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Game Review

There comes a day in every kid's life when he or she sits on the front porch—brow furrowed, head in hands—and puts some serious thought into the future. What is he going to be? What will she do with her life? Most of my friends and I definitely concluded that if we had to go to work, then at least it needed be something fun. You know, like, running a monkey house or flying jets or being a trampoline tester ... or maybe all three.

Well, a happy-to-please group of video game developers remembers that dilemma, too, and is offering kids (and kids at heart) a chance to try their hand at being the boss of one of the "funnest" places on earth.

Thrillville is an amusement park management game created by Frontier Developments and distributed by Lucas Arts, the same people, respectively, who brought us the popular Rollercoaster Tycoon series for the PC and a whole host of Star Wars games for pretty much every game platform ever invented. The serious Tycoon management bits have been dialed down. And the kid-friendly playtime has been layered on thick. In fact, if you want some of that playtime right off the bat, you can invite a couple of friends to jump into an arcade-style game section called Party Play. It's made up of 20-plus minigames that are all amusement park oriented, ranging from bumper cars and custom go-kart races to pop-gun shooting galleries and dungeon treks.

Ferris Wheels and Dust Pans
But when you're ready to pull down the safety bar and set off on your "real" amusement park adventure, you need to begin by creating a character that represents you—choosing from a small group of cartoonish boy and girl avatars in a variety of outfits. (Note to parents: Look out for a few skintight tops and short skirts.) Next, you meet up with your creative-but-eccentric Uncle Mortimer who hands you control of his theme park after being wowed by some of your great roller coaster designs. He tutors you in the essentials needed to keep the place in tip-top condition and breaks down your responsibilities into five main areas: Guests, Building, Money, Upkeep and Play.

Chatting up folks in the park is a high priority because, as Uncle Morti will remind you, a happy guest spends money. Sometimes when you approach people, they're just in the mood to gab or flirt, but most often they'll recommend much-needed park improvements such as new food and drink stalls or, even more important, another bathroom or two. So then it's off to build those amenities, along with whatever else you think will keep the good times rolling, such as a newly designed scream ride or a shooting gallery.

Of course, paying for all these improvements and keeping them running is your job, too. So you set ticket prices and budget your expenditures (which include the hiring of mechanics, groundskeepers and entertainers). And lastly, you have to nonchalantly stroll to the front of each line, play all the new games and test the rides to make sure everything meets your fun-loving standards.

Step Right This Way, Sir!
Now I already told you they dialed down the management stuff, but at this point you're thinking that budgets, buildings and customer satisfaction sound like a lot to keep track of. But it really ends up being pretty easy for all but the youngest players. Thrillville helps you out by making just about everything into a minigame—from roller coaster design to training the entertainers—and takes you through 150 different missions and five separate theme parks.

There are a few slight cracks in the house of mirrors. Several missions are aimed at matchmaking and filling the romantic needs of your customers—which can result in a variety of corny pick-up lines with mildly suggestive double entendres such as, "All those curves and me with no brakes," countered by, "Need help driving?" And some responses can take on an odd spiritual tone, as well. While I was playing, a conservation statement made to an environmentally minded individual was met with "Gaia, the Mother Earth, thanks you." Other little bumps include guests belching after a burger or losing said burger altogether after a tummy-turning ride.

Still, while not quite as thrilling as the title might suggest, Thrillville does offer a relatively safe place in which gamers can build things instead of blowing them up. It'll never replace the real thing, but you could think of the game as a virtual family day at the theme park. One that doesn't cost 70 bucks apiece every time you show up. Best part? Roller coaster rides with no wait time.

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Episode Reviews

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