As a habitual rail commuter, I’ve grown accustomed to setbacks. Regularly, the morning train is at least ten minutes behind schedule. Other times, the locomotive careens past its designated stopping point, forcing the train to reverse into place, and likely causing an additional delay.
In Japan, these types of gaffes are virtually non-existent, with the country taking great pride in the punctuality of its complex network of interconnected lines. Here, 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 #1 and Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto 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 either 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.
Whether players pick up Suburbs #1 or Journey to Kyoto, the structure is similar, as gamers direct a passenger train across either a twelve (Suburbs) or fifteen (Kyoto) stop expedition. 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 KiHa 11 or a Series 900 Kirara train, mirroring that training simulators found at the SCMaglev and Railway Park museum in Nagoya, Japan.
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, 600,000 pound train to stopping point the size of a coin.
Bypass the mark (inevitable will the first few times) by more than a meter and the game will immediately end, signifying a conclusion to your condensed career as a rail engineer. Those who do bring commuter train successfully into the station receive a grade based on precision and punctuality. With Journey to Kyoto 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, nearby shrines, and rail-centric matsuri (festivals). Picking up Suburbs #1 has its dividends as well, with the game offering a visual tourist guide for the prefecture that’s home to Disgaea-developer Nippon Ichi. 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 and Kyoto. In execution, the visual delivery isn’t perfect. When your locomotive is hurting along at 60 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 and bicyclists seem frozen, sullying the game’s reproduction of movement. Despite the problem at stations, each game’s mid-station landmarks are unblemished, with Kyoto’s journey through the Momiji (Maple Tree) Tunnel and the pastoral streams and foliage on the Nagaragawa railway offering a highlight to Suburb owners. 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 and English.
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 ten-dollar 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.
Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey in Suburbs #1 and Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto were played on the 3DS with review code provided by the publisher.