Thrillville is the newest themepark sim developed by Frontier Developments, the minds behind Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and the classic Elite series, and published by LucasArts. The concept behind Thrillville is to open up the concept of a theme park design game beyond those who get into all of the nuts and bolts of running the park and designing the rides themselves, while keeping a lot of the depth to keep fans of the genre happy. The final result is a game that includes minigames, the ability to ride or play any attraction in the park, the ability to flirt and matchmake with the park’s patrons, as well as all of the detail that a theme park sim might entail.
Being that this is the first major theme park game on a console since Theme Park Roller Coaster way back in 2000 on the PS1, will the conventions of running a theme park carry over to the somewhat more limited control set of a console, or will it be a poor fit and most importantly, lacking in the fun quotient?
It’s very obvious from the beginning that Thrillville doesn’t take itself too seriously, outside of the business of having fun. The graphics reflect this, going with a bright, cartoon-like atmosphere. There’s not a huge amount of detail on the characters, but that’s more by design, helping to set the atmosphere. You can tell the difference between various characters, and see facial expressions, but the focus here isn’t on lifelike, realistic animation of people.
The park atmosphere is also in this vein. Imagine a combination carnival and theme park, mixed together, amped up to eleven and then designed by Willy Wonka. You begin then to get an idea of the bright, cheery colors done in a very fun-looking style.
The cutscenes are also rather well-done, having quite a bit more animation quality and detail than the in-game engine. It would have been nice to have the entire game run like that, which the PS2 is capable of, but it possibly would have increased load times to get all the textures in, and it’s really not that bad when it comes right down to it.
The music in Thrillville is quite solid, with a combination of general theme park music, as well as some original songs apparently specifically for the game. In the time I played this, I heard a few rock songs, what apparently was a rap or hip-hop song and others. All of the music was pretty nice, and it helped build the atmosphere.
The sounds of the park in action are quite realistic, as you can hear the crowds milling around, people talking to each other, the sounds of the rides in action, including screams as you ride some of the better coasters, and even interviews on the theme park’s radio network.
The voices of the characters in game are pretty solid as well. The only problem, however, is that you’re going to hear so much of the same chatter from various people that it can get quite annoying. Luckily, you can skip any of the spoken dialogue with a button press, which really helps after the fourth (or four hundreth) time that you’ve told someone you’re going to whup them.
The controls in Thrillville vary depending on which mode you find yourself in at any time. In explore mode, for example, the left analog stick moves your character while the right stick controls the camera. The square button opens your in-game menu while the start button pauses the game and opens the main menu. R1 allows you to zoom in almost into first-person mode, helpful for seeing detailed objects. Pressing triangle will talk to a guest. X will allow you to interact with a ride or game in the park.
One note is that the camera seems to be inverted, although you can change that in the game’s options. All of the controls for the minigames are available at the beginning of the game with a press of the square button, which helps in figuring out new games.
In Thrillville, you’re given the opportunity to help your uncle Mortimer run Thrillville, an amusement park. Unfortunately, the old professor is a bit loony, and so you’ll be on your own much of the time as he tries to … not blow himself up.
Of course, outside of the main game mode, you also have the opportunity to play Party Mode or Tourney mode to play any of the minigames you’ve unlocked, either single player (in Party Mode only) or multiplayer with a variety of options. You can also go into blueprint mode to create new rides for use in the game.
In the main mode, however, once you’ve watched the opening cinema, you’re able to create one of twenty characters. You can either accept them as they are, or modify their look and name to fully customize the character, choosing various hair styles and colors, various clothing styles and the color for them as well.
You have five ongoing goals in each park: building rides, playing games, meeting people, training staff, and running the business.
Training staff is pretty much what it sounds like, and you can hire mechanics, groundskeepers, and entertainers. They work on their own well enough, but work better with training, which is a series of minigames, as you show the staff how to do their job. Training a groundskeeper involves manipulating a power vacuum and a water hose, the first to pick up trash and the second to wash away vomit. Of course, each item is worth different points, and the higher your score, the higher your bonus. Training entertainers is basically a rhythm-based game as you tap a direction and button in time with the music that plays. Training mechanincs involves doing some circuit building, but it’s still pretty simple stuff, and it’s really not that hard to mess up, especially early on.
Interacting with the guests is an important part of the game. Talking to guests and getting to know them will lead to their becoming friends, which allows you to challenge them to games and get tips and information from them. You can also befriend teenagers on the lookout for a date. If you work at it, you can even gain the ability to take them over and try to flirt with other guests at the park. Once you open a conversation with a guest, you can choose between talking about the park itself or just chatting about topics. You can get a feel for what topics interest the guest, and use that to build friendship up to three levels high.
One nice thing is the ability to play every game and ride every ride you place in the theme park by walking up to it in explore mode and pressing X. When you play a game, you get rated on your play between one and five stars. If you get more than three stars, you get money, which always helps in running the park.
Running the actual business of Thrillville is much akin to running any other ‘sim’ game. You can control the prices for each concession and ride, you can hire people, put money into research and marketing and take out loans to increase your funding.
Each park has a number of missions to complete in order to unlock and move on to the next part. The missions range from the simple “place a ride” to the rather difficult task of making certain rides have a certain number of people using them per month.
Building the rides is one of the more fun and important aspects of the game. Many rides come pre-configured, but you’re able to create your own roller coaster designs, based on what you’ve researched so far. There’s a lot of data to immerse yourself in here, but luckily there’s a solid set of tutorials here, just as in the rest of the game.
While building your coaster, you have to make sure to not use too much power or you won’t be able to get back to the beginning of the route. Getting too high, too low, or too close to other rides can cause the game to scold you, refusing to let you put that particular ride together. Of course, once you create your coaster or whatever, you’re given the opportunity to ride it and see what you think about it.
As you complete missions, you’ll unlock new parks, and can move onto them to try to clear their missions, or can continue to play in the same park to finish off all of the missions there. The game really gives you the freedom to basically do what you want, not forcing you to try to make ends meet all the time, especially early on. Frontier seems to want to make this a game, first and foremost, and a sim after the fact. It almost sneaks the sim up on you before you even know it, and it really doesn’t detract from playing the game at all.
With twenty mini-games, hundreds of park attendees and more interactive rides than you can shake a stick at, there’s a lot of gameplay within Thrillville. When you add in the multiplayer componets, you really can start to tell that they meant this to be a game that people could pick up and play, and not have to worry agbout the amount of time that they have available. Beyond that, and most of all, they wanted this game to be fun. In that, they’ve succeeded admirably. You could easily sink 40 to 50 hours into the game, just trying to complete all of the tasks, and enjoying playing the games, either in single or multiplayer variants.
If you’re looking for a fun title that just happens to be a sim game, this is a worthy addition to your PS2 library.