IGN Review of Thrillville
With all the noise about the release of PlayStation 3 and Wii, it may be hard for gamers to look forward to current-gen games that don't begin with "Final Fantasy" and end with "XII." Hopefully that's not the case, because it would be a shame for Thrillville, an amusement park simulator, to be completely overlooked. It's a niche game where there's more emphasis on building than destroying, but it creates such a comfortable pocket that it's hard to want to stay and sit awhile.
Thrillville's whole premise is that you're a manager for one of five different theme parks -- each with three subsections with its own subject matter. In each subsection there are two possible roller coasters and three sections to place smaller rides and stalls to sell merchandise or food. Making the whole park work is a matter of getting the best rides, selling goods, making sure it all runs well with a well-trained staff, and taking care of the numbers along the way. It sounds like a lot, but you're in the hands of professionals so it flows smoothly.
The folks behind Thrillville, Frontier Developments, are the same people who brought us Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 for the PC and they've managed to take that experience and craft into a pretty solid console game. The simulation details of running a theme park can run deep, but it's easy to hop around and change the price of hats at a stall, skip to the marketing department to run new ads, or jump back again to redesign a ride. Rarely does it feel like you have to wade through red tape to get the job done.
There was a time when I had a job to work with a lawyer and I had to help restructure his filing system. That's fancy talk for putting everything in alphabetical order so he could find his files in less time. It was a crap job, but he said something I'll never forget, "Make it a game and it's more fun." Well, there's no alphabet game that's fun and the paycheck eased that piercing existential pain, but in Thrillville this philosophy runs deep and true. Every task is turned into its own mini-game that's fun more often than it isn't.
At the basic level, these mini-games involve training employees for the park by doing their job yourself. The better you do, the better trained the employee is. It's learning by example so you get to wash the vomit, fix the electrical systems, and dance in a rhythm game for the janitor, mechanic, and entertainer. But with several games in the park for the visitors to play as well, such as coin-op machines and bumper cars, there's a lot of variety. After all, as park manager, part of the job is to get new high scores and challenge customers.
In playing these mini-games you get an appreciation of just how many things there are to do in Thrillville. Many of the arcade games are playful tributes to classics such as Gradius, Gauntlet, and various first-person shooters. Most are pretty fun and it can be easy to get distracted by trying to get a new high score in a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up. It's here that it becomes crystal clear that the developers want you to keep exploring and playing and enjoy yourself. Who can complain about that?
Getting back to business, there are a lot of details to take care of in each of the parks beyond playing around. Advertising, maintenance, purchasing, pricing, accounting, and several other details come into play, but all are introduced in an easy-to-understand manner with missions that need to be completed in order to unlock the next park in the series. Each mission gently leads deeper into the game and the minimum requirements for the bronze medal for each mission is typically easy to pull off.
The deepest section for play is easily the construction of new rides. There are plans for several pre-built roller coasters and race tracks, but the real fun is in making some ridiculous vomit-hurling ride on your own. The construction system is easy to use and get into and can even suggest ways of looping the track back to the beginning if you're getting a little lost. The best part is to create a race track and then challenge visitors on them to set a new track record. In here, the whole game feels like it comes together.
Instead of acting as an eye-in-the-sky such as in other god games, the player controls a park manager who runs around the park and can directly interact with any of the customers. It helps to make the game more personal, but the implementation is a little rocky and creates some of the less interesting pieces of business. It's here that Thrillville can be a little bit too hands-on.
As manager, part of the job is to talk to the customers and become friends or sweethearts with them. This is done by picking the right topics to talk about and schmoozing until they're your friend and then maybe smitten as well. Lots of the conversation has its own geeky humor, but it quickly loses its flavor as time goes on. It's also easy to game the system and choose random phrases that will eventually make them your friends. It's not hard at all and the whole process is more or a nuisance than anything else. Another annoying park manager job is to run around to find various hidden objects. Money, plans for new rides, and random collectables are placed all over and only by a process of slowly walking around can they be found. It makes sense that there should be a reason to explore each environment, but these drag it out far too long.
If anything, Thrillville has backed a little too far away from the simulation style of the Rollercoaster Tycoon games. Unlocking all of the parks can be done in five or six hours and after that the motivation for playing more and improving the parks depends solely on the player. Many of the different details are introduced, but rarely explored fully. Making new roller coasters is easy and fun to do, but it's easy to get by without doing any real designing. The same is true for many other areas as well.
For those who want to do everything and love the sandbox nature of Thrillville, there is more than enough to do here. Well after my first park was completed I spent time tweaking the details to make it run better and make more money. It would have been nicer to see players be pushed a little harder, however. There are all of the gold medals to collect, but getting all five parks happens too quickly as the game is eager to open itself up.
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