IGN Review of Thrillville: Off the Rails
Thrillville: Off the Rails is a theme park manager, rollercoaster builder and mini-game collection all wound together into a fun little package. Developed by Frontier Developments and produced by LucasArts, this sequel manages to do a whole lot of things quite well, but sports a few faults that keep it from being the truly impressive title it could have been. But, there's still a great deal to say about Off the Rails, so let's strap in and get this coaster rolling.
The first note we should make is that the game appears to be optimized for the 360 and PC; if not from a developmental standpoint than at the very least from a gamer's perspective. It looks the best on these two platforms (of course) and it runs much smoother as well, encountering fewer lag problems than the other versions. While the remaining platforms are still solid and fun, there is a noticeable enough difference to say that the 360 best demonstrates what this game has to offer, if the game mechanics appeal to you.
So what exactly are those game mechanics? Off the Rails is all about managing Thrillville, an explosively unique theme park run by a single kid/teen (who you can customize) and a kind-hearted but admittedly crazy scientist by the name of Uncle Mortimer (who just has to be a distant relative or spiritual successor to Dr. Emmett Brown). "Managing" can be a somewhat misleading term though, because the majority of this game revolves around building placement and mini-games. If you're a fan of simulation games and micromanagement, but you also enjoy a pinch of party fun, this may be a title that's right up your alley.
Your overarching task is to manage five different amusement parks that you unlock as you go, all of which belong to the same Thrillville family. Each park has three separate areas or zones with an individual theme, and within each zone you have three open spaces where you can arrange, customize and decorate amusement park attractions. Sound confusing? It is at first, because the game throws a lot of information at you within the first few moments, but things become progressively clearer as you go. In fact, what seemed like a nearly insurmountable task to us at the beginning turned out to be a walk in the park; managing your own personal Thrillville isn't that hard at all.
Most of the game places you in control of a single character that can run around the park and interact with rides, coasters, guests, and pretty much anything else within the park boundaries. Your management duties involve deciding what rides and stalls should be built, what dollar amount should they charge for their services, hiring/training staff and arranging marketing campaigns. Again, this assortment of activities may seem abundant, and there is a lot to do, but it does become mundane after a while.
When dealing with controls, you usually have the ability to take advantage of either the motion-sensing capabilities of the Wiimote or just use a traditional approach. Some of the mini-games have no motion-sensing ability though. This use of motion feels fine, though we imagine that they were added more as an afterthought, because the mini-games work just as well on non-motion-enabled consoles, and they sometimes work better.
One promising element of the game is the ability to interact with the guests and actually build dialogues with them. You can even flirt with a teenage member of the opposite sex, but unfortunately these branching conversations are very limited and repetitive. This issue with repetition happens to be the problem with the fundamental gameplay as well. Things are fresh and fun as you build up and realize the vision of your first park, but after you do the same thing three to four times, it starts getting old.
Another major component of the gameplay mechanics is building rollercoasters, which is done by piecing the coaster together one track segment at a time. You just point the Wiimote in a direction and you can twist it to twist the track. If anything, this is the best implementation of the Wii's motion controls in the game, because it actually makes building rollercoasters somewhat more instinctive. The system isn't perfect though, by any means. But with this tool, you can create some pretty interesting and borderline insane rollercoasters, yet for some reason we didn't feel totally rewarded for the effort. If you're really interested in this sort of deeply customizable mechanic, however, it's sure to please - and being able to take a ride on your own creation is definitely a plus.
The real fun of the game for us was playing the mini-games, because a surprising number of them were truly entertaining. The reason a number of them are so much fun is because they adhere very strictly to the most fundamental and beloved designs. For example, Autosprint is just a run-of-the-mill top-down racer, and Stunt Rider is a 2D side scroller where you can lean forward and back to keep alight on your motorcycle - very similar to an online Flash game of the same type. There are also some top-down shooters, side-scrolling shooters, puzzlers and rhythm games to boot. Ultimately, whether or not you enjoy this particular collection depends on whether or not you enjoy playing simple spin-offs of the classics. If you demand incredible innovation in everything you play, don't expect much out of this package. Frontier Developments has clearly borrowed the timeless game formulas we all know and love and put them to good use, but hasn't changed them much.
Off the Rails' mini-games also serve as the game's primary multiplayer dynamic, because every mini-game can be played with multiple people, and often times across multiple modes, like battle and cooperative. Some of the mini-games support this feature more gracefully than others. The best example, and one of the best items in the collection, is Bandito Chinchilla, a side-scrolling brawler with a Mexican flair. This incredible gem documents the brief journey of a fighting Chinchilla as he works vigorously to rescue his kidnapped sister. Fantastic. Bandito Chinchilla is hysterically fun when played with friends, and although it's short and simple, it's definitely a highlight of the collection.
As we mentioned before, this game does have several problems worth addressing. The most obvious problem, though not necessarily the most serious, is the game's graphical presentation. While some of the mini-games look great through their simplicity, the actual game doesn't quite push the system. More problematic is the repetition in the gameplay. While the mini-games are fun, they could have used a bit more variety because a handful of them are just the same game with different skins (especially the FPS entries). Furthermore, building up the parks can be fun at first, but it just grows tedious after a while due to your inability to truly design park layouts - you're restricted to building within the pre-designated spaces. Lastly, the game's soundtrack can be fun and even impressive, but the songs end up repeating a lot, which could be problematic assuming you don't turn them off.
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