Developer: NimbleBit
Price: Free
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5, iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Playtime: Rating: ★★★★★
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

NimbleBit has a clear formula with their bitizen-featuring simulation games, one that repeats with the third such title, Pocket Trains. They’re games that are fueled not so much by challenge, but by keeping the player interested in propelling the machine forward and not punishing them for playing the game – like so many other free-to-play simulations are wont to do. It’s why I find myself falling into the same pit with Pocket Trains where I check it regularly for weeks on end, the same as I did with Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes.

PocketTrains-1This feels almost like a remix of Pocket Planes that’s been simplified a lot. Where that game had some complexity due to the free-form nature of air travel,Pocket Trains is forced to be simpler because of the fixed nature of rail lines. Only one train can own a segment between two cities, though of course multiple train lines can travel through cities on intersecting lines. The paths are thus largely pre-defined and there’s now no monetary cost for traveling to a city, only a fuel gauge that refills when a train is idling or when the player pays a couple bux to refill it.

Some of the strategy does get inherently lost to where, much like a railroad, Pocket Trains only really goes in one direction, and it’s only how efficient the player is willing to be in managing their rail lines. But I can’t say that it’s inherently a bad thing – Pocket Trains loses some of the challenge but feels a bit less stressful than Pocket Planes was with its similar systems. This is a rather relaxing simulation game, one where players can turn the crank and be rewarded.

PocketTrains-7And players aren’t inherently punished for turning the crank too much: many simulation games use wait timers as a way to punish players who want to play too much, and use IAP in order to exploit the desire they’ve created to get the player to play more, and thus pay more. Not so much with Pocket Trains. Bux are often rewarded through making cargo deliveries or randomly when watching a train travel. The costs of what bux are used for is enough that players won’t be afraid to spend them, but won’t just spend them all willy-nilly – unless they pay for more, of course. But at that point, NimbleBit is rewarding players for paying and supporting the game, not relieving them of the stress that they created.

Even the crate system, where new train parts are randomly awarded through crates that cost 10 bux to unlock, could be abusive in the hands of other developers. But again, it is just an active part of the experience. NimbleBit lets free players play the game, not just string them along.

And really, I think that’s why Pocket Trains is still so much fun: there’s always something to do whenever I pick it up, and I can play at my pace. If I want to set it down for an hour, a day, a month, or a year, I can do that and not feel stressed about it. It’s a relaxing game, and one I’m quite willing to sink lots of time and the occasional few dollars into because I enjoy the experience I have with it.

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