Chris Sawyer's RollerCoaster Tycoon phenomenon is stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel. RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 was a disappointing repeat of the first game, last spring's Wacky Worlds expansion was lambasted by critics and fans for offering just a few new themes and scenarios, and the latest add-on is equally uninspired. Time Twister is modeled on the same formula as its predecessor and is just as disappointing.
Although the Time Twister title refers to the expansion pack's historical themes, it could just as easily be referring to last May. Gamers who played Wacky Worlds back then might feel like they've entered a time warp here, because the gameplay and few meager additions mirror those highlighted six months ago. In many ways, they're even more of a letdown now, because one had to hope that publisher Atari had learned its lesson from the criticisms that the prior release took in the spring.
What Frontier Developments has created here is best suited for scenario modders seeking new scenery for their home-brewed works. The heart of Time Twister is six new themes that represent different historical eras, so if nothing else, there is a lot of new stuff to look at. Prehistoric lets you play with giant cavemen and woolly-mammoth-tusk fences. Dark Age boasts new stone walls, which look a lot like the old stone walls, and decorations such as animatronic knights in full armor. Mythological has Roman temples and cheesy animatronic skeleton armies straight out of a Harryhausen movie. Roaring Twenties comes with a big menu of urban wall tiles, like red brick, along with animatronic gangsters and statues of period automobiles. Future features crashed flying saucer displays and alien buildings. And Rock 'n' Roll is sort of a catchall representing the '50s and '60s, including such things as B-movie giant spiders and animatronic go-go dancers.
Most of the new scenery looks pretty good. There are some nice touches here that make the themes fairly distinct. Future does an especially good job of giving RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 a face-lift, due to its lit-up walkways, take-me-to-your-leader alien statues, giant robots that sit atop the park entrance and exit, and Blade Runner-style video signage. Still, most of the themes rely heavily on old ideas (how many wall tilesets does one game need?) and are far too dependent on animatronic statues to produce their new looks. It's nice that you can put a distinct touch on a Roaring Twenties park with gangster and cop statues, but it often seems like statue type is all that separates the scenarios from one another. Gangsters, Medusas, aliens, rock guitarists--they all seem to blend together after you've played through a few scenarios.
A big reason for this is the absence of new rides. As with the scenery, rides in Time Twister are just subtle variations on the old ones seen in both RollerCoaster Tycoon and RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, slightly adjusted for the historical themes. So you get Fighting Knights and Triceratops dodgem cars, Dinosaur Egg and Tommy-Gun teacup rides, Moon Juice and Neptune's Seafood concession stands, Gangster Car and Hover Bike Ride coasters, and so on. Frontier Developments hasn't added anything the least bit innovative to the list of available rides, so don't get your hopes up if you're tired of the old standards.
At this point, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 14 scenarios are also minor variations on rather tired ideas. In Cliffside Castle, you have to attract 1,500 guests and keep your park rating above 700. In Future World, you have to build a park worth $300,000 by the end of your fifth year. In Prison Island, you have to build 10 roller coasters with an average excitement value of 6.00. In Rock 'n' Roll, you have to repay a loan and build a park worth $265,000. And so on. It's all been done before.
The only thing separating the new scenarios from their many predecessors in RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 and Wacky Worlds is size. Most of the maps here are huge, with lots of open spaces giving you room to experiment with ride placement and coaster design. Woodstock, for instance, starts as a massive empty field, Cliffside Castle dwarfs somewhat similar predecessors like Crazy Castle, Skyscrapers lets you take over roughly four city blocks, and Cradle of Civilization gives you a Greek island with huge amphitheaters. This at least gives many of the scenarios a different feel from their predecessors and frees you up to try different approaches if you play them more than once.
This one positive doesn't compensate for the fact that Time Twister is yet another rehashing of the same old formula that Chris Sawyer and Atari have been milking since 1998. There's something to be said for sticking to what's tried and true, especially when you have millions of fans, but there also comes a point when you run out of gas and have to try something new.