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Park Beyond review: more style than substance, but sometimes that's the point

Mission impossifle

A theme park in Park Beyond at night, with lit up paths and buildings in the background and a rollercoaster in the foreground
Image credit: Bandai Namco

Much as I adored Theme Park, it's a bit of a weird game to have inspired so many descendants. The latest is Park Beyond, and for the most part it's exactly what you'd expect. Build rides to attract crowds, shops to fill their stupid mouths, doctors to treat the vomitous and cleaners when the doctors were too late. Punters pay to use any ride, they pay for entry, for toilets and cash machines, and for every item you price in every shop.

That's as close as it gets to micromanagement, unless you count finely tuning the position of every rock, shrub, and decorative roof panel. It's more Planet Coaster than the cynical money grubbing of Theme Park, so if you're here for rollercoasters that do stunt jumps over canyons, it's mostly good news.

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Park Beyond doesn't go in for plate spinning. Punters are generally predictable, staff need nothing but a shack to rest in, shops have infinite stock, and no troublemakers ever appear. Its random events are all positive, and even damaged rides automatically close until a mechanic arrives.

It's not, bluntly, my preference. I am one of the saddos who likes the management side more than the prettifying side. It's more limited in that regard than I'd like. But I recognise that it's simply not prioritising that. It's not utterly toothless, either. At higher difficulties, my balance would swing wildly into the negative when punters lost interest in a ride, turning a nice earner into a financial sinkhole. There's definitely a need for some balance tweaks (the ferris wheel in particular was a massive liability) but that's to be expected in a review copy, so fairly shruggable. A bigger problem is that I could not for the life of me get any rollercoaster to turn a profit. In theory they could loss lead, drawing crowds who'd go on to buy hats and ride the happy-go-pukey, but in practice they never seemed to do anything that regular rides couldn't more cheaply and without forty minutes of design work.

There's a good chance this is a me problem, though. The coaster design system is flexible and reasonably intuitive. You can twist tracks across any axis, adding and tweaking preset corkscrews and loops as you like. Upgrading your park can unlock more specialist modules, and you can even drop the cars onto the open ground or sea for a spell. Combining these lets you attach a "hook" to the coaster, bumping up its appeal to specific demographics, so there's loads of room for creativity and again, a likelihood that I'm just bad at exploiting the system. And even I can appreciate the appeal of looping a track under my bridges and between the gift shops.

A mid-range screenshot of a park in Bark Beyond, with a spinner ride and a lot of concessions around it
Visitors queuing at a concession stand in Park Beyond
Image credit: Bandai Namco

That's the real reason for expanding, not money; you want more fun stuff. Bigger parks mean more shiny vistas and huge crowds to watch (sadly the first person view was very glitchy on the rollercoasters). More technically, "fun" is an actively tracked resource. Rides and entertainers increase the Fun level, which is how you (sigh) level up your park. At each threshold, your lab expands, which is the game's way of saying you unlock a new batch of toys.

Rather than traditional R&D, new rides, shops, and modules are unlocked in bumper packs. Each is themed (some literally, like the Western or Zombie themes) by some common quality, like being of particular appeal to teenagers, or being good earners. I didn't like this system at first, but it grew on me. It means that instead of focusing on one specific ride to the exclusion of all else, you choose your strategic priority of the moment, and get a handful of things to address it. Again, it's not quite what I'd prefer, but that's my problem, not the game's. I did find myself waiting around for fun levels to spike, however.

A pirate ship ride mid-impossification in Park Beyond
Image credit: Bandai Namco

Then there's "impossification". Being a dull spoilsport, I'll describe this as glorified upgrades. On top of Fun and money, rides generate Amazement, which you spend it on "impossifying" rides, shops, or staff. Rides get an often irresponsible redesign, staff get efficient and crowd-pleasing equipment, and shops get a special item that makes buyers generate more Fun or Amazement. I appreciate that the shops aren't just "more money", so there's a need to actually think about where to upgrade. But I did find myself letting the Amazement pile up often, since most impossified rides also get more expensive to run, and as I said, I am boring.

It's cute, though. Punters are divided into Teen, Adult, or Family demographics, so you can plan a park for teenagers, but your unlock choices might mean you're mostly attracting families, and pivot towards them instead. Crowds accumulate in places you weren't expecting, nudging you away from rigid plans, or encouraging you to rip up all the paths and redo them from scratch. Terraforming is free, and everything can be cheaply raised on massive platforms, with paths and bridges all over the place. I don't, however, recommend creating an elaborate Timberborn warren. The parks are meant to be big, not dense. I get this impression from the cartoony style, and partly from the fiddly way paths refuse to connect when you get too granular. A way to switch off auto-snapping would be welcome, and I faced occasional bugs that forced much deletion and redrawing. A pathing blueprint system would likewise be very welcome, especially considering there's already one in place for rollercoaster designs.

Visitors on a Medusa-themed ride in Park Beyond
Image credit: Bandai Namco

Another bug saw rides lock up until I happened to notice, and had to save and reload. But again, this was a pre-release version, and occasional bugs are inevitable. Performance, however, could be improved, considering my PC clears the recommended specs but still ran loud at all but the lowest video settings. That's a real shame given how lovely it is to watch the game in first person for a while, and see all those models and silly hats and hear all the music and babbling Simlish up close.

Park Beyond could use some tweaking, and some tidying up of building and especially demolition controls (it's possible to accidentally delete an entire rollercoaster with one click). Judging it as a business sim would leave it wanting, but would also be unfair. Its shortcomings there aren't so much flaws as signs that it's not primarily intended to be that kind of game. It's a creative, low-stress game first and foremost. Some minor bugs aside, it's a fun time with some cute ideas that I appreciate but don't quite love. It's not aimed precisely at me, but I still got caught in the blast.

This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher Bandai Namco.

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