I now live for the victorious choo choo that signals the end of a level in Railbound. Sometimes I get it in 30 seconds: on my first try I see just how to place a few pieces of track to connect two marooned train cars to the waiting locomotive in the right order, and choo choo, we’re off to the next puzzle. Sometimes that locomotive toot is a hard-earned reward for 10 minutes of smashing my little train cars into each other, drawing and erasing and drawing train tracks 50 times until I find just the right path.
I’ve only given up on one so far. Railbound is a cute and relaxing puzzle game on its main course, elegantly teaching you new mechanics at the start of each set of levels. The desert introduces tunnels, the beach crossing gates and switches, the forest tracks that switch direction when a train trundles over a switch. Solving these feels as contemplative as staring out the window of a train and thinking, “y’know, maybe I get what life is all about.”
Then you try to solve a few of the optional levels you unlock in each biome, and it’s like being thrust into the pilot’s seat of a bullet train and realizing that all the Thomas the Tank Engine you watched at age three does not make you an expert. Like life, brutally demanding train puzzles come at you fast. I had to abandon a few train cars deep in the desert, vowing to return to them when I’ve dumped all unnecessary knowledge from my head in favor of rail skills.
It’s been a strong year for cute puzzle games already, with Dorfromantik and Please Fix the Road, but Railbound has my favorite aesthetic of the bunch. I love these cel shaded trains and track pieces and the pastel-colored worlds. Every set of levels comes with its own music, which also seems to grow in complexity as the game goes along—when the piano kicked in in world four I was jazzed.
The whole aesthetic is chunky and bouncy, simple but with enough flair in its animation to make the trains cheery little cartoons. I love how they look like they’re on the verge of tipping over every time they round a hairpin turn.
Each click of the mouse lays down a piece of rail with a satisfying little thunk, and the pieces elegantly snap together when you drag the mouse in the right direction. I find clicking on everything in Railbound delightfully tactile, to the point that I’m now a little worried I’m going to be a model train guy in 20 years.
No kids, just a 1/64th scale train paradise I spend the rest of my life building in the garage.
I’ve already started creating infinitely looping rail paths and then letting my trains go around and around just so I can watch.
The one thing I’m really missing in Railbound is a pause button. In the fourth set of levels, the switches and shifting tracks are starting to get a bit more complicated, and I wish I could set my trains in motion and then pause mid-run to make sure I know exactly how everything is playing out. With two or three train cars running over buttons at the same time, I lose track of what’s going on pretty fast. I’d like to think that with a pause or slow-mo option, I probably could’ve created a much more elegant solution than the one above.
But hey: they got there in the end, which is all I really ask for from my trains.
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