Roller Coaster (video game)

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Roller Coaster
Developer(s) S. Brocklehurst
Publisher(s) Elite Systems
Platform(s) ZX Spectrum
Amstrad CPC
Commodore 64
Release date(s) 1985
Genre(s) Action / Platform game / Puzzle
Mode(s) Single player
Distribution Cassette

Roller Coaster is a platform-based game which contains some strategy and puzzle elements. Uniquely it holds the claim of being the first video game to ever simulate amusement rides.

Roller Coaster was released in 1985 by British video game developer Elite Systems, to overwhelmingly positive reviews. It was, for a time, one of the most popular games for the ZX Spectrum.[1]


The game takes place in and around an amusement park after closing-time.

The player takes control of a protagonist who sneaks into the amusement park after both staff and customers have left. The goal is to collect money — in the form of little money bags — which have been dropped by excited and clumsy members of the public throughout the day. It appears that the protagonist is a trespasser and a thief, although neither his identity nor his motives are elaborated on further.[2]

Amusement rides utilised in the game[edit]

Despite the fact that you are alone in the park, all is not quiet. The electricity is still up and running and the amusement rides have been left active overnight; they are in overdrive and erratic. This is simultaneously both a help to your task, and an obstacle. In order to reach some money bags that are placed in high positions or other awkward places you will need to utilise the rides. Some money bags, quite dangerously, have even been left in the centre of the moving rides.

The amusement park is not linear or constructed at ground level, but instead built entirely on a towering vertical tiered structure. The smallest rides are located at ground level, and gradually get larger and larger and more complicated the higher the player gets. At the summit, towering over all other rides, sits a gigantic roller coaster, the namesake of the game. It will take a lot of time and effort to reach the summit of the amusement park and subsequently the eponymous roller coaster which sits atop it.

You will need to hitch a ride on many of the attractions to progress through the amusement park, and to collect misplaced money bags in order that you may complete your task. Some of these attractions include:

The selection of rides, and physical attributes of those rides, strongly suggest the influence of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which at the time featured almost all of the rides included in the game.

Some of these rides can be dangerous; for example the protagonist can be hit by moving carriages, or electrocuted by the rails. You may even have to perform stunts, such as jumping from a moving carriage to another to grab money bags left in between the tracks. In this effect the protagonist is also a daredevil stuntman.

The player must also navigate carefully through funhouses and motion platforms, which are treacherously going wild without operation, in your task to collect all the discarded money.


First screenshot of the game

In order to complete the game, the player must collect every money bag which is strewn around the city-sized amusement park; even the money bags placed on precarious perches and in the middle of rides. In order to do this, gambles and risks will have to be taken. When riding an attraction, timing your jumps carefully is essential to survival and completing the game.

The player's information bar is at the bottom of the screen. It reveals the player's score, which is the same as the amount of money collected. Each money bag retrieved earns you £100; this is displayed as 100 points and not £100.

The information bar also reveals the previous high score for any other game played during the session (since the game was last loaded up, that is.) This is useful since you will likely die often and have to replay the game from the start; you may want to compare your present score to previous games you have played in order to determine your progress in comparison.

There is also a bar which indicates the health of the character, which informs the player if something is harming the protagonist. This may be caused by, for example, standing on an electric rail. When the character is perfectly healthy the bar is simply empty and black; however if the protagonist is being harmed, a tombstone with the word "RIP" will begin to appear (accompanied by a high-pitch squeaking noise). Quick action by escaping the danger may result in a partial and incomplete tombstone, in which case the character will live. However once the tombstone is complete, the character's health is utterly depleted and the character dies.

Apart from having his health be depleted until death, the character can also be killed instantaneously by some dangers. This can be caused by numerous careless acts such as jumping from a great height, getting skewered by an erratic turnstile, or falling into water (despite his numerous athletic abilities, it appears the protagonist cannot swim and drowns when falling into water.) Falling a distance from a height will probably get you killed more often than any other danger.

The player has ten lives. Once the protagonist has died ten times, the player loses and the game is over.

What made the game more difficult was the lack of a scrolling screen; different screens are stationary and open up to the player as you enter them, unlike a side-scroller. In this way the player never knows what is around the corner until the last second. The game is made up of a total of sixty screens.


The game was noted for its imaginative use of colour and eye-pleasing novelties. Small cafés and sweet shops with bright and differently coloured frontage are found in abundance, lining the streets of the amusement park in colourful little rows. Beauty features, such as artificial waterfalls and exotic animals in zoo enclosures, also add to the colourful quality of the game. Palm trees and thatched beach huts are also found on almost every screen and perhaps indicate a tropical location of the park.

There is at least one part of the game which is based on a real amusement park: part of the Log Flume in this game is held up by a giant Gulliver statue, a reference to the similar statue which holds up part of the Monorail at Pleasure Beach Blackpool.

Critical response[edit]

The following excerpt is taken from the ZX Spectrum magazine CRASH (issue 66, page 43) which was published in July 1987. The review coincided with the Encore UK re-release of the game; however most reviews were positive in criticising the game and this particular review is an example of that. Note that the editors of the magazine seem to have developed a name and identity for the protagonist, as well as a motive for his trespassing and theft. It appears that he is, in fact, correcting an injustice through his actions. However this elaborated backstory has been lost to the mists of time, and the protagonist of Roller Coaster now seems set to remain anonymous once again.

'A crash smash!' Encore inform us. And indeed it was, at 94% no less. But remember that it was Christmas 1986 when we said that. So have times changed? Not that much because Colonel G Bogey is still hunting around his 60-screen funfair for bags of dosh pinched by a pilfering employee. You zoom around the well-animated and highly colourful screens riding the ghost train, log flume, and finally after many more rides embark on the roller coaster. The emphasis in Roller Coaster is to have vast amounts of fun, and, boy, do you! Each screen is deviously devised, but not difficult to master once you get to grips with the gameplay. And the gameplay - it's so addictive! Don't hesitate to buy Roller Coaster!

Dragon's Lair: The Legend[edit]

First screenshot of Dragon's Lair: The Legend - note the placing of the centre platforms suggest this was originally the Ferris Wheel scene

In 1990, Roller Coaster was ported to the Nintendo Game Boy as Dragon's Lair: The Legend, with the game's plot and graphics amended in order to closer resemble those of the original Dragon's Lair coin-op.[3] As less of the playing area was visible in the Game Boy port than in the Spectrum version, the display was effectively a window on each of the original version's screens, scrolling within each one and flicking to the next when the edge of the screen was reached.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "All Time Greats". CRASH. Newsfield. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  2. ^ "Roller Coaster review". CRASH (issue 24). p. 32. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  3. ^ "Total Makeover: How some publishers drastically rework games for different audiences". Ziff Davis. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 

External links[edit]