At its heart, Ultimate Ride is a roller coaster design tool that lets you create and experience three different types of coasters--wooden, steel, and hanging. In addition to a straight free-building mode that lets you build any kind of coaster without restrictions, the game features what it calls the "imagineering mode," which is a series of puzzle-solving scenarios where you must build or modify coasters to meet certain requirements. Once you've completed a scenario, a new puzzle is unlocked, and the game may award prizes when the completed coaster goes above and beyond the minimum requirements.
Ultimate Ride is visually pleasing, if only for the somewhat simple pleasure of experiencing a roller coaster from a first- or third-person 3D perspective. Technically, the game's graphics have some rough spots and omissions--if you're a stickler for realism, the lack of couplers between cars and the somewhat blocky and oversimplified 3D objects can be disappointing. Similarly, it would have been nice to see passengers in the cars. The graphics are functional, though, and the multiple camera views and mostly smooth ride animations do a good job of conveying the feeling of being on a coaster, occasionally to the point of bringing your stomach along for the ride--so if you're squeamish, be wary.
The game's sound effects are decent, but the music quickly gets repetitive, even with the multiple choices and styles provided. Luckily, the music can be turned off, and riding the coasters without the music feels far more realistic and gives a greater emphasis to the effects of the coaster itself, such as the clinking sound as cars are being dragged uphill by the chain, or the whooshing sound as cars accelerate around a curve.
Most of the puzzles in the imagineering mode do a good job of giving you a framework with which to build a coaster without restricting your freedom to be creative. Typical requirements include building a coaster that goes through a series of colored rings; maintaining a minimum average speed or duration; or completing a specified series of coaster elements. In addition to fulfilling the scenario's featured requirements, you must also ensure that coasters maintain enough momentum to complete the round trip, and you must also often adhere to safety guidelines that put a limit on the vertical and lateral G-forces experienced by the passengers.
The majority of puzzles begin with a partially completed coaster, and you must add and modify track parts using a fairly straightforward interface. Track parts, such as straight sections, curved sections, loops, and corkscrews, are added to the end of the existing track, and once in place they can be lengthened, shortened, banked right or left, and raised or lowered. If you need to edit a previous section of the track, you can either click on it directly using the mouse, or jump back and forth between parts using the keyboard commands. Eventually, you must bring the track full circle to join up where it started. While the game is somewhat intuitive and its electronic manual gives a good description of all the commands, an in-game tutorial would have made the learning process smoother for those who aren't used to designing and building 3D objects.
Where the game gets tricky is when a coaster doesn't meet the safety guidelines or another requirement, and you have to adjust it. If, for example, you add an accelerator to your coaster to meet a minimum average speed of 40mph, you could find that the added speed causes your passengers to experience a lateral G-force around a curve that exceeds the safety guidelines. If you then bank the track more steeply, that could cause the vertical G-force to exceed the guidelines. If you instead choose to make the curve less sharp, that could move sections of the track down the line and cause a collision problem. More extreme track parts, such as loops and corkscrews, can easily exceed the safety guidelines if not carefully used. The game avoids being frustrating by encouraging the trial-and-error approach, and even if a coaster doesn't yet fulfill the requirements, it's still fun to ride.
Fortunately, the game interface makes it easy to see which requirements have been met and which still need to be met. In addition, if a safety guideline is broken, it is just a matter of hopping through the series of track parts while watching the force monitor on the screen. One thing that makes adjusting tracks somewhat difficult is you can't switch one track part for another without replacing all the track parts after it.
The game's puzzles provide plenty of challenge for amateur coaster designers, and the rating system gives you an incentive to continue working on tracks even after the basic requirements have been satisfied. It's easy to spend an hour or more trying to get a coaster just right if you're inclined to do so, but many puzzles can be solved in a variety of ways, some of which take longer to build and test than others. For those who prefer to build their own coasters from scratch, the free-building mode includes plenty of environments, objects, and decorations within three basic track themes--outer space, medieval, and futuristic. For additional incentive to build the best coaster, Disney Interactive has set up a Web site where you can submit your custom tracks to be rated by other players.
Ultimate Ride has a great basic premise that is sure to appeal to roller coaster fans of all ages. While the game's graphics and sound could use some improvement, they do a good job of conveying the sense of riding a coaster while in the 3D ride mode, and the straightforward interface and graphics in the build mode make it easy, once you've learned the basic commands, to design and create a coaster. If you've ever wanted to see what it would be like if your favorite coaster had just a few more loops in it, or if you just want to build and experience some roller coasters without experiencing that weightless feeling in your gut, Ultimate Ride is a good choice.