Railway Islands – On track

It's getting a little steamy in here

I’d choo-choo-choose to play more Railway Islands.

I do like a nice relaxing puzzle game from time to time. It’s pleasant to get away from all the explosions and world conquering to take it easy and think your way through a problem. Railway Islands certainly fits that bill, with a very simple concept that results in some deviously complex puzzles. A relaxing soundtrack and delightfully minimalist art style complete a rather lovely package.

The concept here is simple enough. Your train will emerge from the red tunnel, and your job is to create a path for it to reach the blue tunnel whilst going to each train station along the route. The level is made up of hexes, some of which are fixed, such as stations or obstructions, and others with train tracks that you can rotate and swap around. All you need to do is position the hexes in such a way as to create a clear path to the exit.

Railway Islands
Just looking at this relaxes me just a little.

Mechanically, Railway Islands is incredibly simple, but the puzzles become really quite challenging by around half way through the fifty included levels. Initially, you’ll simply need to make a path using straight lines and corners. Straights are all the same length, and corners all turn the same distance, so there’s no real difficulty in spotting what goes where. In fact, that’s often a good strategy to use. If you position pieces in locations that they have to go in, it really narrows down what you need to do with what’s left.

That’s an approach that you need to use as you progress too, as new elements are introduced fairly regularly. Before long you’ll need to contend with junctions that only allow you to go down a single path the first time your train passes over it, then the other path the next time it reaches that piece. This opens up puzzles that require you to go down paths multiple times to reach all the stations and make it out with your cargo. Then there are crossroads that can lead to looped paths. And ramps, bridges, and underpasses that can make things even more difficult. I’m actually quite impressed with how much the developer Rising Moon Games managed to get out of such a simple idea.

This one less so. As the game goes on the stages get quite devious.

Also included is a workshop where you can create your own levels and share them online, which is the sort of feature I love to see in small releases like this. Theoretically, you should be able to find an enormous number of challenges that people have made, and there certainly are a few brainteasers on there. Sadly though, the Xbox version seems to be full of people making incredibly simple levels so they can pick up achievements for making and sharing them.

As I mentioned early, the sound and visuals are lovely. Bright colours and chunky pieces for the scenery and the train itself evoke memories of playing with train sets as a child, which is likely a deliberate choice. The music is light and airy, keeping things relaxing, whilst the sound of the train pootling along really fits in with the world that has been built for these puzzles. Beyond the train, the sound effects are limited, but I didn’t feel that much more was needed.

Railway Islands
The workshop allows you to create your own levels. I was hoping to find some really intricate ones online, but no such luck as of yet.

What is needed though, is a mouse. Trying to play Railway Islands with a controller was a chore, as the pointer frequently didn’t go where I wanted it to and button presses were sometimes not recognised. This feels like a second thought for a console port, and it really should have been given more attention, as the irritation from it spoils what is otherwise a very relaxing experience. I’d much rather have played this on PC as a result.

Other than that though, Railway Islands is a really very solid puzzle game. That isn’t hugely surprising, as Rising Moon Games have made a number of these light, relaxing puzzle games. Whilst the issue of the controls really is off-putting, this is still a game worth a look if you like a nice little puzzler, but I’d encourage you to get off at the PC platform rather than get a ticket all the way to console country.

Railway Islands is available now on Xbox, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Playstation.

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