Think back to when you were a kid—what were some of your favorite toys to play with? Well, considering you went ahead and clicked on this review, I’m going to assume that you liked playing with models. As a child, I was always into model planes and trains; actually, I got my first model, which was a train, around the age of 7. As I grew older, my appreciation and passion for models increased and walking into a hobby shop was always a fascinating experience.
Eventually, I started moving onto various simulators as they offered much larger variety for a lot less. Having that history, I was pretty excited when I first learned about today’s game: “a train simulator in my pocket? Sign me up!” Unfortunately, my excitement was very short-lived as my hopes were derailed within just the first few minutes of booting up Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails.
I went into Lionel with the hope that I would be able to relive the old days of piloting those huge trains; and combined with the ‘city-building’ aspect, that made the package seem to all the more attractive. Unfortunately, it didn’t go down that way.
Upon starting the game, you’re greeted with (interestingly enough) a Story mode. The story is rather interesting to say the least; the world has entered into a state of disarray and in order to restore balance, a lowly train enthusiast and his (talking?!) dog use the power of the rails to carry out the daunting task of rebuilding communities. Now I may have made that sound more epic than it actually is, but that really is the plot.
The story immediately throws you into the thick of it by having you learn the ins-and-outs of the train system. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect considering that it’s a handheld title, but I was optimistic about seeing the way the game used the two screens of the system. To put it bluntly: a three-year old can play this. While the top screen displays the action, the bottom screen houses the control module. The layout is insultingly simple with the functions boldly labeled and only a handful of buttons to manage. Even though the module is there on the touchscreen, the system’s physical buttons can still be used to perform the same actions.
Controlling the train literally involves just throwing a switch and watching it go. What really surprised me was that it went from 0-40MPH as fast as a typical performance car, and came to a halt so quickly, it could put Sonic’s speed-control to shame. While that may seem like a compliment, it actually isn’t; this is beyond unrealistic. Trains are big, heavy machines. They take quite a while to get up to speed and much longer to come to a stop. Considering that the trains in this game are blatantly based on the real deal and not models, the driving mechanics are a total wash. But even more disappointing than that was the scenery and track layout.
The scenery consists of a small area of track placed in the middle of a static skybox; I’ll go into further details about the overall aesthetics a little later, but for now I can say that it was incredibly boring to look at. Having played quite a lot of Trainz and Microsoft Train Simulator when I was younger, being confined to what can honestly be considered to be nothing more than a glorified play-mat was rather jarring.
Uninspiring from the first ‘chug’.
The mission objectives literally had you starting and stopping your train with it constantly moving in a counter-clockwise direction. The story introduced new systems like carrying freight, but even that ended up being a pain. While carrying one box is simple, the game will then introduce the art of stacking multiple boxes atop one another. The issue here is that the physics engine kicks in and if you nudge the train too forcefully, the boxes will fall off and then you’ll have to restart. Considering these trains are just really big Corvettes, you can imagine how annoying that was.
Now that we’ve covered the train portion, what about the whole “City Builder” aspect? Well frankly, this is the better part. As already covered, you don’t really get much room with the level builder, so it’s really a matter of making the most of what you have. You can place a variety of different buildings and set your tracks accordingly, but there really isn’t much to talk about. The level builder makes decent use of the touchscreen, so you’ll find yourself placing objects down fairly easy once you get used to it. After all is said in done, all you have to do is plop your train down on the track and take a whirl around your virtual creation. While this is the better portion of the game, considering the whole point of it still revolves around driving the trains, it ends up being lackluster.
Considering that this game has “3D” placed in the title, this may lead you to think that it makes use of the stereoscopic features that the 3DS possesses. If that’s what you thought, then you’re correct, but you’re also not. How? Well, while it’s true that you can play the game in 3D mode, it practically doesn’t matter. The 3D is really only there for the sake of being there—it doesn’t add to the gameplay at all nor is are there any moments where it even looks mildly cool. Considering there aren’t even cockpits to go into, you’re just left with looking at the bland scenery with an extra layer of depth. Really, I think “3D” was placed in the title to actually signal that the game is three-dimensional instead of the usual 2D games that are on the eShop.
There are other games that do it better, but they’re not on 3DS.
Having gone into the topic of 3D-effect, now would be a good time to revisit the aforementioned aesthetics. This was an unimpressive show in every area. From the menus straight down to the in-game content, everything is just bland and boring. The 3D models seem to have the polygon count of what you would see on the N64, the textures are low-quality and the colors are incredibly washed out. Now the 3DS is no powerhouse, but there are far too many title to list that are amazing to look at—Lionel certainly isn’t one of them. The same can be said about the game’s sound-work; bland and boring. The ‘music’ is forgettable and even more so, the train’s sound effects are almost non-existent. Again, these are big, heavy machines; you tend to hear them before you actually see them. I guess the incredibly light frames that allow them to zoom around so quickly must also be sound-proof because I barely heard anything coming from them. Literally the loudest thing on the train was the horn—and that’s by default.
— CONCLUSION —
In the end, Lionel was an overall disappointment. There are much older games with a lot more features than this, and a much higher level of fun. Actually, there are real train simulators on mobile devices that outpace this. If the city-building aspect is what caught your eye, then you’re better off sticking with good old Animal Crossing as it too does a much better job. The only audience that I can think of who would get much enjoyment out of this title are young children, emphasis on young. But really, if you have a little companion who’s getting into the hobby, then I wouldn’t start them here unless you’re looking for something incredibly simple; and if you’re a hobbyist yourself then you should definitely look far beyond the likes of Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails.