There's something about taking control of your own amusement park...something fantastical, something very Candy Land-ish. It's like every child's dream - that, and being Willy Wonka - and Thrillville allows you to live that dream. It's not quite like the straightforward, top-down, somewhat removed style you'll find in Roller Coaster Tycoon or Sim Theme Park, because this one brings you right down into the world you're building and managing. Frontier Developments has teamed up with LucasArts to provide us with a mildly entertaining and relatively involving simulation experience, even if it is quite simplistic compared to the aforementioned titles. So let's take a look at what it's like to manage your own amusement park in a virtual world.
The graphics are better than average, complete with some decent detail throughout each park, but the overall palette is a bit bland. They're far better when you step back and take control of things from afar, or look down amongst the park from the top of a ferris wheel, but when up close, there's not much to praise. There's some nice color and contrasts in the vibrant environments, as one might expect from an amusement park, but there are also some clipping and camera issues when placing new attractions. In short- not much to crow about, but not much to complain about, either. All in all, it's not a polished or refined look, but it does the job; delivering a passable visual presentation for both running around the park and playing park-guru from above.
The sound excels in a variety of areas thanks to a surprisingly decent soundtrack and a solid cast of voice actors. Those are two things you wouldn't expect to find in a theme park simulation, huh? Well, because you're running around amongst the crowds in the park, you're often supposed to stop and speak to the guests, and that is a pleasant experience from a sound perspective. That crazy uncle of yours, Mortimer, has a distinctive voice perfect for the role of a mad scientist type. The soundtrack bounces back and forth between bubbly and a bit more intense with a light-hearted tinge, depending on what you're doing. There isn't a huge amount of diversity (too many pop songs), and you'll soon hear repeats of the same track in other parks, but that's okay. Believe it or not, the sound is actually the best part of Thrillville.
As mentioned in the introduction, this isn't your run-of-the-mill simulation. First and foremost, the fact that you're down on the ground among the very park you control adds a great deal to the experience. As you continue to play, you'll realize this aspect is the backbone of the entire game, primarily because it's so very much unlike anything else you may have played. Your uncle has assigned you - yes, you, a child - to become manager of Thrillville, the biggest, baddest amusement park in the land. You'll soon gain access to all kinds of futuristic and high-flying rides, all designed to give your visitors the ultimate theme park experience. You'll interact with your guests, talking to them about the park and making friends, thereby gaining a good reputation and getting ideas about what to build next. It's an innovative and seamless approach, really.
The only problem is, it's all far too easy. You'd really have to go out of your way to run the park into the ground, and while all the options appear to be there on the surface, the linear and very rule-oriented way you go about designing your park takes away from the concept of a "simulation." The idea behind full control would mean you could put anything anywhere, any time, and create whatever you wished. In Thrillville, while you can build a nice inventory of available rides, stands, and other attractions, your timing and selections isn't all that crucial. And that's unfortunate, because they had a good thing going with the format. Provided you follow the mission prompts and keep an eye on the five points of interest every good manager needs to consider, your park will thrive (and later, your other parks will, too).
Those "five points of interest," by the way, are Guests, Building, Games, Management, and Upkeep. You have to interact with the park visitors to make a name for yourself as a cordial, attentive manager, and sometimes, they'll challenge you to some fun mini-games. Speaking of the games, that portion is so you can score high and gain some extra funds for your park's operations. The building part is self-explanatory, as you'll purchase, build, and place everything from giant coasters to ice cream stands. As for management and upkeep, well, you need a staff to help you out, don't you? You must train and pay a staff, and you must also allocate funds for promoting the park via marketing campaigns and for researching fresh new rides. And in case you were wondering, yes, you must research certain rides before they become available.
Now, all of this seems to keep in line with the traditional simulator, but so long as you keep doing those missions, talk to a few people along the way, keep the staff and visitors happy, and maintain a campaign for cash, you really can't fail. The biggest saving grace is the building of thrilling coasters, which you soon will find holds the most entertainment once you've gotten your bearings. The interface for creating these coasters from the ground up is a bit clunky, but it works. But you can't do any trial runs on incomplete rides just for fun, and you're somewhat limited, especially when it comes to space. The later parks are larger, but even then, truly gargantuan coasters often seem to run into other rides or obstacles. That is, however, part of reality, so the inherent frustration is acceptable.
The mini-games you play range from mini-golf and sci-fi hovercraft racing to arcade-style games that might resemble Galaga or Joust, but they also bounce back and forth between painfully easy to unnervingly difficult. You don't really have to "beat" any of them, as you're simply graded on a star rating; 1 star being the lowest and 5 stars being the highest. The more stars you earn, the more money you earn. Simple. But they seem awfully arbitrary and even bizarre, as we're not really sure how that nets us funds... It's almost as strange as some of the guest interactions, as you often have no idea what topic will create a positive response, but if you toy around enough, you'll eventually win them over. If you're a boy, you can flirt with a girl - and vice versa - but it doesn't add much to the game. You can also try to play Cupid with love-struck teens roaming your park, but again, besides funds, it doesn't really contribute to your ultimate success or failure.
You'll quickly move forward and unlock the second park, probably within the first hour, and you should have all five parks unlocked within only five hours or so. The parks don't differ too drastically, and you basically run them all in the same way. As you research and unlock bigger and more insane rides, the game gets slightly more entertaining, but the overall concept doesn't really advance beyond Day 1. Like we said before, manually building your own super-coasters (you can also purchase pre-constructed ones) will probably take up the majority of your time, while training your employees will soon wear thin. After all, how many times can we run around and suck up litter (and clean up vomit) with our high-powered inverted leaf blower? ...at least, that's what we think it is.
Overall, Thrillville is a moderately satisfying experience that might bring you several hours of uninterrupted enjoyment, especially if you're into building simulators. It's not as deep as other simulators, suffering from an admittedly gimped method of control, but on the other hand, the whole things seems more interactive. Being able to walk around among the throngs of people really adds some flavor, and by experiencing your new rides - in a first-person view, by the way - you really feel like it's your park. But it's just too bland and simplified because that mission structure, while original and accessible, seems to erase the necessary "simulation" sensation. And once you understand what it is you have to do, you'll quickly realize it's not demanding in the least, and even creating gravity-defying roller-coasters will soon lose its appeal.
However, it's still not a bad little game. And while we really can't recommend it for adult gamers who want something like Sim Theme Park, parents might want to consider Thrillville for younger gamers with lofty aspirations of owing an amusement park. It will give them a good idea as to what it takes, only without the requisite challenge...which makes for a good kid's game, right?
3/6/2007 Ben Dutka