I’ve been a big fan of developer NimbleBit since getting addicted to Tiny Tower three years ago. Their design has been big on intricate pixelated graphics, cute charm, a F2P setup that is exceedingly generous and unrestrictive, and sheer addictiveness. Their follow-ups have been solid but not as long-lasting as Tiny Tower, however. Pocket Planes was too heavy on the micro-managing to be fun in the long run, and Nimble Quest was an amusing Snake-like that was interesting for a few days before losing appeal.
So I was really interested to see if their latest, Pocket Trains, would be able to rekindle the old feelings. Spoiler: I think it has, although we’ll have to see how it fares over (ahem) the long haul.
Everyone seems to know that Pocket Planes used to be a train simulator before they thought planes was a better idea. But while planes can go just about anywhere (given enough fuel), having the restricted rail lines of trains makes a game a lot more strategic. In just about every way, Pocket Trains improves upon the Pocket Planes formula, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t.
The basic idea is that you’re managing a rail empire by purchasing stations and railroads, then shuttling cargo from one city to the next. Making bank is important to expand, although you also want to scoop up “bux” (premium currency) and train part crates. The latter allow you to craft new engines and the former allow you to open the crates. You can spend actual money for more bux, but you really do get a lot in the game so there’s very low pressure to drop cash on this.
So let’s talk about the differences from Pocket Planes. PP’s airplanes would only let you take either cargo or passengers or a mix, whereas PT only restricts you by the number of cars that you can pull. PP let you fly your planes anywhere as long as the plane could land at that airport and had the range; PT asks you to dedicate a rail line to a single train. Because of this, there’s a lot of strategy in deciding where to put your best trains, how many stations/lines should be given to a single train, and so on.
One of the best changes is that Pocket Trains doesn’t charge for fuel like Pocket Planes did. Often in PP you just would sit there, waiting for jobs to refresh, so that you could fill up the plane and make a profitable flight. PT instead has a fuel meter for the cars that fills up automatically in the stations and drains while moving (you can make fuel cars to increase the tank and spend bux to quickly refuel if you’re that desperate). This means that while it’d be great to have a “full” train run, it’s no longer necessary. I quickly flick through the stations, load up, and send them on their way without freaking out about numbers. It’s much more enjoyable and relaxing that way. Psychologically, I like knowing that even when I’m not playing, the trains are doing something — getting to their destinations and refuelling.
There’s some manner of cargo micro-managing when you want to transfer goods long-distance (or get those valuable train parts/bux cars to their destinations), and the interface makes that a cinch. Most stations can hold five cars, and you can pay to expand those.
So far my empire has grown to five engines that span from Glasgow to Minsk. The same tiny world charm that Tiny Tower had with its rooms has returned in the cars, which range from karaoke to gothic castle (because, why not). There are a couple of weird omissions, such as no “guilds” like PP had and no Bitbook (the fake Facebook app that dropped funny notices), but I’m glad to see music return and a much more friendly game all around.