Back in 1993, Disney Software released a simply named DOS game called Coaster. At the time, the ability to design and virtually ride you own roller-coaster creation was incredible, as was seeing the visual effect your creation had on static avatars. It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come from those DOS-based creations to a time when you can read an online ScreamRide review for the game’s spiritual successor. For posterity’s sake, I’ve included a video of Coaster below. And practically speaking, it’s not much different from Microsoft’s new Xbox One-exclusive roller coaster game.
That’s not a knock on ScreamRide’s graphics or creativity, but a testament to the staying power of Disney’s 1993 classic. Coaster had all the essentials in place, but ScreamRide takes roller coaster design to the next level – a predictable scenario in this world of user-generated content, online sharing and advanced physics modeling.
Where Coaster showcased the basics of roller coaster design, ScreamRide for Xbox One lets would-be coaster designers get as deep in the weeds or as high-level-only as they wish. Like other Sandbox games including LittleBigPlanet, Project Spark and Disney Infinity, ScreamRide hits its stride when players invest more time into learning its systems. Make time to learn about design attributes, and your own ScreamRide review should be pretty positive. Stay superficial, and ScreamRide won’t seem nearly as compelling.
Microsoft’s latest platform-exclusive game is divided into two modes: Career and Sandbox. From a level quantity standpoint, Career Mode accounts for the bulk of the game. From a fun factor and time-suck standpoint, Sandbox mode is predictably the heart of ScreamRide for Xbox One.
Career Mode is comprised of three game types, Screamrider, Demolition Expert and Engineer. The game world is divided into a half-dozen regions, each of which looks slightly different and includes different challenges. Within each of these regions, players are presented with sub-levels or chapters within each of the three game types. Completing the challenges in each of these game types earns you points, which in turn unlock new coaster- and level-design tools and props to use in Sandbox mode.
The Screamrider game type is the first one players encounter, which is a real shame, because it’s also the game’s weakest link. In Screamrider levels, players assume the controls of a roller coaster as if they’re piloting it, trying with all their might to keep it on the tracks, jump over chasms as required, and use turbo to maximize the overall scream factor of the avatar riders. You can earn bonuses for things like getting air and doing side wheelies, but this mode really doesn’t feel much more advanced than 1993’s Coaster. Don’t get me wrong; I know it is more advanced with physics-based variables, but practically speaking it doesn’t seem all that fun. Frankly, the best part is switching the camera at times to watch the riders’ faces on loops with particularly high G-forces.
Things improve somewhat in the Demolition Expert game type. This mini-mode is sort of like a roller coaster version of the Burnout series, complete with aftertouch options. In Demolition Expert, you can either launch a roller coaster toward various parts of a level to bring it crumbling to the ground, or you can launch projectile-like “ride cars” with test subjects inside. As you might imagine, the ultimate purpose of this game type is to rack up serious damage, though there’s also the ability to tackle some target-based objectives like going through rings, splitting goal posts, bouncing off trampolines or triggering explosive barrels to do more damage.
The ScreamRide Career Mode really opens up with the Engineer game type. Here, players are presented with partially completed tracks, which they must then finish-up using the pieces provided to achieve certain criteria. Some levels call for players to hit a certain top speed, some require you to design a coaster that doesn’t eject any riders (always a good thing, yes?), others compel you to go absolutely crazy with speed and drops, and still others challenge players to go easy on avatar riders by keeping their “nausea level” below a certain level. The sheer variety of challenges is great, and Engineer is really where the game’s creativity starts to come into its own.
Ultimately, Engineer is also the best Career Mode game type to prepare you for the ScreamRide Sandbox mode. Sandbox Mode lets players build their own custom level in various unlockable environments (urban, water, etc.). These levels aren’t just for roller coasters, either; you can build a veritable amusement park if you have enough time and the desire.
The meat of Sandbox Mode is building a roller coaster, from creating the land/island footprint and buildings to placing different types and sizes of corkscrews, loops and turns. You can even create jumps after reaching a certain point in the Career mode and unlocking them. In addition to coasters, you can also build your own custom car-launching rides a la the Demolition Expert level types, which lets you add a little destruction to your smooth-sailing coaster.
Much like any user-generated level, the Sandbox lets you design the core landmass but then decorate it with different vegetation, vehicles, pedestrians, water features and other aspects to make it seem alive. Unlike Project Spark, which gets very complicated very quickly, ScreamRide always seems approachable without getting too basic. The complexity comes not in the controls, which are intuitive and accessible, but in your understanding and manipulation of physics (but in a fun way). Think of it as a level builder that lets you be as intricate or bland as you wish to get.
The more you play, the more new pieces, landmasses and coaster technologies you unlock, but it never gets overwhelming. Your most commonly used and most recently used pieces appear in a tray at the bottom of your screen, while a quick press of the X button allows you to view a larger menu of options that you can navigate using the bumpers. Though it sounds easy to get lost, it’s surprisingly easy to rifle your way through pieces. For context, my third grader created his own track and uploaded it via Xbox Live, and he’s hardly a frequent gamer.
Truth be told, the only thing he didn’t get downright excited about with ScreamRide was its audio. He’s absolutely right. The level-design aspects are fun and intuitive, and the cartoony graphics are appropriate considering how over-the-top these coaster designs can get. Even the introductory cut scenes for each level, while insanely cheesy, seem to fit the game’s campy style. The audio? Not so much. The musical soundtrack gets really grating after about 90 seconds, the sound effects blur into one another after you hit the third region of the game world, and the AI voiceover tries to be like GLaDOS from the Portal games but falls on its digital face.
But you don’t play a game like ScreamRide for its audio excellence. You play it because you like roller coasters and think it might be fun to design some crazy tracks. And that’s where ScreamRide appropriately excels. Parts of the Career Mode are lacking a bit of polish, but the Sandbox Mode is where the game needs to — and does — hit its stride. I dig real-life roller coasters, and I remember fondly Disney’s 1993 DOS game Coaster. Maybe I’m predisposed to like ScreamRide. So be it. I’m not so infatuated with it that I’ll say it out-does LittleBigPlanet, but it’s much better than Microsoft’s Project Spark, and it’s a game that both I and my third grader can enjoy. ScreamRide is a welcome addition to the Xbox One lineup, especially in this arguably quiet post-holiday period.
Score: 7.8 out of 10