Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: If you build it, they'll come to "Thrillville: Off the Rails"

Being an expert on amusement parks (10 trips and counting to Disney World outside of Orlando), I think I know a thing or two about having fun.

LucasArts' "Thrillville: Off the Rails" is one of the most innovative sims I have seen in a while. The game features a wealth of things to do - from managing your very own amusement park - to testing the rides (my favorite).

You start out picking an avatar - don't worry, you can customize them later - and you are groomed on how to manage an amusement park. Think "The Sims" meets "Viva Pinata" - but with some very, very cool features. You get a chance to walk around the park you have created and interact on levels I have never, ever seen in a video game.

When you start "Thrillville," you have a few options. You can choose "New Game" and start working on the sweetest amusement park in the world - you can choose "Party Play" and let up to 4 players can play minigames against each other. You can also choose "Coaster Builder" and build some pretty cool coasters. The coolest part about the coasters? Making them real hurlers. I'll get back to this later ...

You can also select tutorials for an in-depth lesson on how to manage your park. The five icons are: Business, Guests, Build, Games and Upkeep. At first, you don't have a real choice and can't avoid them. It's best to just do them and get them out of the way. It's fun and painless.

The attractions at your park include riding, building and playing. Here's where the game's depth shows itself. When you build an attraction, your adviser offers you clue on what to do in the park and where. Since you ARE the owner, you can get a chance to ride the rides (my personal favorite), play the minigames (there are TONS (over 30) and all of them could have been available for purchase on Live) and building more and more attractions.

Getting a chance to play your minigames is very cool. You can find yourself behind the wheel of a bumper car, controlling a BMX or a tank - or rescuing *Bandito's* sister. The only limits are your imagination. You can also ride your rides (SiCK) and even manage how much they cost. There's an in-depth look at your ride(s), how popular (or uncool) your ride is - and my favorite part - how high the puke factor is. I wanted to make a coaster that had a puke level over 70. (Note: The higher the nausea rating, the more spectacular the spit-ups are) I made one that was definitely in the red - 72 - and rode it. You can choose your view - first person, in another seat, or a cinematic shot. I love the first person and I hopped in. Not only was I breaking tons of city, county and state height restrictions, but I had a couple vertical drops that were sure to make some folks hurl.

After riding it, I was pleased. I had the chance to make virtual kiddies wear the pizza they just downed. Sweetness ...

I saved my coaster, affectionately named 'Tha Hurler,' and realized another way-cool feature - the ability to share your masterpieces. If your buddies on Live have the game, they can download your creations. Pretty cool, huh?

You can also do staff minigames, including Entertainer, Groundskeeper (oh, that sounds like fun ...), Mechanic (you link circuit boards, very similar to the hacking minigame in "Bioshock") and Vender Tender.

But what adds a dash of "The Sims" into the game is the ability to interact with pretty much anyone in the park. You are the manager, and you need to know what will keep your customers happy.

When you meet someone, you will enter a minigame where you are giving topics and you choose questions. Depending on the person you are talking to - a child or an adult - you will have to test their mood to advance. Say the wrong things to a person, and just like in real life, they'll look at you like you stepped off the last bus from "Creepville."

If you say the right things, you build up a relationship/friendship with your customers.

If you flirt with members of the opposite sex, you can become *love interests." I do think this is the only game on the market where a grown, married man can flirt with teens and not end up finding himself on a stool looking at Chris Hanson on "To Catch a Predator."

All jokes aside, with the deep customization in the game, from modding your coasters, to tailoring your park to your customers' needs, you will never be bored in your very own theme park.
It's yours, and all you have to do is listen to your customers and keep them happy.

The graphics aren't stellar, but work with this game. From the crisp clouds to the cartoonish avatars, it's not meant to be serious.

The sounds are good - the screams are scary ...

Control is good most times - unless you are trying to build a coaster. Sometimes, the AI will do what it wants. It's not a biggie - and controlling your avatar is pretty easy. Controls in the minigames are solid.

Being able to play the minigames with friends always rocks. There's content downloads for the future (none announced yet) and leaderboards to track who's working on the next Walt Disney ... or next Wally World.

What would really send this title in orbit is having the ability to visit another friend's park and ride their rides and interact with them over Live. Now, that would be SiCK!

If you like "The Sims" and virtual management, and love hanging out at amusement parks without worrying about stepping on gum, long lines and whining babies, you should consider checking "Thrillville" out.

Race you to the midway!

Why should I care: It's a pretty sweet sim where you own an amusement park. It's your park, so guess what? No waiting in lines - and you don't have to pay!

The good: Insane customization, management and tons of stats, social minigames, the ability to build your own coasters and share them with friends, and over 30 minigames

The bad: Ok graphics, not-so-easy building controls and no real online component

The ugly: Working hard at building a coaster with a puke rating of 99.

Overall: 8 (out of 10):
This game is one of the funniest I have played in a while. With more than 30 minigames, it's really worth the price of admission. However, you have to like sims to get into this. If you are a "Mass Effect," "Call of Duty 4" or "Halo 3" fan, you may come away wanting just a lil bit more. And while having the ability to share coasters rocks, not being able to visit your buddy's park isn't. Still, it's a great family title that has an insanely high replay value on it.

No comments: