As someone who enjoys a decent roller coaster from time to time, I’m always intrigued by theme park and coaster applications. When I heard about SkyCoaster for the iPhone, I had to give it a try. It’s a simple roller coaster simulator, offering a variety of different modes, graphic options and speed settings.
The app has received mixed reviews in the iTunes Store, ranging from “Spectacular and brilliant, Download now!” to “This isn’t a game, it’s a short video clip that you pay for.” However, for the humble price of 99 cents I was game to download the app and give it a try. This review will outline my opinion of SkyCoaster, and explore the broader challenges surrounding the mobile simulator genre.
Settings and Configuration
Before you actually get started on the roller coaster, you need to customize how you’d like it to act. There are a number of options available, each of which effects how the simulator works:
- Max Height: Adjusts the distance you are from the ground
- Min Track Length: Used for altering the length of each trip around the track
- Loop-the-loop: Adjusts the number of loops present in the track
- Corkscrew: Adjusts the number of corkscrews present in the track
- Downward spiral: Again, adjusts this particular coaster feature’s occurrence
- Theme: A number of themes are available to recreate different environments
- Gravity: Adjust the speed and acceleration through messing with the gravity
If you’ve created a track that works really well, it’s possible to save it for revisiting at a later date. You can also adjust a quality setting, which doesn’t seem to make any noticeable improvement to the graphics but can be prone to cause a little ‘lag’ at times. It’s probably worth leaving this turned off at all times.
The first thing you notice when starting gameplay is that the roller coaster track is suspended above the ground, free of any structural support. The game starts with a fly-by overview of the track you’re about to ride — a nice touch, and good use of the iPhone graphics engine. Hitting the track icon will get the ride started.
Once in motion, a few different options are available. The most notable is the ability to swap between a standard (on track) view and a suspended view, with the track above you. These change the feel of the simulator quite dramatically, and are worth messing around with.
Other menu options allow you to return to the settings screen, save the track as a favorite, toggle audio on/off, and start a new track with a set of completely random options. When flying round the track, you can look around by tapping and dragging on the iPhone screen. Your view is limited as it would be if you were actually sitting on a ride.
The graphics performance is actually very good, and the screenshots don’t really do it justice (looking a little jagged).
I expect that you’ll find SkyCoaster to be a novel simulator at first and probably enjoy messing around with the settings. However, after a few tracks it does get a little tiresome. It’s not a long-term attention holder, and while probably worth $1, won’t be one of the regularly used apps on your iPhone.
The main problem with SkyCoaster isn’t a lack of decent graphics or options; it’s the fact that the size of the iPhone screen makes it very difficult to feel immersed in a simulator experience. I’m sure that the actual graphics performance equals that of many physical simulator machines. Unfortunately, unless you have some crazy Myvu glasses, it simply doesn’t come near to recreating the experience of a roller coaster.
You might say that’s an obvious problem, but it isn’t always the case with other apps. There are plenty of smaller action games for the iPhone which cause you to feel immersed in the app. I think that the difference stems from the level of interactivity and concentration involved — there’s a direct correlation between concentrating on, and feeling immersed in, a mobile application. For a simulator-type game to succeed, I feel that you do need to have at least some control over what’s going on in real time.
Another issue is that of realism. The author has attempted to create a ‘perfect’ coaster experience, devoid of other riders, carriages, or structural supports. These missing elements would make for a fantastic ride in real life, but draw away from the realism of the game. I think I’d be far more interested if the ride simulated an actual roller coaster in a theme park, complete with other passengers and carriages.
In summary, SkyCoaster is a fun app to play around with. It’s worth $1 if you’re a roller coaster fan, but I feel there’s a long way to go before it offers any real, compelling gameplay. Do check it out in the App Store and let me know your thoughts on simulator-style games in general!