I’m the kind of guy that’s a sucker for steam trains – they’re cool, okay! So seeing Train Station Simulator on sale in the Switch eShop was a no brainer for me. What better way to pass the time in an evening, I thought? Train Station Simulator is a game by Appliks Apps Studio that was released earlier this year, where, as the games name suggests, you run a train station – one that you get to build.
Become the Station Dictator You Always Wanted to be?
Simulation/Tycoon games have been around for a long, harking back to the originals like SimCity which are absolute classics that many games of this type still fail to live up to because they were just the best. This is a more localised version where instead of a city it’s a small area to build your train station. And instead of hoping to see a ton of cars zooming up and down your roads that go absolutely nowhere, you’re hoping to see people arriving to leave on trains that go absolutely nowhere.
When you load up Train Station Simulator, it looks beautiful. You’re presented with a choice of starting with a tutorial or starting one of the 25 different scenarios that differ in skill and the time you have available. Some allow you to restore a prebuilt train station back to past glories whilst others let you build from scratch on a limited budget.
There’s a short tutorial available that could do with some padding out but it gives you the general gist of what to do whilst missing out on explaining the games features or the basic economy of the gameplay finances. It certainly leaves you wanting a bit more before being thrown in the deep end.
Once you’ve built your station, which doesn’t need walls, you need to hire staff. This requires a bit more thought than you’d think as there’s a range of staff to choose from. Hygiene technicians, security, engineers and medical staff. Managing your staff is an important feature of the game, one that is unfortunately not well explained in the tutorial and makes the game harder than it should be if you’re new to games like this or haven’t played them in well over 10 years.
For trains, you need a timetable, which you set every day or two. No option to always have a set schedule is a missed opportunity as if there’s one thing I know about train stations, it’s that they love a set schedule. Sure, they might not always stick to it for whatever reason, but the trains are scheduled to arrive and leave at the same times throughout the week. In Train Station Simulator, if you forget to set your timetable then there are no trains arriving and all the commuters arrive and wander about aimlessly with no trains to catch.
Disappointingly, you have little to no say in the train tracks, as you’re limited to a straight line, which does stop you from making some turns that would simply be impossible for a train to make, but a bit more freehand artistry with the tracks would be a welcome addition.
There are also some odd choices with controls. The + and - buttons for example, usually reserved for pausing the game or bringing up a menu, are used to flip between the three buttons at the top – pause, play & fast forward. The Z buttons would have been more intuitive for that with the + and - button bringing up a menu. There’s no support for the pro controller either, so handheld mode it is, which honestly isn’t a big deal as it looks lovely on the small screen anyway. In fact, none of the controls are intuitive and it really makes it obvious that this was designed for PC first. The touchscreen does work though and I found myself using that more than I’d like as it means changing how you’re holding your Switch.
Graphics & Audio
The graphics are the standout part of Train Station Simulator. There’s not much detail, but it reminds you of some older games without feeling like an older game. It really is a delight to look at with vibrant colours used throughout that are a joy to look at.
It runs smoothly - so smoothly that if it wasn’t for the controls, you could almost believe this game was built for the Switch. There’s not much detail to the people which is fine as they not only blend into the game but also use up fewer resources than detailed people would which just adds to smoother gameplay on a small screen.
If you want more detail on the people running around your train station, your staff list provides you with a cartoon face for each person which doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the graphics but it does add a bit of character to your overworked staff.
The soundtrack is okay but gets repetitive quickly, which isn’t a big problem because you don’t need sound on to play. You miss nothing by having it muted if you don’t want the song stuck in your head.
One problem people might have however is the font. Whilst I’m a fan of small fonts and usually set my PC to max resolution with small fonts for that crisp look, that’s on a 32-inch monitor not a 6 inch one. It’s tiny and whilst it looks nice it will be a problem for some as it’s not the easiest to read and there’s no option to change it.
Like most simulator/tycoon games of this sort, it’s slow going to start and can be slow in other places too, especially as you wait for commuters to come to test out your beautiful new train station, but once they start pilling in it’s quite enjoyable to watch them run around with seemingly no clue what they’re doing (not unlike some people in real life train stations).
It does offer a challenge, although not always in the way you’d want. It’s repetitive and a bit too limiting on what you can actually do but thankfully there’s plenty of modes to go through to mix things up a bit whenever you want to start a new game.
Train Station Simulator is a game that has tons of potential. It doesn’t quite live up to it yet, but with any luck, the developers will keep working on it. The looks and feel of the game are great, but it’s let down with some problems that are fixable. Some, like the controls, are Switch specific which simply wouldn’t be there on a PC, likewise, the font would be more visible. With a bit of love though this could end up as a fun way to pass the time.