Overall Score 76%
World Train Royale
It's a little ironic that two weeks ago I was lamenting the lack of innovative applications of puzzles (especially the match-3 types) into wider gameplay concepts. Puzzles for the sake of puzzles will always appeal to a small cross-section of gamers, but the rest of us need some kind of hook, a larger or grander gameplay mechanic to keep us coming back to them. I remember Puzzle Quest as the first game of this type that I ever played, and enjoyed that game for weeks on end. Whereas Puzzle Quest mixed its puzzle elements with an RPG interface and a classic fantasy storyline, this week's review title tries to combine match-3 tile popping with a strategy game. World Train Royale does this fairly well and, with a just a few drawbacks that I can see, is a very playable and enjoyable experience.
The game progresses in a linear fashion on a large world map, much the same as games like Zuma or StoneLoops of Jurassica. The goal of each level must be met before moving on to the next one. The basic premise of each level is to move cargo, and earn money. Cargo is manufactured in the match-3 puzzle game. You'll intuitively know exactly what to do here. One block in a large matrix can be moved in any direction and swapped with an adjacent block. If a line of 3 or more matching blocks result, the line is removed from play, all blocks fall down in the puzzle to replace those removed, and cargo is added to the player's stockpile. Obviously, the larger and more complex the combos are in this game mode, the more cargo is added to the player's stash. This game mode is timed, and once the timer runs out, if the level's goals have not been met, the player is forced to restart from the beginning of the level.
Once enough cargo has been manufactured though, the timer is paused and the player can methodically work through their options in the strategic part of the game. Depending on whether the player needs to move units of cargo (regardless of value or destination), or perhaps whether profit is the goal, different tactics can be employed. There are many locos, each with differing pulling power and top speeds. Some cars can haul large amounts of specialised payloads (like ore hoppers or milk vans), and smaller ones offer the flexibility to transport lighter loads of varied cargoes (such as vans and box cars). Should you ship to a distant town that is willing to pay more for your goods, or somewhere close that can not pay as much, but save on journey time? Additionally, the player can build factories that take 5 units of a basic resource like gold ore or stone and turn them into 1 unit of a much more valuable cargo; in this case, gold bullion and decorative bricks, respectively. The cost to build the infrastructure is significant, although profits will soon take a massive upward turn.
Now at first it might seem that there would be plenty of viable options for the budding rail baron to employ in order to meet their goals. Indeed, the earlier levels are much more fun because a wide variety of different methods to meet targets are possible. But as the game draws on, the targets become very high and most levels will have but one optimal path to success. It falls to the player to discover this (often through trial and error), and restarting the same scenario many times over making subtle changes here and there, all the time trying to keep up a steady flow of cargo in the puzzle mode. The game is by no means a cakewalk, and in fact, I believe that the difficulty level of the game past level 10 is a bit too high. There's too much repetition past this point, and the game started becoming a bit of a chore after that.
I guess whether you like the graphical style of the game is going to be a matter of personal preference, but I for one, enjoy the arty, sometimes a little bizarre style of visual presentation. A few more effects would have been welcomed, especially in the puzzle window, where even large combos simply disappear from the board discreetly, rather than rewarding the player with colours and particle effects like some other notable tile-poppers out there. The choice of colour, size and font for the in-game text is terrible, and eye strain resulted from me having to squint at my monitor while trying to read the mission briefs and tutorial texts.
Sounds and music didn't overly impress, nor did they at any time annoy or become overly repetitive, so in that sense they probably do the job quite satisfactorily. Actually, there is one piano piece in particular that I thought was rather good, quite in theme with the game and very relaxing to play by. The volume and balance can be independently controlled for both in the options menu for those who would like to tweak or disable the audio.
Overall, WTR is quite a good game that could have been even better if it offered a few more viable choices to the player as to how each level might be completed, or even by showcasing a branching game progression instead of a linear one. Perhaps even a meta-game on a grand global scale, where you compete against other rival companies in a replayable domination mode. That sounds like a lot more fun to me. The basic concepts and game interface are excellent, yet the framework in which the gameplay revolves tends to substantially limit the player's available choices and promotes a lot of unnecessary repetition. As it stands now, once you're stuck on a level, you're stuck for good until you get better at the game, or just get lucky (depending on the scenario).
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