A (probably incomplete) History of Roller Coasters & Theme Parks in Videogames, Part 1: 1983-2001



This is the first in a series of Posts that will be covering PC- and Videogames that use Theme Parks and / or Roller Coasters as their central theme. I don’t claim that I know or even played all games related, if I missed one, don’t be afraid to tell me. While it isn’t important for this first Part, Facebook and Smartphone games won’t be included, mainly because especially the Appstores are flooded with games and it would be impossible for me to find and list them all. For a similar reason most VR only games won’t be listed here too, there are just far too many VR Coasters out there.

1983: 3D Crazy Coaster

This is to my knowledge the oldest game featuring Roller Coasters ever released. It was released exclusively for the Vectrex System and required the 3D Imager Hardware Add-On, also making it one of the first Stereoscopic 3D Games for the Home.

The Player directly controls both the speed of the coaster itself and the movement of the passengers. The goal of the game is to ride the coaster as fast and as far as possible. Gameplay has a Arcade-Style Risk vs. Reward System where the Player is responsible to keep the Riders inside the Ride Vehicle and said Ride Vehicle has to stay on the track. Actions that are more likely to cause either a derailing or the rider getting flung out of the Coaster will result in more Points. Raising your arms increases the risk of getting thrown out, higher speeds means that the ride can derail more easily and you are, once again, more likely to get thrown out, not leaning in the opposite direction of a turn can cause a derailing, but leaning too much will slow you down. In higher Levels Players also have to duck under obstacles like flying Ice Cream cones. The four lives are represented by four riders.

1985: Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster is often quoted to be the first Video Game to ever simulate amusement rides. Roller Coaster was Published by Elite Systems in 1985 exclusively for the ZX Spectrum. At the time it got a lot of praise from Reviewers and even became one of the most popular games on the system for a while. It’s genre is best described as a Puzzle-Platformer.

Players take the role of a Theme Park owner after closing hour. One of the employees has scattered all the earnings of the day throughout the entire Park and your job is it to collect all the Money Bags. And these Bags are all over the place, some are even on rides requiring the Player to take some risks when grabbing them. Some actions, like falling from great heights, can cause the character to loose one of his ten lifes, loosing all of them results in a Game Over and the need to restart the game from the beginning.

In 1991 Roller Coaster got a Medieval Themed reskin and was released as “Dragon’s Lair: The Legend” on the GameBoy where it once again received high praise in Europe, but not so much in the US where it was reviewed as one of the worst GameBoy games of all time.

1989: Roller Coaster Rumbler

Similar to 3D Crazy Coaster this is a Arcade Style game, this time in the On-Rails Shooter Genre. It was released on various Computer Systems of the time like the Atari ST, Commodore C64 and MS-DOS, however quality could be drastically different between the different Versions.

The Genre description of On-Rails Shooter is very literal, Players are placed in the Front seat of a Roller Coaster doing it’s usual Roller Coaster thing while being equipped with a gun to shoot at targets placed around the track. Players are required to hit a set amount of targets within a time limit and ammunition is limited. It is possible to switch between a front- and a rear mounted gun at any time. Some objects on the track will cause damage to the Ride Vehicle, receiving too much damage will result in a derailing and a Game Over. The Ride will loop around the track until either the time runs out, the required amount of targets are hit or the Ride derails.

The 1997 RPG Final Fantasy VII featured a Mini Game that is very similar in Gameplay. The 2018 PlaystationVR Game RollerCoaster Tycoon Joyride is also very similar in Gameplay. If either or both took inspiration from Roller Coaster Rumbler knowingly is unknown to me.

1993: Coaster

Released by Walt Disney Computer Software for MS-DOS, Coaster marks the first time Players where able to build and ride their own Roller Coasters in a consumer, game-like Software.

The Program is split into two sections, the Coaster Editor and the Coaster Simulation itself. The Editor is presented in a CAD-like fashion and allows to adjust things like friction, rate of acceleration and how hard the brakes will engage. It is also possible to remove the Upstop, switch the Gravity between three Planets and change the track type between Steel and Magic, with the only difference being that the Magic Type doesn’t feature any supports. Inversions are supported in the form of Loopings and Corkscrews, however these are only available as pre-made elements and due to limitations for the banking and angle settings it is impossible to create custom Inversions with the in-game Editor.

The Simulator portion of Coaster has a Cast of six people that will evaluate your creations based on their individual preferences, however high speeds will usually result in the highest Scores. While riding a Coaster it is possible to let the ride do it’s thing or to use both a manual brake and a Afterburner-style thruster. Similar to the Editor you can change the Settings for Brakes, Friction, Acceleration, Gravity and Upstops before riding a Coaster.

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