Thrillville: Off the Rails is the sequel to Thrillville, an amusement park management game that LucasArts touts as the “#1 original family game of 2006.” Now, I didn’t play the original Thrillville, so I have no idea if it should be called the #1 anything, or how the sequel might relate to it. But I can say that I found Off the Rails to be massively disappointing. It’s not a bad game or anything like that, but it was created by Frontier Developments, the makers of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, and instead of developing their project into a challenging and fun game that might be considered the equivalent of Rollercoaster Tycoon 4, they went the other direction and cranked out a casual game that one could charitably call Rollercoaster Tycoon: The High School Musical Edition -- complete with cheerleaders! To say that I’m in the wrong demographic for this game is an understatement.
Anyway, Off the Rails contains a lot of the things that you’d expect from an amusement park management game. You have to make money and build rides and keep your guests happy and hire employees and do research, et cetera and so forth. It’s just that all of those activities have been dumbed down. You can’t lose money. You don’t have to worry about the physics of your rollercoaster (no matter how you slap the ride together, it will work, unless you intentionally leave the track incomplete). You only have to hire one entertainer, one mechanic, and one janitor to keep your park functioning, no matter how big it is (in one park I forgot to hire any employees at all, and it still ran for about a year without any problems). Plus, the parks start out mostly pre-built. The landscaping and decorations and pathways are all fixed. You’re just given specific locations where you can plop down rides or shops.
The previous paragraph makes it sound like Off the Rails might be a complete waste of time, but it’s not. Frontier Developments just decided to create a casual game that takes place in an amusement park, and so their focus is different. Instead of being the god-like CEO of an amusement park company with an overhead view of everything, you actually get to create an avatar for yourself (choosing between about 20 models and then adjusting from there), and you get to wander around the park. That means you can talk to and even flirt with the other guests, you can go on the rides, and you can play a multitude of mini-games related to park activities.
The mini-games are the key. Off the Rails comes with 50 mini-games, and they range from things you might expect, like whack-a-mole and a shooting gallery, to the truly bizarre, like a motorcycle stunt driving game, a flying saucer sumo wrestling game, and a side scrolling shooter. Just about every activity in the park is related to a mini-game in some way. For example, if you want to train your janitor to work better, then you have to play a trash pick-up game, and if you want your entertainer to be more entertaining, you have to play a game where you keep up with the rhythm of her dance moves.
Off the Rails also comes with a campaign that involves fending off sabotage attempts from a rival amusement park chain named Globo-Joy. The campaign includes five parks, and to progress through them you have to earn “thrill points” by completing missions. Most of the missions require you to play mini-games, but for some you have to build rides with certain characteristics, and for others you have to search your park for hidden items. The campaign is colorful and funny, and it stars a guy who could have been Christopher Lloyd’s stunt double in the Back to the Future movies, but it’s also lightweight, and it only takes about ten hours to complete. Fortunately, even if you don’t care about the campaign, you can just play the mini-games, and with so many of them available, you’re bound to find one or two or more that you like, and the game can be worthwhile that way instead.
And so, overall, while Thrillville: Off the Rails isn’t the kind of game I was hoping for, I can see it being fun for families or casual gamers. The PC version is sometimes difficult to control (the mouse is severely underused, and you’re not given any options for redefining hotkeys), but the game itself is bright and happy and optimistic, it’s well made, and it includes enough content to be well worth its suggested retail price.