| Thrillville

Being God must be pretty tedious. Sure, being able to be everywhere at once must be useful (if a little creepy), but think of all the details. How can you explain breasts, other than a bored God having a laugh at humanity's expense?

His biggest problem, though, was perhaps that after going to all the effort of making the world and its many inhabitants, all that was left to do was sit back and watch. Sure, God can get His kicks occasionally by imprinting Jesus' face on papaya fruit, but basically He'd made a world He couldn't live in. Where's the fun in that?

It's something Frontier has obviously thought about, although possibly not quite as obtusely. Because rather than make yet another theme park management game where you play a disembodied hand obsessed with making money, Thrillville plonks you down firmly on the ground level.

On the surface (no pun intended), this means a story about a crazy scientist deciding that his nephew is an ideal candidate to rejuvenate the former's flagging theme park empire. What it really means, though, is that rather than focusing on building a theme park, Thrillville is more about actually experiencing it.

As such, you'll spend most of your time not hovering a cursor over your park's bits, but running around it yourself, viewing the towering rides and thronging clouds from a personal point of view. What's more, you can ride the roller-coasters and dodge the, erm, dodgems. It's almost all the fun of the fair.

The view alone wouldn't look out of place on a PS2. It's astonishing how many objects this PSP game can display at once, with distant rollercoasters, nearby rides and hordes of people jostling around the screen for your attention without considerable slowdown.

But instead of simply giving you free reign in this playground, Thrillville has at least five missions open to you at any one time, ranging from hitting performance targets and beating guests at games, to building certain attractions.

Generally, these missions aren't particularly difficult. Complete enough and you unlock the next park, giving a concrete sense of progression and purpose to a game that might feel too open-ended without them.

Soon you'll want to get stuck in to putting your own personal touches to the theme parks. As the layout and theme of the various parks is predetermined, you can actually only place the various attractions and stalls in small designated areas. One unfortunate side-effect of the person-level view is thus that you feel disassociated from the financial management – such as maximising income and changing food prices – despite the game giving you easy control over it.

As mentioned though, the compensating aspect of the 'experience' is that almost everything in Thrillville is represented by a mini-game, from riding the attractions to staff training. There's a huge number of them, which sounds great, but it soon becomes apparent that focusing on so many distinct game styles has left them all... well... average.

Take the mini-golf, for example. It's far from awful, but there's a definite lack of subtlety in the way you hit the ball, with many ignored button presses and wildly over-powerful shots. The go-karting fares even worse, bereft of any form of excitement and feeling like trying to control an anvil in a stream. The many first-person shooting games are passable, but they rarely approach a standalone shooter's level of quality.

There are a handful of games that rise above acceptable (such as the mechanic and grounds keeper staff training games) but as a whole there's not much that'll keep you coming back for more – not even the ability to play the mini-games with other Thrillville owners.

Where the game really pays off is the 'construction' mode, which enables you to build not only your own rollercoasters but also go-kart circuits and mini-golf courses. There may not be a huge selection of pieces available, but the interface is surprisingly intuitive, and within minutes you'll have your own nauseating creations proudly on display.

Being too harsh about Thrillville would be unfair, because while many of the 'park experience' elements feel undercooked, as a whole there's still a significant amount of enjoyment to be taken away. That the developer has been able to provide such a console-quality title on PSP without any excessive loading is certainly an achievement, too. But, unfortunately, the bottom line is that trying to pack so many games into one hasn't worked.

It's hard not to conclude that trying to emulate something as mechanically diverse as a theme park at this level is just too much for one handheld game. Maybe experiencing it all is overrated. Perhaps God's got the good deal, after all?


Despite biting off far more than it can chew, Thrillville provides an enjoyable – if somewhat limited – ride