The roller coaster simulator genre is inarguably aimed toward a niche market, with only a handful of games populating it. The gameplay consists almost entirely of engineering and testing your roller coasters, so the key to making a superior coaster sim lies in the finer points. An intuitive interface, some nice visuals, and a variety of tracks can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill coaster sim and a truly outstanding game. Xicat's coaster sim, Coaster Works, includes none of these features in a spectacular or even above-average manner, which ultimately leads to an incredibly average game.
Coaster Works offers a bare-minimum storyline: You're an engineer for a roller coaster manufacturer, and you must build a roller coaster based on the needs of each theme park, with the different qualities of your coaster categorized and quantified. The speed of the coaster, the number of G's the coaster pulls, and other less tangible qualities, such as how thrilling and how safe your coaster is, are all brought into consideration. The big problem is the length of the game - only six scenarios are available.
Charged with the task of building a variety of coasters, you'll spend the majority of your time in the design mode. This is presented in a utilitarian wireframe interface, which is split into four different points of view. With perspectives from the front, the back, and the side and from a bird's-eye view, you can zoom in and out on your creation, which gives you a good idea of what your unborn coaster will look like. The interface is fairly intuitive for something as technical as roller coaster designing, and it permits simple tasks, such as manipulating lengths of track in different directions and twisting the track, which allows for banked turns and the like. More complex pieces of track, such as loops and corkscrews, can prove to be tedious to design, though thankfully Coaster Works includes a handful of prefab loops and corkscrews for your convenience. The design mode is entirely functional, and for the most part it is conducive to developing roller coasters, with the few minor interface rubs being linked directly to the limitations of the Dreamcast controller.
During the design phase, you'll find yourself switching to the test-run mode, where you can assess the viability and overall experience of your coaster. The test-run mode essentially turns your coaster concept into a modern, steel-tubed roller coaster set in a generic carnival-style theme park and runs the coaster in real time with you in the front seat. You can switch to this mode at any point during the gestation of your coaster, and once your coaster is complete, you can use this mode to judge the performance of the coaster. While your coaster goes through the motions, you'll hear the screams of passengers on the coaster, which serve as an audio cue for which sections of the track are more intense and which sections need some spicing up.
The visual and aural aspects of Coaster Works are purely functional, with almost no technical or stylistic flair. The design mode takes place in a gray wireframe void that looks more appropriate for a CAD program than a video game. While sparse, it gets the point across. The test-run mode is the same, with minimal visual detail in the surrounding area, which lets you focus on the flow of your coaster. The sound is entirely necessary in the test-run mode, with the aural cues of the screaming coaster riders being key to the design process, but the sound is also the bane of the design mode, with irritatingly generic elevator music playing in the background.
Coaster Works is by no means a bad roller coaster simulator, but it's not an outstanding one either. The stripped-down nature of the game will attract those looking to design their dream roller coaster and nothing more, but that combined with the limited number of levels may prove to be off-putting to the more casual player.