As a kid I had a dream of becoming a train operator, and pull heavy freight across the land. The dreamed vanished slowly, but the idea to pull long trains filled with people or freight still excites me. In Choo Choo Steam Trains I get to control trains from a birds eye point of view. This is not a game about operating trains, but rather about the logistics involved in getting the trains to pickup passengers and freight. Instead of being for a slow logical game this is a fast paced arcade puzzler. As such it might sometimes be a bit too easy to challenge the quicker gamers.
The trains run by themselves, and by poking them you can give them an extra boost. Other than that you focus on controlling railroad switches and crossings. As more and more train sets are on the tracks at once it also becomes a task to avoid them crashing. The few aspects of the game you get to control are responsive both on the iPad and iPhone.
One thing I really like about Choo Choo Steam Trains is the fact that levels develop with time. Starting a level there might be only one train, and an oval track. After a lap new pieces of tracks emerge, and new trains have to be set in motion. This evolving landscape gives the game a sense of freedom, and replaying levels feels less of a burden. Level goals are to collect passengers or freight, and you are judged on the time it takes. Getting three stars for each of the 65 tracks will take hours. New railroad pieces are unlocked as you complete levels, and you can use these to build your own railroad. Taking a trip down your own constructions could have been fun if the game had better graphics. Sadly this is a big letdown to me, both on the small and large screen.
The controller character in the game looks like something taken from a Professor Layton game, and then slightly cutiefied. The scenery and trains look blocky, jagged and low resolution. I think that the developers could have gone for a fantasy look with bright colours instead of the murky attempts at a realistic scenery. The idea of a free construction mode is great, but the presentation needs to be good enough to make it interesting. Or at least inject the surroundings with something fresh like Nintendo does in the jogging sections of Wii Fit.
The music is also really poor reminding me of some sort of musical box going mad. There is no menu for options to be seen at all, and this is also a major flaw. You can force the game to play your own music using multitasking or a headset.
Crystal is used for online leaderboards. If you are one of the few still logged into this service you might find some extra game life here.
Choo Choo Steam Trains combines a quick, and fun arcade puzzle experience with sub par presentation in both the graphics, and sound departments. With 65 levels in the game, and some of the later ones actually being really challenging the game can last for quite a while. The initially low difficulty can be boring to some, but hang in there and you will be rewarded. Choo Choo Steam Trains has a lot of potential, and with more polish it could have been a shining star on the App Store. Now I can still recommend it as a competent arcade game.
Choo Choo Steam Trains $0.99 Universal for iPhone/iPod and iPad.
Seller: Chillingo Ltd.