Thrillville: Off the Rails Review

Off the Rails lives up to its name with 20 death-defying rides so outrageous, they inspire the same word from every park visitor who sees them:

Last year’s version had playful graphics generally consisting of large nondescript features. For the console era, that was given the pass. However, on the PC I expected a bit more here. Starting off with customizing the manager I was let down. There are, at most, 4 different types of anything to customize. Four haircuts, 4 tops, 4 bottoms, and 6 colors can be put on your avatar.

Beyond that, the graphics for the park itself are bulbous and lacking many details. There is no glint of the Sun, no mirror effects, no breeze, or any such wow factor involved. The starting park is something of a stuntman’s paradise with quad-runners, motorcycles, and monster trucks racing around or bounding over wrecked cars. It’s not very realistic, but it is a game after all.

Speaking of games, all those mini-games are still abound in Thrillville: Off the Rails. These are largely 2-D games that harkens back to the early days of SNES, mixed in with a tad of modern physics model. For example, there’s a motorcycle game you can play. This consists of using the arrow keys where up is gas, down is brakes, left and right are for leaning forward or backward in the seat. The side-scrolling begins along a basic dirt track that has plenty of bumps and divots to catch air so you can collect coins. If you come down at the wrong angle the front wheel breaks off and you crash in a stick-figure heap, and start over. My kids were howling in laughter, but the graphics were that of a 16-bit over-the-weekend code binge.

The noises in the game are fairly low key. Much of your time is spent chatting with patrons of your park. You have dozens, if not hundreds, of things to say to your customers, but their responses seemed limited to a handful. You can pick up a good bit of trivia from your options such as: did you know that an albatross can sleep while flying at 25 miles per hour. Yeah! Yeah, the kid I told it to wasn’t too impressed either, but it may make for some interesting bar conversation at some point, or maybe get you onto a TV show someday so do not discount the power of trivia.

To spice up the monotony of trivia, you can be a love machine. I have your attention now, don’t I? As park administrator, it is your sworn duty to make your clients happy. Perhaps you can cull one or two off for yourself with some flirtatious chatter, or be the ultimate cupid and play matchmaker amongst your guests. Just imagine, Sally’s looking a little bit down that she can’t find someone to ride the vomit-dial-is-11 WHOA coaster, and hey, so was that guy Bill you saw 10 minutes ago. Well hook them up together and finally make a profit as well as a mess all over your sidewalk! The problem is that takes a lot of talking to a lot of people and the conversations are long and repetitive.

But you have to give props to the fact that there are quite a few different voices and music tracks. They’re implemented well, and I kept clicking to hear more. Plus there is lots of ambience like radio announcers doing interviews with the whacky professor, and a wide variety of music to fit park themes.

The control system was mostly via the keyboard. This was not so good. The arrow keys were simply forward, back, and strafe left or right. So instead of turning, you slowly veer into a loop and hopefully you don’t take too long to get where you wanted to go. Not too difficult, but I would have liked to be able to turn via mouse. Usually the camera angle changes with the mouse while you hold down the left-button which was often less than useful, but every now and again it’d take the hint that I wanted to change direction. It was very uneven and inefficient.

Placing new rides is supposed to involve the NumPad, but what you end up doing is using the NumPad’s guide displayed on the screen. You can’t just drag and drop a ride, no; you must click arrows on the screen and use the Q& E again to rotate things into position. Certain rides can only be placed in certain zones which dampen creativity a bit, but the interface is pretty simple to use. Not quite as functional, but simple.

I never really had a problem with the controls not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, but they seemed to be over thought. Rather than use tried-and-true schemes in the other games they went their own way. Somehow I bet patent law is to blame for this.

Being a huge fan of the tycoon series of games, I was very happy to get my hands on this one. However, once I learned that the experience is little more than a massive set of mini-games and micro-management I came out of it being disappointed. Rather than a system of achievements where you earn awards for doing tasks, you have to actively start each mini-game. At least this does parts of it for you. For example, while strolling down the lane I apparently walked over a poster that denigrated my park. A screen came up and asked me if I wanted to play the “find the posters” mini-game. How silly is that? Why not just a thought bubble that says “uh oh, someone is besmirching my theme-park. I must see if there are any more of these (1 of 6 discovered so far).”

It gets even worse. You have a certain number of employees, such as cheerleaders and janitors, to keep the folks happy. Rather than just hire any stunning woman and put her in a tight sweater and a mini-skirt, you have to actually play a mini-game that serves as training. The better you do, the better her squad entertains, and the happier your customers are (no accounting for jealous wives wanting to smack their drooling husbands for leering at said cheerleaders). This mini-game is a crazy bit where you use the arrow keys and the ASDW keys in conjunction to complete a Guitar-Hero-like action to keep the song going.

Between wandering around the park, talking to everyone — including a critic that straight-up told me to bribe him –, playing 1001 mini-games, and getting on the incredibly short rides I wondered why is was brought to a platform as powerful as the PC. After a couple hours I was fairly bored. After several hours of forcing myself to see where the game turns the corner I gave up. My kids, 4 & 7, were laughing out loud constantly, but the controls are too hard for them and some of the content is a bit advanced. If your teenager has an exceptionally long attention span then perhaps this is the game for him or her.

For a PC game, this one doesn’t have the graphics, free choice system, or versatility that it should. Between the overly involved control system and the lack of details it is clear that this was ported over from the console generation. That is no crime, but in this case it is a demerit. The game suffers from being too grown up for children, but too childish for adults. The teenager crowd can be a finicky bunch, but there is the option to shine. There might even be a couple lessons in business need vs customer needs inside.

The bonus as a PC game, however, is that there is a demo.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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