Travel to Japan and an appreciation for rail transit is inevitable. Whether you’re traveling in a sleeper car between Ueno to Aomori, taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to race between Tokyo and Kyoto, or just riding the Yamanote Line for an afternoon of shopping in Akihabara, you’re bound to appreciate the efficiency and ubiquity of rail systems. Not only are trains immaculately clean and blissfully quiet, but Japan prides themselves on the punctuality of their transit system. And with such a complex network of different rails, even a slight delay could wreck havoc on the larger system.
As such, it’s little wonder that trains run with clock-like precision. In fact, a delay of more than a few minutes is an extreme rarity, prompting a heartfelt, personal apology from the conductor and the option for a “delay certificate” to show the boss. In short, there’s little room for error for a rail engineers.
The recent releases of Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey in Suburbs #2, #3, and #4 demonstrate this miniscule margin for miscalculation. Each title places players in the engine cab, where they’ll stop at the proper mark across a succession of stations, and obey a strict set of speed and time limits. While the game might have limited appeal, those who do purchase any of the eShop titles might just gain insight into the acceleration and braking systems of light commuter rails, as well as an appreciation for the hard-working individuals who are in charge of moving thousands of commuters and sightseers each day.
No mater which version players pick up, the structure is similar, as gamers direct a passenger train across either seven (#3) or eleven kilometer stops (#2 and #4) along the Etsumi-Nan Line. Likewise, distances are roughly the same across the three iterations, with #2 offering a 17.1 kilometer journey between Minoshi and Minami-Kariyasu, #3’s trek between the Minami-Kariyasu and Yamada stations measuring up 19.2 Km, while #4’s trip extends from Yamada to the station terminal in Hokuou for 18.1 Km. No matter which version you pick up, you’ll enjoy the tranquil countryside of the Gifu prefecture (home of Nippon Ichi Software), across a trip highlighted by the occasional tunnel or picturesque river.
At each station a countdown timer gradually winds down until it’s time for departure and the doors automatically close. Once this happens, players can use the ‘Y’ button to release the brakes, before using the directional pad to increase the speed on the master control switch. Alternatively, players may opt to use the stylus to interaction with the levers that are rendered on the bottom 3DS screen. Regardless of what input method is used, both systems mimic the control system of a Nagaragawa Railway engine.
For the minute or two duration between each stop, players are responsible for setting the velocity of the train. Here, Japanese Rail Sim does an admirable job of articulating speed limits, with either glowing indictors on the accelerometer or text to show the restricted speeds when leaving stations or around bends. Periodically, the game even asks players to sound the whistle when rounding a corner, with overzealous blowers receiving a point deduction. Tension mounts as warnings alert players to an upcoming station, where they have to bring the hurtling train to stopping point that roughly the size of a 500 yen coin.
On the simulations two higher difficulties, if you bypass the mark by more than a meter the game ends, signifying a conclusion to your condensed career as a rail engineer. Those who do bring the commuter train successfully into the station receive a grade based on precision and punctuality. With Journey in Suburbs this is tied to a rewards system with players earning up to three unlockables, which offer a visual and text-based descriptions of different trains, architecture, and bit of information about the region. Successful completion of the main route opens up a Full Line mode, where players are only graded at the end of the route, with achievers earning another perk once they’ve mastered that mode.
But, arguably the game’s biggest reward are the full motion video sequences which offer an engineer’s perspective across the picturesque journeys around Gifu. In execution, the visual delivery isn’t perfect. When your locomotive is hurting along at 70 kilometers per hour, the scenery is wonderfully fluid. But when the train is coming to a halt, and you really need to monitor your velocity (fortunately, an overheard visual representation is offered on the right side of the screen), video is slowed down to as little as a single frame per second. Peripheral elements like birds seem frozen, sullying the game’s reproduction of movement. Fortunately, each title’s aural delivery is flawless, with both games offering a realistic recreation of roaring engines, squealing brakes, and in-train announcements in Japanese.
Considering that gameplay consists of regulating speed and making precision stops, Japanese Rail Sim 3D likely won’t interest the average player. But those with an appreciation for trains or Japan’s natural beauty might want to hop aboard with of Sonic Powered’s titles. While each title has a limited amount of interaction, the subject matter and the organic splendor won’t be found outside of this series. Certainly, each installment’s reduced four dollar price tag in a nice incentive for curious players who have debated on getting on board.
Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey in Suburbs #2, #3, and #4 were played
on the Nintendo 3DS with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Sonic Powered Co.,Ltd.
Publisher: Sonic Powered Co.,Ltd.
Release date: March 24th, 2016
Price: $3.99 via Nintendo eShop for each installment
Language(s): Japanese voice, English text