STAFF REVIEW of Train Valley: Console Edition (Xbox One)

Wednesday, July 27, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Train Valley: Console Edition Box art I remember growing up I had two train sets, some old one that was passed down from my grandparents and the one that many young children had, the wooden one with the tracks that would easily snap into one another for whatever track setting you wanted. There’s some sort of unique simplicity playing with trains as a kid, being able to place the tracks all around your room however your imagination could come up with.

Originally released back in 2018 for PC, Train Valley is now making its way to console for a new audience to discover and enjoy their love of trains, aptly titled Train Valley: Console Edition. The premise is not much different than playing with model trains as a kid, connecting and laying down tracks for your trains to reach their destinations without causing any crashes or delivering to the wrong station. While much more of a puzzle game as opposed to a sim-like, I struggled for the first few maps until I got the hang of its controls and mechanics, then it was hard to put down after that point.

So what’s new with Train Valley: Console Edition other than finally releasing on home consoles? Well, there’s obviously controller support and the optional Germany DLC that was released for PC is also included here as well, bumping the original four Seasons of campaign up to five. You need to play the Seasons in order with Germany containing plenty of challenge, drastically more difficult than the rest of the game.

In these levels you’ll start in the World War I era, the fall of the iconic Berlin Wall and to today’s modern Frankfurt Airport as backdrops. I’ll admit, these levels were the most frustrating due to conditions out of your control. In the rest of the Train Valley: Console Edition you simply have to deal with connecting trains properly via tracks to reach their destination, but in the Germany DLC you’re going to have to deal with planes randomly bombing your tracks and having to avoid a massive super train that races across the map at different intervals.

Campaign Mode consists of you playing through the five different Seasons that each consist of 5 regular levels then one randomized longer one. You’ll travel across the globe for each Season, experiencing different eras of trains and scenery: Europe (1830–1980), America (1840–1960), USSR (1880–1980), Japan (1900–2020) and Germany (1830-2020).

As you play through the different locations and eras you’ll also notice different events as you progress through the years. Keen eyes might notice World War references, Cold War, Berlin Wall, the Gold Rush and more. With over thirty different types of trains you’ll have to factor in track length and locomotive speeds to avoid any unnecessary crashes as trains from the mid 1800’s travel nowhere near as fast as modern high-speed ones. While there is a Sandbox mode where you can play without time or money limits, the bulk of your play will surely take place in the different campaign stages as they vary and all have their own layouts and challenges.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Train Valley: Console Edition when I first started due to not doing any research beforehand. I figured the cute little trains would make for a relaxing time placing down some tracks as I got one train from station to the next. I didn’t realize that my first hour or so would be deceptively challenging and frustrating. Sure the first few levels start out easy enough, but then the difficulty curve kicks in and you’re having to manage a half dozen trains all at once without having them crash or going bankrupt which forces a level restart.

While there is a brief tutorial, it didn’t do a great job at explaining every mechanic unless I missed something. I kept having my trains collide and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until I realized I was able to have trains stop on the tracks while they wait for others to pass, or have them completely reverse the other way if needed. Once I figured this out, I actually started having a lot more fun even though the control scheme on a controller doesn’t feel quite natural as it could be.

Each level begins with at least two stations and it’s up to you to design how you want to lay the track down to connect them. Each placement on the grid costs money and you do have a budget, so you need to be efficient. Simply click on the end you want to extend track from then guide with the Stick and it’ll place the track once you confirm, allowing you to go in straight lines or curves and intersections. This is easy at first, but there’s also obstacles on the map that can technically be destroyed to place down track, but this costs a lot more money, so needs to be avoided early on until you have a bigger profits to draw from.

Stations are color coded and when a train is ready to depart from them randomly, they’re color coded to the station they’re meant to reach, so it becomes a challenge to have tracks leading to one another with a bunch of switches to allow for different turns and bends depending on the departing and destination stations. You want to set your trains out as quickly as possible as each pays a specific sum of money, but that diminishes over time the longer you wait. Earn more money, place more tracks, depart more trains and repeat.

Your track layout is generally pretty restricted in the sense that you can only place on flat ground, there’s no bridges or tunnels, so certain areas of the environment you have to simply avoid and make pathways around it unless specific levels place these bridges and tunnels for you. These becomes more of a challenge when you have a huge lake in the middle of the map and are forced to create a track around its perimeter instead of being able to go straight across.

Where tracks intersect will place switches that determine which way a train will go when it crosses over. This is easy to manage when you only have to deal with a train or two, but soon as you get three or more it becomes much more challenging having to keep track of all of the trains and which will arrive to certain intersections first. Don’t keep an eye on this properly and you’re sure to have many train crashes and probably go bankrupt when having to rebuild your tracks.

You’re able to set how fast you want the overall speed to go, which has some benefits and challenges. The faster times goes the less waiting you have to do for trains to reach their destination, but you’re also going to have to be much quicker with watching all your trains and switches. Also, there’s a yearly taxes to pay, so you better be earning money at a good rate to keep up.

The only way you’ll be able to manage is the critical use of the time pause, not only to keep track of everything going on screen at once in the later stages, but to actually figure out where your cursor is when using the controller. You can build track and change switches while the speed is set to paused, but you’ll need to un-pause to have trains travel and waiting for track building to be completed. Even with using the pause liberally you’ll also have to make sure you know when to stop a specific train or have it go in reverse to allow for a passing train or to switch tracks.

Given that this is specifically the Console Edition, I was hoping that the controls would be on point and simple to use. You use the Bumpers to switch between placing track, destroying objects, sending off trains, switching track directions, and interacting with trains to stop or reverse them, but it never feels great. Even after hours of playing and across all the Seasons, I still had to check the top left of the screen to see what mode I was currently in.

I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally sent a train out for departure when I meant to do something else instead. Part of the problem is that your cursor is so absolutely tiny that it’s hard to tell where you’re currently highlighting. Even on a 65” TV I had to squint to look where my cursor was and had to constantly use the Pause to simply reorient myself as to what I was doing. How’d you’d play this without the time pause I have no idea, as it would take sometimes ten seconds for me to find where my cursor was only to realize I wasn’t even set to the right mode.

Train Valley: Console Edition was oddly addictive once I learned all of its intricacies and mechanics that wasn’t taught well from the beginning. Sure there’s not much substance under the surface other than delivering color coded trains to their respective stations, and the first hour or so will be frustrating, but it eventually clicks and become quite entertaining to make intricate track layouts and having trains narrowly miss one another as they pass by one another. Choo choo choose Train Valley: Console Edition if you want an addictive locomotive puzzler, albeit with some initial awkward controls.

**Train Valley: Console Edition was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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