Every journey leads somewhere and in Railway Islands that journey leads to the blue tunnel, eventually.
Our trusty little train emerges and you’ll have to spin and swap tiles to create a path to complete each level.
Railway Islands is a puzzle game which contains 50 base levels of increasing difficulty tasking you with creating a route from the red start tunnel to the blue end tunnel for your train to take. To make things more difficult you’ll have to pick up a few supplies on your travels, so it’s imperative to make sure you pass each station to collect all available items for that level.
Each level is made up from a collection of hexagonal tiles, the start and end points (tunnels) are fixed in place, as are any stations and scenery such as trees, but any track pieces can be swapped with another segment of track on the play field or rotated using the left or right triggers. The overall theme changes depending on the season, but the core pieces and their functionality always remains the same.
Starting in Summertime, the trees are green and you’ll initially find it pretty simple with only a few pieces in play, needing to be rotated or swapped around to make a route for your train. Things do start to get a little more complicated, as you’re tasked with a few more varied track pieces such as junctions splitting one track into two, cross roads and eventually bridges.
The target for each level remains the same, swap the tiles, create a route past every station and get your train to that blue tunnel, and while some maps look really confusing when you first start and everythings mixed up, but once you’ve used a little common sense and moved straight pieces and curves to the obvious locations (where a tile only has 2 adjacent “track” tiles), it’s then just a case of working out the location of a few junctions and later in the game which ones to use, as some will have numbers signifying how many passes before they switch tracks.
To give an example of what you’re up against, here’s a comparison of two images of the same level, before and after solving it.
While it’s always verging on repetitive, I found Railway Islands just enough to hold my interest right to the end, and while the above logic got me through 49 levels, I just couldn’t see a pattern for the very last level, so I did check a guide, maybe I was lazy or frustrated, but I’m putting it down to the game keeping me awake till past 3am.
Working through all 50 levels without help, is likely to take most people around 3 hours in total, maybe a little more if you struggle with the patterns, but achievement hunters will find it possible in less than 60-90 minutes if you’re going to use a guide.
Beyond the main campaign there’s also the workshop which opens up user created levels, these are all made using the same pieces as the campaign levels, allowing you to challenge yourself with far more difficult scenarios than the main campaign, with the negative being it relies on user generated content and most people are too lazy to put a proper title, let alone some sort of description (which oddly only allows a very limited few words) but it’s still nice to see such options beyond the campaigns 50 levels.
Graphically, everything is bright, vibrant and detailed, sure it’s a simple game with only a few dozen different pieces, but every track tile, every station and every piece of scenery are well detailed making it always easy to see exactly what you’re doing, which definitely helps when you’ve got lots of track pieces to organise.
While challenging at times, it carries a nice relaxed flow throughout and the music matches this, it’s never a distraction, or memorable enough to tell your friends about but it’s more than enough accompaniment without becoming tiring or grinding. There are the subtle chugging sounds from the train and the occasional horn from a passing boat to help fill the speakers, but other than the tone to confirm you’ve collected an item from a station, there’s not much else to hear.
The real highlight of Railway Islands is the price… at only £3.29 it’s fantastic value and is going to appeal to a lot of people, if you’re after a simple, well made and eventually challenging puzzle game or even just a few easy achievements, it’s all presented in such a way that makes that low price tag even more of a bargain, add to that the map-creation offering hours of entertainment beyond the main campaign and it’s hard to think of another small game like Railway Islands that offers anywhere near the same quality at such a low price.
There’s sadly one small negative to cover and that’s the control scheme, which frustrated me a few times, decades of gaming I’ve come to learn that A selects something and B de-selects it, but on Railway Island, B resets the camera (but takes a few seconds to do so), but to de-select a piece, you either need to re-highlight it and press A again, or sit through the fade-to black reset.
There’s also the confusion of the left stick moving the cursor, d-pad moving the map and right stick moving the camera, trying to use three control methods, just convolutes things in an otherwise relaxed and straightforward game.
The final complaint has to be the overall cursor control, there’s no moving the camera when you reach the edge of the screen, so you can sometimes lose sight of your curser, and around the map, you don’t “snap” to the hexagonal tiles, so sometimes you will find yourself selecting the wrong tile, and guess what… to de-select that, you’ve got the whole view-reset or relocate and re-select hassle which again just makes things a little more complicated than they needed to be.
It’s tough to be critical when everything else plays so well, runs so smoothly and looks great, and at such a low asking price, it’s easy to overlook its few flaws because Railway Islands, I can easily recommend to anyone who likes a well-made puzzle game, or fancies a few easy achievements making this one of the best value and quality low-budget titles available on Xbox.
Railway Islands – Puzzle
I can easily recommend to anyone who likes a well-made puzzle game, or fancies a few easy achievements making this one of the best value and quality low-budget titles available on Xbox.