Now I live for the winners choo choo which marks the end of a level in Railbound. Sometimes I figure it out in 30 seconds: on my first try I see how to lay some pieces of track to connect two wagons to the waiting locomotive in the right order and choo choo, we move on to the next puzzle. Sometimes this locomotive is a hard-earned reward for 10 minutes of crashing between my little carriages, 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 at its core, elegantly teaching you new mechanics at the start of each set of levels. The desert introduces tunnels, the gates and switches that cross the beach, the forest lines that change direction when a train passes over a switch. Solving these is as thoughtful as looking out a train window and thinking “you know, maybe I’ll understand what life is all about.”
Then you try to solve some of the optional levels you unlock in each experience and it’s like being thrust into the pilot seat of a bullet train and realizing that all that Thomas the Tank Engine you watched at age three doesn’t make you an expert. Like life, brutally challenging train puzzles come at you fast. I was forced to abandon a few train cars deep in the desert, promising to return to them when I had discarded all unnecessary knowledge from my mind in order to acquire the skills of railway transportation.
It’s already been a strong year for cute puzzle games, with Dorfromantik and Please Fix the Road, but Railbound has my favorite aesthetic. I love those trains and the shadow track pieces and the pastel worlds. Each level set comes with its own music, which also seems to grow in complexity as the game progresses – when the piano entered world four I was jazz.
The whole aesthetic is chunky and vibrant, simple but with enough animation flair to make the trains happy little cartoons. I love how they look like they’re on the verge of tipping over every time they turn a hairpin.
Each click of the mouse lays out a piece of rail with a satisfying little thump, and the pieces snap together elegantly when you drag the mouse in the right direction. I find clicking everything in Railbound delightfully tactile, to the point where I’m now a little worried I’ll be a model train in 20 years.
No guys, just a 1/64 train heaven that I spend the rest of my life building in the garage.
I’ve already started creating train tracks with infinite circuits, and then I let my trains run and go around just so I can watch.
The only thing I really miss in Railbound is a pause button. By the fourth set of levels, the switches and shift rails start to get a bit more complex, and I wish I could set my trains in motion and then pause midway to make sure I know exactly how it all plays out. With two or three train cars running over buttons at the same time, I lose track of what’s going on very quickly. I’d like to think that with a pause or slow motion option, I probably could have created a much more elegant solution than the one above.
But hey: they got there in the end, that’s all I really ask of my trains.