Nimblebit continues to expand whether it’s their Pocket Frogs collection, Tiny Tower skyscraper empire, or Pocket Planes airline, and now they’re dabbling in railroading. Pocket Trains has arrived at the App Store station in Nimblebit’s latest simulation game, which at the most basic level is Pocket Planes, but with trains. Your goal is to manage a railway system, and continue to expand your railroad empire by transporting goods between cities. Right from the get go, you’re connecting multiple cities with multiple trains, and from there it’s all about managing the best routes to expand. Each station on the map has certain jobs available, and your trains can only connect to so many other cities, and you try to maximize revenue from your haul.
The entire structure is like Pocket Planes, but the main difference is that there’s greater restrictions with the land bound, rail bound trains. In the game only one train can go on a particular stretch of rail, so you end up building specific networks with different trains covering particular groups of cities. There’s more strategy involved in building out your network, and picking which trains go where. Everything you do in the game is about more, whether it’s more coins, more cities, or more trains. The driving force is to be able to transport goods all across the world, and the game does a good job of enticing you to keep playing.
There are also unlockable train types that can carry more cargo, or go faster, and you can also add on fuel cars to extend trips. The extra trains can be crafted by collecting train parts at different stations, and getting the full set to add new steamers, expresses, and diesels to your train collection. There’s also a daily objective to shoot for in transporting a certain number of specific cargo for bonus earnings. Like other Nimblebit games, things really get going, the more you play, and in the case of Pocket Trains the first few days of gameplay revolve around trips that last just five minutes. There are notifications to remind you, but it seems whenever you open the app, there’s a new task to accomplish.
Through all of the nuances, you can’t shake the feel that you’re completing tasks, or even chores each time you open up the game. The relatively rudimentary interaction breeds extreme repetition as you set-up each new train trip. It’s surprisingly redundant as you tap on the jobs buttons, pick a few different jobs, tap on the different stations, and then rinse and repeat time after time. The game definitely feels more repetitive, if you’re familiar with Pocket Planes, but even if you’re not the model grows stale relatively quickly. Even with this knowledge, it’s easy to keep coming back to the game to jump in for a minute here and there throughout the day. Each session is relatively unremarkable, but taken as a whole it’s a neat experience to see your railroad expand. There’s also a lot to aim for whether it’s the daily goal, building to a new city, or getting a new train. One thing to note is that the notifications are extra annoying since they come so often, and you have to go into the stock Settings app to turn them off.
The main thing missing in Pocket Trains as compared to other Nimblebit games is the charm, personality, and customization. Tiny Tower really stood out with these factors as you could outfit each floor, be amused by the little bitizens, and actually care about what the next floor will be. Pocket Trains doesn’t connect on the same level with the player as the one really charming element is the individual train cars in motion, but the game handles that aspect so passively. You simply see the cars when a train is traveling between the stations, and while some of them are reminiscent of the floors in Tiny Tower, you’re only just looking. There are ways to rename your trains, customize the colors of the train lines, and of course get new trains, but there’s no real connection in doing so. Also, every interaction in the game is set through a relatively rudimentary control scheme with small buttons, and a convoluted menu system that requires so many taps to look at just a couple different features.
Another major aspect of Pocket Trains is the free to play system, which is standard fare for Nimblebit games. There’s the usual two system currency of coins, and bucks with coins mainly meant for new cities. Bucks are primarily for unlocking new trains, and they can also be used to speed up train trips, which isn’t really necessary since they’re so quick. Like other Nimblebit games, the in-app purchases feel completely optional, and only come into play if you want to expand your railroad empire rapidly. One thing to note is that we have had the game for over a week, and earning bucks was at a pretty good pace, but that changed to a crawl once the game went live on the App Store on Thursday. Still, you can fully enjoy Pocket Trains for free, and actually the more you play the game, the less need there is for in-app purchases.
Pocket Trains (Free, Universal) is another solid effort from Nimblebit, but they may have gone to the well one too many times. The typical charming nature isn’t there, and the result is a relatively bland experience that is rudimentary and repetitive above all else. The game gives the song “I’ve been working on the railroad” new meaning as it can feel like a chore. There are some nice simulation strategy options at work, but there’s not nearly the same level of enjoyment as past Nimblebit games. With all that said, Pocket Trains is worth picking up to fully experience for free, but it just doesn’t have any long term engagement, which makes it disappointing as a whole.