The upcoming Thrillville casts you as a manager of an amusement park, an enviable position for both young folks and the young at heart. As you progress from fresh-faced newbie to management mogul, you'll be building and maintaining a series of theme parks, designing new rides and roller coasters from scratch, and doing whatever else you can to ensure that park visitors have a fantastic time. We recently had a chance to spend some time with this lighthearted park-building game to see how it's coming along ahead of its release later this month.
You start off the game with a brief video introduction from your uncle, Mortimer, a friendly-but-loopy scientist who informs you that, because he's working on a miraculous new clean-energy source, he no longer has time to take on his amusement park management duties and is counting on your to pick up the slack. After you pick out your character from the many presets available, ranging from little kids to adults, you can make any final appearance adjustments you wish and then it's off to the first park you'll be taking control of.
A series of tutorials will be what you see when you first enter the park. By completing each of them, you'll learn the basics of park management: the business and financial side of keeping a park monetarily healthy, as well as the different structures you can build such as food and drink stands, restrooms, minigames, and, of course, rides and roller coasters. You'll also be introduced to the fundamentals of hiring, firing, and training staff--an essential task for keeping your park in clean, running order--as well as how to interact with the various customers that are on hand.
Talking with park patrons is as simple as walking up to them and pressing the Y button (or triangle button on the PlayStation 2 or PlayStation Portable version of the game). Before you first engage in a conversation with customers, you'll get a brief description of their overall status, including their happiness, hunger, thirst, and so on. Chatting with customers is one of the best ways to figure out how to improve your park. In fact, the chat options are unexpectedly deep--in addition to asking for opinions on what a customer likes about a park, or recommending specific rides for them to try out, you can also engage in casual chats with folks and even flirt with members of the opposite sex. How they react to your conversations will affect their friendliness rating toward you, with the ultimate goal of making as many friends as you can. However, it is amusing to try and flirt endlessly with patrons, only to have them brush you off. In fact, some of the off-the-wall chat choices you can make are pretty amusing in and of themselves. For instance, did you know that "there are 300 bones in a human child's body, but only 206 in that of an adult"? No? Well, neither does the person you inform of that fact in the game.
As we've written in prior previews of the game, practically every activity you can engage in with Thrillville comes in the form of minigames. This includes not just the theme park rides like playful shooting games, bumper-car races, and saucer sumo, but also the various tasks that make up the maintenance of the park itself. When playing as a maintenance technician, for example, you're responsibility will be to repair and maintain the various rides around the park. The repair minigame is simple: You connect circuits on what looks like a computer video card with a number of suggested circuit shapes as quickly as you can. The faster you finish the puzzle (and the first few are extremely easy), the more cash you'll earn and the better trained that worker will be.
Of course, you'll eventually get bored with simply picking up people's trash (or cleaning up vomit...seriously) and fixing broken roller coasters. Sooner or later, you're going to want to get into the nitty-gritty of building rides yourself. Thanks to a coaster builder that's surprisingly user friendly for a console (or handheld) game, you can lay out an increasingly complex series of rails to build just about any kind of coaster you want. You cycle through the different parts by using the directional pad and holding down the trigger, then pressing A (or X on the PS2/PSP game) to place the item. At certain points, the game intelligently limits your choice of rail parts to only those that will work at a certain junction, making the process that much more streamlined. Of course, you're not required to design your own coaster if you don’t' want to; you can purchase prebuilt coasters if you want.
The game's visuals are coming together nicely, especially when considered as a whole. Sure, the individual character models are a bit blocky. And no, this isn't going to be confused for an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game any time soon. But considering the size of the parks and the amount of folks roaming around at any given time, complete with their own individual likes and dislikes (and the occasional comment on the park as you pass by), it's pretty impressive. The game's lighthearted look coincides nicely with its sense of humor and relaxing gameplay. When you factor in the party play mode, which lets multiple players take part in the many minigames found in Thrillville, to an already deep single-player experience, you've got a game that you can lose more than a few hours in. We'll have a full review of the game once it's released later this month.