Platform: iOS, Android
Release Date: September 26, 2013
Once NimbleBit showed the world that planes could be shrunken down to fit on your mobile device in the aptly named “Pocket Planes,” it was probably only a matter of time before the studio did the same thing for trains. “Pocket Trains” follows the same formula that its sky-focused predecessor implemented so successfully, but adds a touch more strategy and some presentation upgrades to make running your own railroad even more fun than running your own airline. And the food served to your virtual passengers is better too.
The object of “Pocket Trains” is pretty simple: to take a tiny railroad with a few engines and lines and build it into an operation that spans the entire globe. Or not, as there aren’t any win conditions except for the ones you set for yourself. Unlike “Pocket Planes,” where you could choose any continent to begin your transportation domination, your railway adventures begin in Europe. A short tutorial explains the fundamentals of choosing cars to load behind your engine and sending it off to the next stop.
Each engine can pull a limited number of cars, and the game tells you how much money you’ll make by delivering them to their final destination. In general, you make more for sending loads to more distant cities, but some cargoes tend to be worth more than others. Since you can set waypoints, you have the option of loading up cars bound for multiple cities on the line and letting them get dropped off automatically at each stop, or sending the train to only the first stop in the hope that there are more cars there that can be picked up. The former option is great when you only have a few minutes to log in, while the latter can help you optimize profits when you are playing more actively.
Multiple factors add to your strategic considerations. Each track between two cities can only be claimed by one of your rail lines, and profitable loads will often show up that need to be transfered from one line to another for delivery. Only a limited number of cars can be stored in the yard in each city, so some mental gymnastics are sometimes necessary to work out the logistics.
While most cars pay coins when they’re delivered, others yield the premium currency (Bux), and rare cars carry a crate with a train part inside. “Pocket Trains” simplifies the process of building new and better trains by leaving everything to chance, as you won’t know which kind of part is inside a crate until it’s opened—and that costs you 10 Bux. Once you have enough parts, you can decide to craft them into an engine or a fuel car to extend a train’s range, or simply save them for repairs as your trains will break down from constant use.
Fuel is also a consideration. Every type of train can only carry so much coal, diesel, or what have you, and refueling means either having your train sit in one city for a specified amount of time or paying Bux for an instant refill. The aforementioned fuel cars help a lot, but you still will find yourself having to set the game aside from time to time until all of your engines are ready to roll again. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of personal preference.
NimbleBit left some of the other extras from “Pocket Planes” out of this one, including the fake tweets from passengers and the social aspect of team events. There are still daily events to tackle, requiring you to take a certain number of loads to or from a specific city before time elapses. Success gets you a rare crate and some extra Bux, which can also be purchased for real money if you so desire.
Bux and crates can also be found floating through the air if you sit and watch one of your trains as it travels, though coins appear most of the time. That’s certainly incentive enough to enjoy the journey from time to time, but NimbleBit really went to town on both the sights and sounds of “Pocket Trains” too. The usual assortment of humorous eight-bit passengers is present, but now they are carried through some surprisingly realistic landscapes that include trees, rocks, snow, and more. The variety in rail cars is also great, and who wouldn’t want to see giant soda bottles or huge, trailer-length batteries whizzing by on the rails in real life? On the audio side, both the clacking of the trains and some suitable traveling music help reinforce a classic feel that just about anyone can appreciate.
As mobile sims go, “Pocket Trains” pushes just about all the right buttons. It’s not too light or too complicated, and it shows off the usual NimbleBit style refined to an even greater degree. I haven’t yet reached the point where I can send a train across the Atlantic from Lisbon to New York, but I’m definitely going to keep playing to see how that’s possible, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.
+ Takes what worked from “Pocket Planes” and adds a little more strategy
+ Playable in short bursts or longer sessions
+ Great blend of retro and realistic graphics, bolstered by excellent music and sound effects
– Upgrading to new trains depends on the luck of the crate