Posted by Kuang on Mon, 18 Oct 2010.
In my opinion, the best thing about iPhone games is that developers have rediscovered simplicity; the greatest games on the platform can be played with one finger and barely any instructions, yet will still grab your attention for hours. Trainyard is one such title.
Designer Matt Rix has taken simplicity to the extreme, and thrown away everything that isn’t essential to the game – the graphics are simple and clear, and the sound effects are strictly functional. What you do get are 150 levels of the most brain-twisting puzzles available on the App Store.
The premise of Trainyard is simple – there are train depots and stations on a 7x7 grid, and you have to draw tracks to get the trains from one to the other. That in itself doesn’t sound much of a challenge, but the twist in the tail comes in the form of colour. Each train leaves the depot painted in one of three primary colours, and each station will only receive trains of specific colours, so some careful routing is needed. This becomes even more complicated when you notice that there are sometimes a different number of trains ready to leave than there are slots in the stations for them to arrive at, and that some of the stations require trains to be painted in colours you don’t seem to have.
You solve these problems by allowing trains to merge, or come into contact with each other. If two trains arrive at a junction at the same time they’ll join into one, and the resulting colour of that train will be the original colours mixed – red and blue become purple, for example. If two trains pass each other on the same track, or touch while crossing on different tracks, they both carry on with each train painted in the new mixed colour. You have to be careful not to allow trains in these colours to touch because they’ll turn into a muddy brown colour (junk trains) and be no use to anyone. Every now and then you’ll see a paint shop on a level, and driving a train through this paints it in that shop’s colour regardless of what it was to start with.
The final piece of the puzzle comes with switching track. Every time you join two pieces of track with a junction, one of the pieces of the junction will appear to sit on top of the other – this is the active one, and the one the first train to arrive will take. As the train passes the junction will switch, so it’s possible to send trains to different places based on the order they arrive. This results in some seriously braintwisting puzzles requiring you to think ahead to what a route will look like after each train has passed.
Even though that all sounds complicated, Trainyard plays beautifully and the learning curve is spot on. You’re introduced to new topics via in-game tutorials that you can skip and revisit later, and only one new topic is introduced at a time. Drawing track is as simple as dragging with your finger, and the junctions will happen automatically as you connect tracks together. You can doubletap a junction to change its starting position, and there are simple erase and undo functions for tweaking mistakes. The game also scores highly for including a ‘colour blind’ option that adds distinguishing letters to the trains and stations.
Trainyard captures the spirit of casual gaming for very little money, and is a must-buy if you like to stretch your braincells.
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