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Building a budding railroad empire is hard work. You have to take whatever jobs you can get, which means hauling everything from giant vats of maple syrup and pickles to arcade cabinets and ethanol to maximize your profits. Growing your snaking network of train routes – and fleet of trusty engines to traverse them with goods in tow – hits a delightfully upbeat stride in Pocket Trains, the adorable spiritual successor to Pocket Planes and Tiny Tower. Despite the similarly cutesy sheen of this new venture in the world of pixelated "bitizens," plenty of depth, fun, and accessibility are balanced throughout the clever design.
The complexities of maintaining a fleet of trains, juggling dedicated rail lines for each route, and expanding your economic infrastructure are all present here, but they're handled with simplified grace. Once you have a line established, you'll select a train, load it up with cargo, and head off to your destination. Watching your engines hauling cartoonish goods across the bucolic countryside while picking up floating coins is oddly relaxing, though you're often bouncing between multiple trains at once to keep the cargo flow rolling.
Earning money with each haul lets you build tracks to branch out to new cities, upgrade your existing trains and train yards, and even trigger a temporary speed boost to hurry certain trains along. Each train has a set number of cargo slots you can plug item-filled cars into, and the need to consider the price for each haul plus the travel distance to your destination adds a layer of strategy to each run. The fact that your finite fuel supply for each engine requires in-game funds to replenish also makes this important.
Things get off a to a slow and steady start, but the bustle picks up as you build out your rail infrastructure across the country. Pocket Trains does a great job of easing you into the process, and it's a lot of fun as you build momentum and make upgrades to your business operations. The free-to-play model is well implemented too, since paying real-world cash does help you out, but you can easily get by without spending a cent too.
The bottom line. A great mix of strategy and time management, Pocket Trains offers a lighthearted and awesome diversion for rail enthusiasts with a sweet tooth for cuteness.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Adorable. Complex and deep gameplay done simple. Lots to upgrade and expand.
Gets off to a slow start.