When done right, the theme park simulator is an addictive and hugely satisfying sub-genre, yet it is one that has seen very few entries over the years. As such the market has been dominated by heavy-hitters Rollercoaster Tycoon and the G.O.A.T. itself Theme Park World, with few competitors that have come close in all that time. 

In that time there have been some other notable entries, among them Frontier Developments’ second Thrillville park sim, Off the Rails. Looked at today, with fifteen years behind it, this is a strange curio. The game seems both overly ambitious and misguided, attempting to make being in the park as much fun as building it, resulting in some uneven gameplay and some decisions that are downright bizarre – mini-games where you have to clean up vomit. Yet in amongst of Thrillville: Off the Rails the mess is a SOLID theme park sim that gets a lot right. 

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First released in October 2007 by LucasArts, the sequel is clearly aimed at younger audiences, with an emphasis on building, designing and exploring over the more real life intricacies of running an amusement park we have seen in other games. Without the immediate jeopardy of running short of money or having workers go on strike, players of all ages are free to go about making and exploring their dream theme park. In that aspect it’s very similar to every other game of its type, but there is enough to T:OtR to make it stand out.

One aspect setting Thrillville: Off the Rails apart from the other theme park sims is its viewpoint. While other such games predominantly take the top-down view, overlooking the area from above, here everything is seen in third person from the ground. While other games had this feature it was limited, Off the Rails has players take control of the youngster tasked with running and improving the park (seems a lot to burden on a child, incidentally). With a well-defined sense of scale, this adds to the feeling of being in the park and allowing for greater exploration, where every nook and cranny of space can be ventured into.

This also opens up plenty of possibilities the game exploits, including the ability to converse with every visitor to the park. This helps to find out what needs improving but extends to talking about guests’ hobbies and even flirt. At the same time this does present a glaring issue, that of some of the game’s less refined graphics. Character models in particular are clunky and some animations are very mechanical close up, though it’s only here where it’s most noticeable. T:OtR isn’t the best-looking game out there, but that’s most noticeable only at times like these.

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Of course the most important thing in any theme park, real or virtual, are the attractions and there are plenty of interesting ones on offer in this game. Most rides come already made, with some options for customization, whereas players can build almost any roller coaster they can conceive. Building these rides is easy to get to grips with and with almost no constraints when it comes to coaster creation, there’s almost no limit to the possibilities – including having no ending, which end with the carts crashing and guests parachuting to the ground.

Thrillville: Off the Rails has five parks to fully kit out, beginning with one and the others unlocked through progression. That is done by completing level goals, such as building a certain number of rides or stalls and making a certain level of profit. An issue with this is when it comes to the very limited spaces to build, only in three areas of each of the parks, and sometimes to achieve build goals then things already built will have to be demolished. 

On top of the rides, almost all of which can be viewed in first person, Off the Rails also offers a ton of playable mini games. Accessed through arcades and sideshows that can be added to the park, most are in the form of arcade games that are clones of Galactus and Trials, admittedly fun while they last. The stand-out however is an impressive wild west-themed first person shooter, which has more depth and playability than it really should have. Others like pool and mini golf are less successful, as the mechanics and physics are too sensitive and feel like a rushed add-on.

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Therein lies the biggest flaw with Thrillville: Off the Rails: at its core it is a competent and accessible theme park sim, but it tries to do too much and feels uneven as a result. While it lacks the depth that made Theme Park World work so well, it knows its audience and does well to tailor the controls and commands of the genre, which can be over-complicated, to make them more accessible for younger audiences. 

While it is stuck in the shadow of the top dogs, Thrillville: Off the Rails is a unique game of its type that may not appeal to everyone but can be found cheap and easily on eBay and Amazon for anyone who loves any game of this type.

Thrillville: Off the Rails originally released in October 2007 on Xbox 360 and PC. Thanks to Backwards Compatibility, it can now also be played on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, downloadable via the Xbox Store.

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