Developer: Frontier Developments
Release Date: November 21, 2006
Do you want to own an amusement park that even Sally Struthers would go to? Sure, we all do. That's why games like Roller Coaster Tycoon and its many bargain-bin knockoffs have come into such horrendous popularity. Just as it's hard to tell an amusement park apart from a carnival, however, it's hard to distinguish the good "park simulator" games from the horrible ones. However, it goes without saying that most of them are pretty much carbon copies, with the only changes being minor tweaks in controls and gameplay physics.
Then, one game goes and does something entirely different. Instead of being the do-all, end-all of roller coaster rides like a video gaming Cedar Point, it tries to aim for a more timid, family-friendly experience that, while being generally homogenized, is fun for everyone involved - like a video gaming Disneyland.
That game is Thrillville for the PSP.
Unlike the more well-known veterans in the "Build Your Own Park" genre, Thrillville actually hits you with a bit of a story. Granted, it's not much, and it's little more than a device to warrant the addition of objectives into the gameplay, but it's something. See, your Uncle Mortimer is too busy locked up in his laboratory inventing new gadgets and perfecting his impression of Doc Brown from the old Back to the Future films to run his successful Thrillville chain of amusement parks, leaving them dilapidated and filthy. Thus, he hands down rulership of the mighty theme parks to you, for your custom-made avatar to fix up as needed.
Yes, this means you can't build your parks entirely from the ground up, as all of them have specific path layouts and themes. However, past that, the parks are practically as limitless as your imagination and your pocketbook. Want more restroom stalls? So be it. Want to have a pizza vendor right next to the roller coaster for maximum nausea? All yours. However, the game doesn't really aim the player in the direction of having the biggest dollar sign, or tweaking around your rides for maximum sadistic amusement. The built-in roller coaster designer forces you to the confines of realistic safety, meaning your track must go in a full circle, and can't plow into any brick walls along the way.
Some people might see that as Thrillville's greatest weakness, when in fact it may be the game's greatest strength. See, while games like Roller Coaster Tycoon are content to cater to the micromanaging crowd who enjoy budgeting and obtaining maximum profit, Thrillville has a more simple, carefree goal in mind. Build a theme park, and then run around in it to your heart's content. In fact, calling the game a simulator might be a little misleading, as it's actually more of a collection of mini-games.
Short of riding roller coasters or adding things to your park, everything has a mini-game attached to it in Thrillville. Want to play the local arcade games? They're all in there, ranging from first-person-shooter clones to an odd sort of bumper car soccer to homages to games of days past such as Gauntlet and many of the old arcade plane shooters such as 1942 and Defender. Even the menial upkeep of the park has mini-games, ranging from the odd maintenance job which has you sucking up trash and spraying away puke in a fashion sort of reminiscent of Luigi's Mansion-meets-Doom to the engineer's job of fixing rides, which plays similar to the old Windows game Pipe Dream to being a pom-pom tossing entertainer in a surprisingly entertaining rhythm action game.
Outside of the games, though, you're left to roam the grounds of your park freely, checking on rides, fulfilling objectives such as fixing up certain areas of the park, finding stray trinkets, or building new attractions, and talking to the patrons. You can talk to anyone in the park you wish, which serves a double purpose; you can not only ask them about what you can improve in the park, but you can also befriend them in yet another mini-game. Effectively, chatting it up with patrons in this manner is somewhat like the conversations in The Sims 2 for the Game Boy Advance, except it's not entirely worthless and hideously bad.
In fact, in Thrillville it's somewhat intuitive, as instead of just selecting random topics to gab about, you can figure out what a person is into and focus on those topics. For instance, one person might like you talking about science facts, while another might want to hear you compliment them, and someone else might want to hear your highest score on the local games. In addition, if you're chatting with a member of the opposite sex who isn't obviously married and/or underage, you can choose to flirt with them, which doesn't really do much in the grand scheme of things, but is similarly amusing, and involves another mini-game consisting of a cupid firing arrows at small icons with certain colors in a bit of a timing-based matching game.
For the most part, the whole game works together without a hitch. There are a few problems, however — the PSP only has one analog stick, so first-person controls are a little stilted, and other games are sluggish in controlling. Problems with the control are few and far between, and are often so minor that they hardly warrant note. More notable are the graphical glitches. Oh, don't get me wrong, Thrillville looks absolutely gorgeous. It's just that when beautiful graphics lead to horrible slowdown, then they're suddenly far less beautiful. This is a classic case of the game simply wanting to do more than the system's processors can allow, leading to sluggishness at a surprisingly frequent rate.
As for the sound, it's less than impressive while still managing to be totally non-offensive. When you're running about your park, you hear generic music befitting the area's theme — a future-oriented area might have techno, while a more "normal" section might have generic bland rock — which is occasionally interrupted by your Uncle Mortimer's voice as he gabs about the latest awesome thing to be added to the park. With the exception of the entertainer game, the noise in mini-games is purely ambient and doesn't add or detract anything from the play.
There is some layer of Ad-Hoc wireless play in Thrillville so you can enjoy many of these games with your friends, provided any of them have a PSP and another copy of the title. Perhaps in a game like this, Internet-supported wireless is too much to ask, but it would've certainly boosted the game a few notches.
All in all, Thrillville is a worthwhile game if taken at face value, and it's the closest you could get to having an actual amusement park held in your PSP. Some of the entertainment is a little lacking, and it's not a sparkling clean package, but it hardly needs to be. As long as you don't buy the title expecting another roller coaster simulator like Roller Coaster Tycoon, you should be good to go. If you have kids who play the PSP or are just looking for a lighthearted way to pass the time, go ahead and give Thrillville a try. If you don't have the money to shell out to purchase the game, you should definitely consider renting it.
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