Unlike its console counterparts, Thrillville: Off the Rails for the Nintendo DS isn't really a theme park management simulation. Instead, it's more of a role-playing game with park design aspects, minigames, and some story all mixed together. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, the lack of in-depth features may limit how much time you actually invest in the game, especially when you discover that no skill is required to keep a park running.
The DS version retains the basic structure of its console cousins. You play the part of a theme park chain operator and go around managing six different parks. Each park starts out bare, with only a couple of basic attractions. Your task is to make each park successful by placing food stalls and attractions on the building plots within the park, taking care to talk to guests, as well as use their desires to guide your building efforts. Every park has a number of goals to fulfill that unlock additional rides and upgrades. There's also an underlying story that constantly has you talking to evil clowns and competing against them in minigames.
Park layout, coaster design, and money management are major aspects in the console versions of the Thrillville series. Here, the parks are prefabricated and contain a limited number of building plots. There's a diverse assortment of rides, stalls, and coasters to pick from; however, you have very little control over what your coasters look like, apart from the ability to place different loops in certain hot spots. Money management has been eliminated almost entirely. It costs money to build rides and hire staff, but your earning rate never goes down. If you don't have enough cash to build the coaster of your dreams, just wait and your money count will be ample enough in a minute or two.
Laying out a park is a straightforward process. Using the touch screen, you just tap the plot you want to build on, select the build option, and select the ride you want to place there. Once the ride is built, you can tap it again to bring up a menu that allows you to upgrade it or make repairs.
Running your park is a breeze. Staffers don't have a recurring wage; instead, they're bought once. Guests will complain if rides break down or if you didn't build enough bathrooms, but they won't actually leave the park or stop paying for rides. Completing the various goals and story missions associated with each park does take a bit of time, but only insofar as you'll sometimes have to talk to a person multiple times before you choose the correct order of chat options or finally beat them at a minigame.
While you don't have to worry too much about managing the parks you build, you can at least interact with your creations in a number of fun ways. If you tap an attraction and select the ride icon, your onscreen avatar will climb the steps to go for a spin. The different prize booths scattered around the park are actually minigames in which you can participate. There are only seven of them, but they are excellent renditions of such carnival games as skee ball, air hockey, and minigolf. You can compete against the computer at varying levels to win prizes or use the DS download play option to take on your friends. When you want to repair a ride or clean up trash in the park, you'll have to complete slide-puzzle and trash-collecting minigames that use the touch screen to accomplish these tasks.
When you go on a ride in the console renditions of Thrillville, you see every twist and turn through your character's eyes, thanks to the first-person viewpoint that kicks in during those scenarios. By contrast, the Nintendo DS version sticks to the same isometric viewpoint throughout the ride. Watching your character get pulled and thrown is still amusing, but the shift from a first-person to a distant third-person vantage point definitely sucks some of the thrill away. Otherwise, the overall presentation is about what you'd want from a game that tries to replicate the atmosphere of a theme park. The squat characters are cute, the rides look goofy in motion, and the technical quality of the 3D graphics is generally pretty good. Meanwhile, the peppy music and recorded amusement park sounds provide a fitting auditory backdrop.
Because there are only six different parks and the overall selection of design options is limited, the Nintendo DS rendition of Thrillville: Off the Rails doesn't have the same staying power as the console versions of the game. Nevertheless, you can still have quite a bit of fun building some unique parks with the options the DS game gives you, and you're liable to spend a fair amount of time with whatever minigames tickle your fancy. It all depends on what you're looking for: If you're looking for an intricate theme park simulation that's heavy on micromanagement, this probably isn't the game for you. However, if you just want to quickly build some parks, go on some rides, and play some minigames, then you'll be satisfied.