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'Sim Coaster' Puts You in Charge of the Thrills and Chills

April 05, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

What kid wouldn't want to run a theme park?

Sure, there's the obvious allure of getting to work in some of the happiest places on Earth. But there's also the subtle joys of meeting unforgiving financial goals, staying one step ahead of ruthless competitors, answering to a miserly board of directors and trying to figure out what a capricious public wants and at what price.

Yes, sir, what a gig--and players get to experience all of it in "Sim Coaster," a theme-park simulator for the PC that expects players to build and manage an amusement enterprise that siphons as much money as possible from its oblivious patrons. Theme-park games are nothing new, but few do as good a job of striking the balance between the nitty-gritty financial aspects of running a park and the fun stuff, such as getting to ride all those neat attractions.

It's not much of a surprise, really. "Sim Coaster" was developed by Bullfrog Productions, which produced the first popular simulator, "Theme Park," in 1994. Although that game looked like a kids' title with bright graphics, it was actually a sophisticated--and slightly dark--business simulator in which unsuccessful players watched their characters commit suicide if the park failed.

"Sim Coaster" is not nearly as bleak. Players start as the assistant manager of a theme park under corporate control. The goal is to prove a knack for developing new sections of the park that are attractive, functional and profitable. From laying footpaths and hiring janitors to developing new rides, players oversee every aspect of management.

But it's not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Players are helped along every step by an advisor who says when it's time to hire new staff or clean the bathrooms or think about building some new shops. More important, players start the game with enough cash to build some interesting parks.

While Mom and Pop may appreciate the business aspects of the game, youngsters are more likely to want to just build twisting and turning coasters. The game allows players to either plop down prefabricated roller coasters or design their own--and then ride them in a first-person perspective. Figuring out how to jam a new coaster into an already-crowded park can be a challenge, but the game offers hints on where to lay tracks.

For budding coaster engineers who don't give a whit about pro formas, the game includes a design mode to experiment with various layouts without laying out any cash. It's quite fun to build impossibly complex tracks and then take a spin on them.

All of the interfaces in the game use simple and self-explanatory icons, and it's easy to drill down to find out exactly how every employee, ride and shop in the game is performing. Likewise, the controls are easy to master. Players spend most of their time looking down on the park from above, but they also can zoom down to the level of guests to see how the park looks from the ground up.

In a crowded field, "Sim Coaster" stands out.

'Evil Dead: Hail to the King'

If you're the sort who thinks The Pit is wonderful--or even knows what The Pit is--then "Evil Dead: Hail to the King" for Sony PlayStation is not your sort of game. In other words, if you're a fan of the "Evil Dead" series, you're probably tempted to pick up the game and test your skill against the Deadites. Don't.

Most fans will be sorely disappointed. Even though the game features Bruce Campbell as Ash, it lacks the gleeful cheesiness that made the films cult hits. Whereas B movies can be classics, very few B video games can pull it off. And "Hail to the King" is definitely a B video game.

The action takes place years after the end of "Army of Darkness." Ash returns to the cabin in the woods to purge himself of nightmares. You guessed it: The nightmares get worse, and Ash fires up his chain saw again to track down pages of the Book of the Dead and find his girlfriend.

From there, it's a pretty standard third-person kill fest as Ash battles the living dead at every turn. Sometimes it's hard to see what's going on because the environments are so dark and the camera does not always follow closely. So it's possible to be engaged with an enemy and not notice it.

Ash has a few funny moments in the game, and players can taunt foes with the triangle button on the control pad. But most of the time, it's just a matter of walking from one dark area to another and battling similar-looking enemies.

"Evil Dead: Hail to the King" might be worth a weekend rental. But it does not belong in your permanent collection.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

*

"Sim Coaster"

Genre: Theme park simulator

Price: $30

Platform: PC

System requirements: A Pentium 233 with 32 MB of RAM and a graphics accelerator

Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB* rating: Everyone

The good: Tough, but easy to get the hang of

The bad: Very little

Bottom line: Very nice

*

"Evil Dead: Hail to the King"

Genre: Action-adventure

Price: $35/$45/$40

Platform: PC/Sega Dreamcast/Sony PlayStation

System requirements: A Pentium 233 with 32 MB of RAM and a graphics accelerator

Publisher: THQ

ESRB rating: Mature

The good: Funny moments

The bad: Awkward control

Bottom line: Buy the movie trilogy instead

*

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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