I have been on a train-game kick these last couple of months, but it is not a city builder this time. Instead, it is a logic-based puzzler in the vein of pipe routing games, well, without the pipes. Despite the ‘difficult’ tag on steam, I found Railbound to be a relaxing casual experience full of delightful ‘aha’ moments with a gentle difficulty curve for each world until the last one.
“It starts simply enough…with an intuitive control system that immediately gets you going.”
In RailBound, your goal is to get numbered train car(s) to a steam engine in the correct numerical order. With as many four cars in play at once, the challenge is routing your tracks for cars to attach in the right order and avoid crashes, all while dealing with the world and level-specific obstacles and objectives.
It starts simply enough, directly pushing you into the game on your initial startup, with an intuitive control system that immediately gets you going. However, the UI fails to keep up quite the same pace and could use an informational text box or two. But after a few levels, the understanding comes with it.
“It excellently deals with the especially challenging question of difficulty in puzzle games while providing ample challenge to all skill levels.”
Levels also constrain the player by limiting the number of tracks you can place, further complicating the puzzles. But to keep it approachable, along with a fantastic hint system, Railbound divides its levels and worlds brilliantly. Like Celeste B-sides, Railbound has a set of mandatory levels to progress through each world and two layers of harder levels to unlock. It excellently deals with the especially challenging question of difficulty in puzzle games while providing ample challenge to all skill levels.
Worlds also follow rising and falling difficulty curves in a micro and macro sense. Each world starts off simple from a base level, including a new mechanic or obstacle, and slowly builds up complexity and adds previous mechanics while mixing in easier levels between harder ones. This pacing keeps puzzle casuals like myself engaged and challenged while providing bonus levels to stump the hardcore audience. This is true until the last world, which drops the formula entirely, with no alternate levels and only a set of, what was for me, agonizingly difficult puzzles. Unfortunately, this just pushed me to use the hint system more than I would like.
“Railbound levels are not based on one or two big ‘aha’ moments but rather a lot of little ones that allow multiple solutions for each puzzle.”
Despite this anomaly, Railbound still sticks in my mind, especially for its open-endness and almost programing-like troubleshooting. Unlike some puzzlers, Railbound levels are not based on one or two big ‘aha’ moments but rather a lot of little ones that allow multiple solutions for each puzzle. Especially after switches are introduced, Railbound becomes a process of laying down track, testing, and debugging in a sense, rather than a linear solution, most puzzles worked in a cyclical style of systematic testing. This slower approach allows even a puzzle novice like me to progress through each puzzle, constantly making discoveries instead of just looking for the one correct solution.
Aiding its relaxing feel and tone is the many satisfying beeps, train horns, and pops in its gentle SFX and island-pastoral soundtrack. Simplistic, thickly lined objects and backgrounds give Railbound a tactile and playful look, almost like you are arranging a toy model train set. This style carries over to the key art, which also serves as the transitions between worlds depicting various scenes of two dog train conductors. Unfortunately, there are no longer scenes or story moments to elaborate on these characters, which would be nice to tie the game together, solving abrupt and awkward transitions. Likewise, the playfield and biomes feel somewhat under-cooked, too full yet too minimalistic.
In a crowded market of logic puzzle games, Railbound stands out for its charming look and feel and relaxing and approachable puzzles. Though it starts to lose its focus late-game and could have used a narrative to push players along, it is an excellent puzzler that won’t hurt your brain too much.
Railbound is now available on Steam ($12.99), Google Play ($4.99), and the App Store ($4.99).
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC; code was provided by the Publisher.