Simulation games are always a tricky proposition on consoles. The versatility of keyboard-and-mouse controls is hard to pull of on a gamepad, ergo some of the fun is often lost when the genre hits a console.
But the developers at Frontier Developments, the makers of the renowned Rollercoaster Tycoon games, are up to the task of bringing the heady fun of theme-park simulation to consoles. For the most part, they succeed; the game mechanics in Thrillville work and there's a great deal of variety in the game, even if business isn't totally booming.
In Thrillville, you are the heir of a theme-park empire. Your crazy uncle has charged you with helping him create the biggest and greatest theme parks in the country. In addition to the expected tasks of designing rides of managing your parks, you'll have to interact with patrons and play a wide variety of minigames. Actually, you don't have to hit up every aspect of the game. Between making rides, asset management, keeping patrons happy, and playing the minis, you can pick and choose the aspects you like and mostly ignore the others.
Many of the elements of the game are tried and true, such as an easy-to-understand rollercoaster design screen and the management tasks like hiring workers and setting the price of concessions. But there are few new twists to the genre as well.
For example, training your workers is done via minigames. Want your performers to be more entertaining? Then, jump into a rhythm-action game in which they practice dancing. Mechanics play a sort of puzzle game drawing lines between parts on a circuit board, and cleaning up the park is an arcade-y action game (albeit it one with sloppy controls). You run around the park, vacuum up litter, and mop up vomit (by blasting it with a cleaning ray, oddly enough). The better you do, the more skilled your worker becomes.
Most attractions you set up can also be experienced as minigames, from the mini-golf course to the trampoline to the hovercar race tracks. There are loads of them to play, ranging from really fun, to decent, to boring, and many have some rough edges (usually clunky controls).
The social aspects are both interesting and kind of weird. You can chat with patrons, befriend them, aid them in flirting, and make them happier attendees of your park. The odd thing is, some of the conversational choices are normal, but many others consist of spouting random factoids to people.
It's almost like you're that kid from Jerry Maguire constantly saying things like, "Hi! How are you? I'm the manager of this park. The human head weighs eight pounds!" And while we were amused to learn that the fly is the most dangerous animal on Earth and the moon has moonquakes, it's almost impossible to guess what a guest's reaction to any particular comment is going to be.
The PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game are identical. While the voice acting and music enhance the game's playful tone, the graphics… well, that's another story. To be honest, the visuals could be mistaken for a PSone game with smoother edges. It's probably a symptom of all the computing going on under the hood (tracking the emotions and activities of each guest in the park), but it's nonetheless pretty unimpressive. On the plus side, you're not losing out if you have to choose one version instead of the other. If you're into it, you should just go with the system you have or prefer.
There's no question that Thrillville offers a metric ton of activities for you to engage in. The sheer variety is unheard of for this genre (on a console anyway), and it all works. That said, little of it is outstanding, and while all the pieces are in place, there isn't a single aspect of this game that will blow you away. It can be fun at times, but mostly, it's just kind of there, lacking that extra spark of polish and inspiration that would make it a must-play. We'd rent first unless you're really into this genre, but if you're looking for a single game that offers a ton of variety, this is a good choice.