The theme park-management genre has enjoyed a long and successful history on the PC, but this sort of game traditionally hasn't made the leap to consoles with much viability. LucasArts hopes to change that later this year with Thrillville, a new and more accessible approach to the concept of theme park design and management. With the admitted roller coaster nerds at UK-based Frontier Development at the helm (who themselves have past experience with the RollerCoaster Tycoon series) and a console-centric approach to the game's controls and interface, Thrillville looks like the theme park game for people who don't usually like theme park games.
If nothing else, it will at least simplify the process. While most theme park sims have you designing your park, coasters, and so on from a dull overhead perspective, Thrillville lets you create a child or teenage avatar and roam around your parks at ground level using the analog stick, which ought to give it an action game sort of feel from the get-go. The game is also big on instant gratification, since you can plop down any ride, concession stand, bathroom, or other essential element wherever you're standing. More importantly, you can even ride every ride and play every game in your park just by running right up to it, which, incidentally, will probably interfere with the whole management thing on a pretty frequent basis.
The story here is that your rich Uncle Mortimer, the proprietor of the successful Thrillville franchise of theme parks, has taken ill and has finally granted your heart's desire by giving you a job maintaining and improving his five parks. Keeping all those customers happy and entertained must be quite a job on its own--and it doesn't help that a rival company is looking to steal all of Thrillville's loyal parkgoers--so you'll have to be extravigilant as you roam around looking for ways to improve your attractions and keep your guests happy. Figuring out what they want isn't a difficult process, since you can walk up to anyone and start up a conversation, which will indicate their current mood and specific desires. When a grumpy little girl demanded a lavatory during our demo, it was an easy process to plop down a stylish facility right there, raising her happiness level on the spot. And of course, a happy customer is a lot more willing to spend money, which lets you add even more stuff to your park.
Thrillville is heavy on the minigames: There are around two dozen included in the game, ranging from an overhead RC car race to miniature golf, first-person shooter-style games, and more. You can train your park staffers in a variety of jobs, which enable even more minigames; the entertainer trains with a dancing rhythm game, while the handyman trains with a third-person action game in which you run around cleaning up trash. Moreover, once you've got these staff members trained and out in the park doing their jobs, the happiness level of your customers will increase even more.
And what would any good theme park game be without a solid roller coaster construction set? Thrillville's looks like it'll be easier than most to pick up, since you can just build your track piece by piece from a floating first-person perspective. The game will display viable pieces in blue, and if the piece won't fit, it'll turn red, so you always know which pieces can be placed where. Once you've got the coaster finished, you can ride it from one of several perspectives to see how thrilling it'll be for your guests.
According to LucasArts, Thrillville is pushing the PS2 pretty hard due to all the data it's tracking, which includes the moods and interests of every person within a park, along with all the park's financials and a lot of other stuff going on under the hood. You'll need to tinker with the monetary aspect just a little to keep things running smoothly, although the game will use "sensible defaults" to keep financial hassles to a minimum for those who don't want to think about the money element too much.
In fact, the game's higher concepts, such as the bookkeeping, will be introduced as you complete the game's missions (roughly 125 in all), which will have you doing everything from instating certain rides and facilities to communicating with customers, directing repairs, allocating funds, and more. As you proceed through the sequential missions, you'll open up new parks (out of five total) that each bear different themes, such as the movies, a "time warp" (featuring dinosaurs and sci-fi elements), and paradise. Each park will get progressively harder as you go, and you'll have to complete all the missions with the highest rating to fully experience everything the game has to offer.
Once you've perfected your park-management skills, the game should have some good replay value since you can access all of the minigames from the main menu in a four-player setting. It looks like there's a lot of meat to get into in Thrillville, both for people who've cut their teeth on the more technical theme park and roller coaster games on PCs, and those who've never tried this sort of game before.