area of effect. My personal favorite is the howling wind as you reach the summit and are hanging just before the plunge.
There is a minimal selection of music that you can choose from. It is divided into riding and building music and ranges from overly cheerful carnival tunes you would expect from the Magic Kingdom to some rock and techno beats more suited toward futuristic steel designs. It would have been nice to have MP3 support and the ability to add your own music selections, but since music is such a minimal part of this simulation I can overlook this one small issue.
The mission-based Imagineering mode will only occupy a few hours of your time. It’s great as a structured learning tool and will help the younger kids get used to basic design concepts, but the core of this game is the building mode.
Never before has a $20 game kept me busy for so many hours. This game is the black hole of computer gaming and any who venture near it will lose countless hours of their life. You might only spend 15-30 minutes building your coaster but you will spend hours and even days enhancing your track with those sound and visual effects.
You won’t find a more fun or addicting game for your money than Ultimate Ride Disney Coaster. It has all the seriousness and complexity of a simulation but once you hop in the front seat you will find yourself swaying in your chair as you lean into those 3g turns. It pure and simple creative fun for the entire family.