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Theme park is treasure trove of little games

You could loosely label "Thrillville: Off the Rails" a "Theme Park Tycoon"-type game in that it's got all the trappings of a "management simulator."

That is, lots of pointing and clicking and menu-surfing to build or repair or activate or administer a plethora of issues associated with running a fantastical theme park (as opposed to a real theme park, which never has you worrying about the state of the self-deploying, post rocket- launch parachutes).

As a management simulation, however, there's not a lot of technical depth and it's notably lacking in graphical splendor, shy on the visual minutia usually associated with such games. Such visual austerity befits the

PlayStation 2 and Wii versions of the game with their standard-definition limitations, but it's something of a waste of the Xbox 360's 1080p mojo. However, where "Thrillville" skimps on technical niceties, it more than makes up for in gameplay wealth.

Within its whimsical, cartoony, family-friendly presentation, there's really a lot to do, most of it fun - some of it tedious in the micro-managerial way of things - but all of it conducive to the overall, world-isyour- playground motif.

It's not really a game, but a treasure trove of little games and activities with a single, underlying theme park theme.

Among other thing, you play an active, interactive role within your theme park, Thrillville (several to choose from, actually), in that you choose a character, a young teen or 'tween, then, as him or her, you wander around, taking stock of the state of your park, its cleanliness and the reliability and profitability of the various attractions and what not.

You can eavesdrop on or even talk with any guest you happen to bump into. You engage in awkward, but effective, multiple-choice conversations that will net you the gist of public perception as well as make you some grass-roots friends who help keep your park hip and cheery.

You train your staff - mechanics, janitors and cheerleaders - by way of "Simon Says" or "Monkey See, Monkey Do" mini-games or activities of matching button taps or syncopated musical ordeals a la "Dance Dance Revolution" (minus the floor mat).

One of the more involved - and ultimately more rewarding - features of "Thrillville: Off the Rails" is the coaster-building bit, where the veracity of physics plays only a small role, but hurl-inducing ludicrousness is a mainstay.

While the game is essentially the same on each console, the Wii version is the better coaster- builder thanks to the entirely intuitive interface of the Wiimote, allowing for gesturebased placement of curves, dips and loops.

You can also ride your park's rides or visit the midway booths, which is probably the most fun as those usually activate a cartoonish mini-game. While riding a coaster (stock or custom built) is just a passive, visual affair, it is the minigames that'll keep you coming back.

The side-scrolling, 2D game of "Stuntrider," for example, is deceptively simple but thoroughly addictive - and nonstop funny, too, as you control a ragdoll-ish dude navigating impossibly sloped and bumpy terrain with just a throttle and fore- and back-balance control to pop wheelies, pull mid-air 360s and land it helmet-side-up else you crash spectacularly but harmlessly.

There's also "Robo K.O.," a robot-boxing game and a dead ringer (ha ha) for Tyko's "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots" toy from the '60s, plus billiards, dune buggies . . . you name it, there's something for everyone.

In fact, there are some 30 mini-games in all, including racing games, flying games, shooters, puzzles. Some are original, some are genuine emulations of age-old classics and some are decent knock-offs of age-old classics.

Collectively, they are probably the most redeeming feature of "Thrillville: Off The Rails," much like Nintendo's Wii Play or similar "casual" game bundles, only more so because there's more of them (30 is a lot).

What's more, you can jump to the mini-games from the getgo and skip the management and coaster-building portions of the game altogether.

For instant action for up to four players, the Wii version of "Thrilleville" often boasts the most intuitive control, especially with the target-shooting mini-games, but sometimes completely befuddles the whole point of motion-sensitivity by trying to place the standard control conventions of the PS2, and Xbox 360 versions into that goofy Wii-mote and Nunchuk setup, so you're constantly juggling your hand positions.

As for the PC version of "Thrillville: Off the Rails," well, it's got at least one glitch that makes it prone to crashing. Plus, as a multiplayer party game, it assumes you have one or three extras controllers hooked up and that everyone enjoys hunkering around the monitor for some "family time." Yeah, right.

Still, the game's management sim and coaster-building modes are more at home on PC (so are the troubleshooting and software-patching shenanigans), making it the better single- player game, as does its relatively low price ($29.99).

All told, developer LucasArts could have just as easily sold the mini-game bundle as a title unto itself. It's certainly overstuffed and good enough for a stand-alone bundle, and it has long-lasting, family appeal. The fact that there's also a ton of other stuff to do is a bang-foryour- buck bonus.

"Robo K.O." is one of the many entertaining mini-games found in "Thrillville: Off the Rails."

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>Microsoft says bye-bye to Bungie Studios

Bungie Studios and Microsoft Corp. recently announced that Bungie Studios, the developers of Microsoft's "Halo" franchise, will once again become a privately held independent company, Bungie, LLC, in which Microsoft will hold a minority equity interest.

Though there have long been rumblings about the Bungie team pining to do something other than "Halo," the new symbiosis between the new Bungie and former reinholder Microsoft is now described as "focused on the continued success of the 'Halo' franchise," but also that both parties intend "to expand their partnership to include new IP [intellectual properties] created and owned by Bungie."

So, on paper, it seems everyone is happy. Bungie will make new games that have nothing to do with "Halo," and Microsoft will, presumably, get dibs.

Bungie's management re- tained the services of Don Leeds, senior managing director of B-Hive Global LLC, to assist in the structuring of the deal and negotiating on its behalf.

' Thrillville: Off the Rails' LucasArts; PC, PlayStation 2, Wii, Xbox 360; $ 29.99, $ 39.99, $ 49.99, $ 49.99

Rating: E10 ( fantasy violence, mild lyrics, mild suggestive theme)

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>Tips of the week

Here are some playing secrets to help you master your favorite games.
When engaging in a conversation with a guest in "Thrillville: Off the Rails," just mash the A button to select the top question or response from the multiple choice menu (rather than trying to guess what the guest might want to hear) and you'll eventually net a best friend (usually).

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>'Thrillville: Off the Rails'

LucasArts; PC, PlayStation 2, Wii, Xbox 360; $29.99, $39.99, $49.99, $49.99

Rating: E10 (fantasy violence, mild lyrics, mild suggestive theme)

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