Trains with hats! Right, I don't think I need to say anything else - that sums up Badass Locomotive in a nutshell, really. But wait! Come back! There's more to it than that. You can paint your train in a riot of different colours! Oh, and there's a game behind it all, too. But as the game's creator says - do other train-themed games have hats? We think not...
Aside from millinerily endowed steam engines, Badass Locomotive is a familiar variant on the old puzzle theme. You have a train at point A, and need to get it to point B by laying a track. You have a range of track pieces (straight, turns, crossroads and double turns) in limited quantities, and on the way there are three stars to collect and a bonus item. Can you find the most efficient route? Bonus items are worth grabbing - aside from red stars, which don't appear to do anything special, this is how you collect new hats and new paint colours.
Badass Locomotive is entirely operated by mouse. Use the left mouse button to select and place track pieces, or to rotate them when placed. You can use the "Destroy" option to remove them (don't panic, you get them back!). The right mouse button can be held down to rotate the 3D level, which can include hills, tunnels and bridges, so sometimes you'll need to move your viewpoint so you can place the track. And the scroll wheel (or up/down arrow keys, if you lack one) zooms in and out. All very straightforward, yes? Good.
Not that you'll struggle for a good while. Early levels are very easy, with the level starting text forming the tutorial (later, this text provides an assortment of facts, plugs for other games - not all of them about trains - and curious philosophical musings. "Do trains have souls?" one asks. "We think yes.") Indeed, I didn't find any real difficulty until level 15, at which point I discovered I simply didn't have enough straight track to make the run. I could cheat a little with some crossing pieces but that still wasn't quite enough. I won't spoil the challenge for any readers with my solution, however.
The graphics, powered by the Unity engine, are fully 3D and quite charming, though there are occasional clipping issues on hills with some of the larger hats. The rotation of the levels is smooth and very effective, allowing full access to the levels themselves, though as the camera is always fixed on the centre of the level it can be difficult sometimes to see the extreme ends. Most of the time it's fairly obvious which parts you can build on and the tracks are big and clear. The menu system is not entirely intuitive, however, and I'm pretty sure there's no such word as "Awardments" - a section that is very bland. Why are they just text? Why are there no actual trophies to see here? Come to that, why are the in-game buttons plain text rather than neat graphics? I had to place a double turn to find out what one was.
If this review seems more bizarre than my normal fare, you can blame the music. I had to mute it eventually to preserve what little sanity I had left. While sound effects are very limited - the whistle of the train as it moves off, the clink of stars and bonuses being picked up - the game music is incessant. It's a curious country-style instrumental take on the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun", which is odd in itself (what has that song got to do with trains?) and it loops over and over and over. You may find yourself dreaming it. Muting the music is possible (though it will be back when you next load up the game), but this mutes sound effects as well.
There are some aspects of gameplay that could be improved. Track laying is one of these - it could be more intelligent. Badass Locomotive is clever enough to place straight track on hills and bridges, regardless of what you have selected, as these are the only pieces you can place there. But it doesn't think about ordinary areas - if I place a corner on a square with only two neighbours, surely it should be obvious which way I want the turn to go? You have to manually click the track into the right alignment, which is fine when there's a valid choice but seems silly when there's only one way it CAN go. The train itself is also rather slow - I use the "fast forward" button every level, as that brings things up to a sensible speed. And there's no option to reset the level - if your track layout is completely wrong, you either need to manually remove every piece or quit the level and start it again.
There are other oddities. The text for one level didn't wrap, which should really have been detected in testing. I have earned two "awardments", for collecting all three stars on a level and for finding my first hat - but I have no idea what the other 16 or so are, or how to get them. Completing all the levels would be an obvious one, but it doesn't seem to have unlocked anything. Given some of the other quirks I've encountered, such as being told I've unlocked a new paint colour or hat when I haven't, or that I've collected 20/60 stars when I've collected all of them, I'm wondering if this "awardment" issue is a bug. Not knowing what they are, I have no way to know. I didn't score three stars on the last five levels, despite collecting all three on each of them. Is efficiency required for this? If so, it isn't explained anywhere. Even so, three stars on fifteen levels equals 45 stars, not 20.
Longevity is an issue here. Perhaps Badass Locomotive is aimed at a younger market than me, but I found it rather dull for some time. I wasn't really challenged until the final five or six levels, and there are only twenty. With no timers or other counters in place, there's nothing concrete to try to beat when replaying it. The train colours and hats are great, but they don't have any impact on gameplay itself (I'd love it, for instance, if the music were influenced by the hat style - country music for a cowboy hat, French themed accordions for the beret, etc).
Badass Locomotive is a fun puzzle game that has found a quirky way of differentiating itself from the herd (fleet?). I just get the impression it isn't quite finished yet, and that there are several bugs that need investigating. It would also benefit from an interface overhaul - replace those text buttons with graphics! - and a few more tunes would not go amiss either. Could do better, but a lot of promise.
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