Gaming Today Review Thrillville: Off the Rails (PC)
For me, amusement parks mostly conjure up memories of boring rides, overpriced tickets, and scorching hot weather; exceptions to this being parks involving the words “Disney” or “Universal Studios.” So when I’m tasked with reviewing a game about such a place, the first thing I think is, Great, now I can enjoy all that from the comfort of my home. Such is the game of Thrillville: Off the Rails; it sounds like a good idea and is even a little fun for awhile, until you reach that magical point where you suddenly snap to your senses and ask yourself what the hell you’re doing.
Thrillville: Off the Rails lets you know just what sort of game you’re in for just from the character customization screen. There are over a dozen character models to choose from, but aside from gender and age, they really all look the same except for their hair color and the inclusion of a jacket. Besides which, no matter what you try to do, the guys all end up looking like they fell off the back of a Hot Topic truck; mainly because you can only give them emo haircuts. Basically, I hated my character despite my efforts to customize him away from the douchy teenager look, and I wasn’t happy that I had to control him. If a game is supposed to allow you to be someone else in a different world, why would I want to be an emo kid?
After begrudgingly selecting a character, an opening cut scene hosted by a rip off of Back to the Future’s Doc Brown explained the setup to me. Basically, I, the lucky teenager, had been given the job of Park Manager for this eccentric scientist’s various theme parks. My main task was to ensure the parks’ success and thwart the plans of the evil “Globo-Joy” corporation to ruin us. After a quick tutorial, I was sent off to manage a park.
Your goal is to complete various missions and tasks to obtain “Thrill Points,” which unlock new parks and rides. You can collect Thrill Points simply by playing games, so that’s what I started out doing. Because there’s such a variety of mini-games, it was easy when I tired of one game to just move on to another. Surprisingly, this kept me entertained for a few good hours.
Most of the other tasks have you just talking to random customers in your parks to find out what they want or to get hints. These conversations are varied and occasionally humorous, but more often they’re inane and incredibly stupid. All you really do is throw out random bits of trivia to see how they react. Then you just click on the same icons that they react positively to over and over until you’re declared “friends.” If you throw out some piece of information that they’re not interested in though, they’ll respond with harsh personal insults. It’s like posting on a forum, only in game form and with virtual people flaming you. It’s about as fun as it sounds.
There’s really nothing special about the graphics here. All the characters and park guests are modeled in a simple, Sims-like style. The mini-games are very simplistic and could probably be recreated easily in Flash. The basic park styles are interesting in themselves, with some huge moving set pieces and creative styles. That all kind of dissipates though once you start placing rides, which usually don’t fit in with the overall look of the park. There were occasional graphical flubs, but nothing that really hindered the gameplay.
The music may seem cutesy and a light-hearted at first, but it will quickly drive you insane. There’s a variety of music in the sense that there are several different songs, but most of them are either generic rock or pop songs (and one out-of-place traditional song). It plays throughout every part of the game except the mini-games too, so there’s really no escaping it. The voice acting isn’t too bad, but there aren’t really any memorable characters to tie them to. Well, except for the main scientist who owns the parks, but his voice is just aggravating.
Not unlike a roller coaster, the “fun level” of this game climbs to a peak before taking a sharp dive. It was quite a bit of fun for awhile until I hit a point where I realized I was bored and didn’t want to continue. I trudged on anyway, hoping that might change, but quickly saw that it wouldn’t. The problem is, once you’ve completed the missions in one park, the next parks are all the same, but with a different coat of paint. The only thing encouraging you to progress is the possibility of trying out some new mini-games. Unfortunately, about four parks in, the mini-games all start to seem the same as well. Also, it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that the mini-games are all just old console games given some new graphics. Seriously, there’s a platformer where you jump around collecting things, a racing game where you drive little toy cars around a track, and a top-down tank shooter. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
You’re supposed to be building the theme park of your dreams, but then you’re still being forced to place rides and attractions in designated spots that can only hold so much. Besides that, each park has specific “missions” that require you to build specific attractions. So even though you can build anything you want, you still have to place rides and games from the missions so that you can progress. You can build roller coasters and race tracks from scratch, but since you have to give it a high “Thrill” factor — usually due to a mission — you’re left pretty much slapping down rails with as many loops or gimmicks as your funds allow.
There really isn’t any challenge to keeping your guests happy. All you have to do is check the overview of your park from time to time. They want bathrooms? Then build a couple bathroom; problem solved. The only way you could ruin the parks is buy selling off all the rides, and people would still probably show up. And this is coming from someone who ran numerous SimCities into the ground without intentionally triggering any disasters.
The game makes itself look like a sandbox title, but there’s really very little to encourage your own creativity. All you really have control over is what rides are in place and whether they have a space theme or not. Besides which, as stated before, the missions required to open new parks involve placing specific rides, so you barely even have control over that. You could play this game a hundred times and you’d still end up with the same basic parks every time. You can play any mini-games you’ve unlocked directly from the main menu, but if you’ve played them once, the chances of you wanting to play them again are slim.
Thrillville: Off the Rails masquerades as a sandbox title, but sincerely lacks the customization to make it feel like you’re really creating anything so much as just placing things on pre-designated areas. The mission system constricts the gameplay so much that you really don’t feel like you have much control over how the parks turn out. Even then, the game is incredibly easy and won’t last long for an experienced gamer. The mini-games can occupy your time for awhile, but they’re really not much more interesting than your typical free Flash game. I can really only recommend this game to small children, since their the only group of gamers I could see not having enough gaming experience to tell that this has all been done before and better.