Frontier Developments has always been a favourite of mine, even before I truly followed video games. It was a name I would recognise whenever I saw it, with Rollercoaster Tycoon, the Wallace and Gromit games (Project Zoo and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), and even LostWinds. Later games such as Elite: Dangerous, Planet Coaster, and recently released Planet Zoo have catapulted their popularity, but there’s one game that I’ve always had a soft spot for.
Thrillville: Off the Rails released in 2007, and I owned it on the PSP. It was another of those games that I loved playing on the handheld, much like with Midnight Club and GripShift. The reason for liking this one was that it served as many games in one, all contained within a business simulation where you build a theme park. The business simulation part of the game kind of takes a back seat to everything else, however.
Each of the five parks had a story of sorts, where you had missions to uncover the plot of what was happening within that park that was ruining the reputation of it. One had you needing to convince three reporters that the park was good, with another needing you to find who has been sabotaging the park and restoring it to what it once was. And even stopping a robot invasion of a park.
And while that’s fun, there were also side things relating to other characters, and playing the minigames against some of the guests. Interacting with guests was fun, with options to flirt with some of the guests or even matchmake them with others. Of course, there’s also options to learn what they think of the park, and all of this guest interaction is something I wish would return in a future game.
But the minigames are what make Thrillville. Everything can be played. All things that are placed have a game attached to them, and while there are several games that are just reskins, they are all fun to play. There’re racing games, first-person shooters, top-down arcade classics, and side-scrolling shooters, and pretty much a lot of others. Even stalls have a matching game attached (including restrooms) to restock them. Even the training of staff is done through minigames.
Those that feature racing are my favourite minigames, as they allow track creation where you can make some wacky courses to try out. Unfortunately, there’s no props or anything to liven things up, and you can only have four racers at a time, but it’s still fun to play creations and see how the AI fare. Minigolf also falls under the same fold. While you are restricted to a square field, you have the freedom to create any zany course you want. There isn’t even a limit to the number of holes you have to include, so you could just make one very long hole if you so choose.
I had a lot of fun with Thrillville: Off the Rails and have replayed it a few times. Mostly, though, I like playing through the various minigames on offer, even if a few don’t really hold up these days through stiff mechanics. Because of those minigames, I’ve never really seen Thrillville as a business simulation game, but it is still a real fun one. I hold hope that one day we can see how this series can use the current generation of hardware to create a much larger game.