Another review that was supposed to be shorter than this. Enjoy!
A Paladin’s Review: Train Valley. Cursing at Train Switches from the 1830s to the 2020s.
- Genre: Indie Micromanagement Puzzle Game.
- Developed and Published by: Oroboro Games & Flazm.
- Platform: Windows, MacOSX and Linux.
- Business Model: Base Game + Upcoming DLC
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Train Valley, a quirky little title that got a surprising amount of press attention considering this is the publisher’s first game. Are we really that starved for train management styled games that anything that resembles one needs to be checked out? The answer is probably yes. The genre has been forever dominated by Open Train Tycoon, Train Tycoon Deluxe and the like for the past 20 years. Entries into the genre are far and few between, often lacking in quality. Here’s the thing, Train Valley isn’t a management game in the traditional sense. Not by a long shot. This is more of a puzzle game where the single objective is to figure out how to solve the level without running out of cash and subsequently going bankrupt. Everything else is a secondary concern.
On the surface, it looks like a simple micromanagement game and it is but there’s some mechanics woven in to make the experience more interesting. All you’ll be doing is deploying trains, building track and managing switches. During the level, trains need to be deployed and delivered to their destination station as soon as possible for a couple of reasons: each train has a money value, that’s rewarded to the player upon completion, which slowly deteriorates over time. Additionally, trains will launch automatically from the station after a certain amount of time. The only warning you’ll get is a five second notification before they launch. So, you need to make sure that stations are regularly deploying trains to prevent any accidents from occurring. This is made more complicated by the levels themselves which will spawn additional stations which need to be connected to the rest of the line and increasingly faster trains. Furthermore, there’s an in-game annual tax that you have to make sure to have money for. So, avoid being greedy or risk losing the level. Finally, as time passes, buildings will crop up over time that you may need to maneuver around or destroy (costing a lot of money).
I hope you like watching switches a lot because they’re the main micromanagement mechanic. Every time a train passes over a switch, it’ll change that switch in the direction the train is going, even if you set it to the other track. These switches need to be monitored carefully because even though you might have set up the perfect routing for two of your trains, a third train that goes over a switch will change that switch to the route it’s taking. Which then completely screws up the path of a fourth train, causing it to go down a track you didn’t want it to go and thereby completely screwing up your carefully laid plans. At that point, all you can do is cuss and bemoan the situation you find yourself in while you desperately try to figure a way out of this mess when a fifth train “suddenly” deploys itself and rams into another train, blowing up track, causing bankruptcy and )((%*&@@(#$*&% switches!!!! This single mechanic has screwed me out of winning so many levels it’s infuriating. Never have I cussed so much at trains going the wrong way over this. But, I don’t hate it as a mechanic. It’s what keeps Train Valley interesting and engaging the entire time. How creative can you be with track building?
Well, there’s some flexibility in the track system. When zoomed out, the space you see on your screen is all you can build on. The screen can’t be moved around and I found myself zoomed out for 99% of the game so I could keep an eye on all the trains and switches. It would initially seem like this would limit the amount of space (and enjoyment) you can work with it and it does. However, Train Valley makes up for this by adding different challenges, terrain and obstacles every level. While you are free to build as much track as the level will allow, most of the time you’ll only be able to build a single train line with offshoots to the various stations on each level. It’s simply too expensive to do otherwise. You’ll also be unable to build bridges, tunnels, turn-arounds, multiple layers or any type of automation to make your job easier. All the player gets are a few bridges and tunnels are built automatically at certain times in-game on the levels that require them. Other than that, the Valley expects you to keep track of everything.
There’s some nice subtle touches such as the trains having acceleration/stopping physics, being reasonably accurate to the time period and towns building up as trains get delivered that you wouldn’t expect a simple train game like this to have. Even the various locations have little touches to tie them into the time period they’re set in. It’s still very budget but they didn’t half-ass this game.
There are four chapters in total that are centered around a particular nation (or group of nations) that create the overall theme for each level and the trains you’ll see. This includes Europe, the United States, Russia and Japan. Over the course of each chapter, the levels will transition from the early 1830s to the modern age of 2020 while featuring a certain time era for that nation in the level. This changes what the trains look like as well. In terms of how it affects mechanics, the changing of time will increase the length of the trains and make them faster. For each chapter, there’s five challenge levels and one score attack level. Each challenge level also comes with the option to continue the level forever once you’ve finished it. For each level, there’s three optional goals you can try to shoot for and you don’t have to get all of them in one go. These goals can range from never wrecking a train, to gaining a certain amount of money to not allowing a train arrive at the wrong destination. They can be challenging to acquire, especially the gaining X amount of money, and may require several redos. I recommend trying to finish one of them during a level because they’ll add challenge to the levels and give them their own personality. It would have been nice if the achievements you had already completed were marked as such but it’s not a big deal. The score attack level is the culmination of the entire chapter. It plays the entire time period for the nation in one go from 1800s to 2000s while also doubling the in-game speed. This can be very tricky to deal with as it means taxes come twice as fast even though your trains stay at the same speed. Good luck on the Japan level, it’s brutally difficult.
Settings for Train Valley are decent, if limited. Video settings only include two sliders for resolutions and quality. You’ll probably run the quality at “fantastic” unless you’re trying to run this off a toaster. Resolution choices seem pretty good and it maxes out at the monitor’s resolution. The game has a cheap 3D look to it so it’s not like there’s any options missing. Fullscreen on/off and colorblind mode are included as well. There’s only two sound slider options for effects and music. You’ll probably end up turning music off quickly because it is quite awful. That definitely could have used some more work. Rebindable keys with secondary buttons are here for every control as well. The game also supports multiple languages.
I’ve been looking for a lighter train management experience like Train Valley for some time and their timing was lucky. The game looks cheap both mechanically and visually but it’s got a surprising amount of depth to keep the player engaged throughout the four chapters. Their asking price is right on the money in my opinion. Biggest issues I have with Train Valley are the music and sandbox mode. The music is awful, repetitive and not fun to listen to. The sandbox mode basically gives you unlimited resources to do whatever you want but there’s not a lot of flexibility to do anything crazy, so I don’t think you’ll use it much. For a bit of micromanagement fun to play every now and again, Train Valley works and plays well. The four chapters are challenging enough that you won’t blitz right through them and playing for the achievements will give you even more playtime. An enjoyable, if light, indie game.
Thanks for reading!