I Like Bribes! - Theme Park Critic
As someone who can't play on the swings without feeling nauseous, theme parks have never held much interest for me. Give me some bumper cars, a fist full of cotton candy and a carnie trying to sell me pot and I've about hit my limit for carnival fun. With this in mind, you might imagine my dismay when I ripped open the mysterious package from Microsoft and found the Xbox 360 version of Thrillville: Off the Rails, it was a little hard to see past my choking disappointment that it wasn't Mass Effect instead.
On the plus side, very few games have made me nauseous since F-Zero on the Super Nintendo so a few virtual rides shouldn't be a problem. Over 30 poorly constructed mini-games later, I was starting to wish I'd bought the dime bag from that clown.
Platforms Available: Xbox 360, PC, Wii, PS2, DS, PSP
Played: Xbox 360
If you "˜re expecting Sim Theme Park you're going to walk away from Thrillville disappointed. There is very little park management to scratch your head over aside from building rides and chatting with visitors to the park. There are status bars, missions and goals to track, but this game is for kids so they aren't pushing you to climb intellectual mountains. It's enough to listen to the people tell you what they want, build the appropriate buildings and play the dozens of minigames to fill out the experience.
After creating my suggestive teenage girl avatar and entering my first park, I was informed that there was a dreaded critic in the area and I needed to get on his good side. I maneuvered my tween over to the guy and stabbed the A button, bracing myself for a complex debate full of veiled threats, under the table offers and petty attacks on my character.
YOUNG GIRL: Your review of the park was pretty harsh.
CRITIC: I LIKE BRIBES.
YOUNG GIRL: Here's a free ticket for you.
CRITIC: You're way better than those other guys.
Well played, Mr. Critic. Well played.
The minigames are really where the meat of the game is found. The box claims over 30 games with 14 new ones, suggesting that if I had played the first game I might be pretty disappointed right about now. Instead, I'm pleased with the old school "50 games in One!" compilation quality of the disc. Granted, most of the games are low-rent versions of flash games you could play online for free, but there are a few competent clones of the genres they're trying to emulate. Side-scrolling shoot-em-ups, brawlers, kart races, gun fights and more are available in single player and multiplayer modes. None are perfectly executed, but they do act as a set of training wheels for a younger generation that grew up on 3D games. I like the idea of a 12 year old struggling with the same crappy controls I had to at his age playing R.C. Pro-Am.
When I wasn't whacking moles and fighting in coop brawlers with my tolerant wife, I found myself building roller coasters. Or WHOA COASTERS as they call them thanks to some crazy, completely unsafe coaster add-ons that throw both caution and your patrons to the wind. Building a roller coaster in a 3D space is surprisingly simple and approachable, especially considering the target audience. It doesn't take much finesse to span your whole theme park with a killer ride, complete with loops, slingshots and other WOAH accessories. Even better, if you ever get tired of trying to bring your new ride full circle, you can ask the game to finish it off for you.
You can actually take a ride on your own coaster once you're done, either in first person perspective or from a distant camera view. There aren't a ton of thrills to be had since you're not going to feel the crushing momentum of the real thing, but it sure made me nauseous! Points for bringing that small bit of authenticity to the experience.
Thrillville: Off The Rails is not trying to please hardcore gamers who want to set drink prices and optimize their park's profit margins. What it does well is give kids a lot of different things to see and do depending on their maturity and interest level. You do need to progress in the single player mode building rides and relationships before you can unlock a few of the minigames, but they aren't too hard to achieve.
Even though not many of the minigames hold much interest for seasoned veterans, it's easy to imagine young teens having a good time playing with their friends. The younger 3D generation isn't likely to be exposed to a vertical shoot-em-up like 1942 otherwise. Hold that idea close when you're stuck playing Thrillville with your 8 year old nephew all night.
- Shawn Andrich