Nine score and five years ago, George Stephenson (“the father of railways”) opened the first public inter-city railway to use steam locomotives. Trains traveled at a top speed of 27km/h, and if there were a breakdown on the track, a policeman (stationed each mile along the line to provide signaling) would have to run a mile to stop oncoming traffic. Nowadays an express train can travel up to 130km/h, live timetable updates are delivered straight to your pocket, a plastic card acts as your ticket on all modes of public transport… And yet, we all go straight to DEFCON 5 when the train is two minutes late.
Well, if it helps relieve that morning commuter stress, you don’t need to rack up eight trips on your Opal card to earn a freebie this week- Dean Longmore and the teams at CoopFly and Quest End Games have got you covered with their latest addition to the app store, Station Stop.
‘Station Stop is a one-touch, endless, physics-based train game. The goal is, simply, to stop at each train station,’ Dean explains. ‘Simple as hold [your finger] down to go, release to stop.’
After selecting a train, players must travel around the randomly generated single track, stopping at each station along the way. At stations, one or more of a cast of colourful (and collectible) characters (called ‘buds’) will hop on or off the train. Players score points for each passenger/ ‘bud’ successfully delivered to their preferred station. If a station is missed completely or even overshot by a millimeter, the player’s score resets to zero and the opportunity to share achievements online is provided. Completing certain goals such as dropping off a certain type of ‘bud’ or stopping at X number of stations with Y train, earns tickets that can be used to unlock new trains or add carriages to existing trains.
With its 8 bit graphics and roots in one-touch gameplay (Longmore admits that Crossy Road, Flappy Bird and Desert Golf were huge inspirations), Station Stop is as much an accurate train sim as Mario Kart is a masterclass in safe driving. But it doesn’t pretend to be.
“The goal was to make a game that was accessible and appealed to everyone. The cast of characters are fun and diverse, and the gameplay loop is so simple that I’ve been told it’s the most one-touch- one-touch game that anyone has ever played,” explains Longmore. ‘As long as you understand the simple loop, the whole game is accessible to you. You’ll never be penalised for not understanding anything more complex- and that’s one of the tenets that we’re really trying to hold to.’
There is some depth to the game, with physics-based train mechanics creating a different feel when commandeering each train. “All the trains have different weights, powers, speeds and breaking strengths,’ says Longmore. Don’t believe it? Trying use the ICE after the Waratah.
For the most part, though, the game is very simple and very easy to pick up. With no real sense of penalization with failure (all progress on tickets remains, and the player does not revert to a starting point as with other one-touch games such as Flappy Bird), players can decide whether they want to be CityRail or the S-bahn (let’s be honest, yes they are polar opposites).
And this is certainly something that Longmore had in mind when he was inspired to create the game. ‘[What inspired me was] a really terrible train ride one morning. The driver was stopping and starting randomly, and I thought ‘this is the worst’… and now I want to make a game where you can be this jerk, or you can do your job properly. Hold down once, none of this stopping then starting rubbish.’
This certainly is a one-touch train game that you can play on the busy train to work (how meta, and utterly confusing for George Stephenson)- one hand playing Station Stop and one hand holding the overhead handle or providing stability, so you don’t fly into your fellow commuter’s armpit. But is this the game you really WANT to be playing?
If you’re anything except an extremely casual gamer, you’ll probably want to steer clear of Station Stop. The collectible ‘bud’ system and ticket collection- two elements that are supposed to constitute the ‘depth’ of the game- are poorly executed. There is limited interactivity with the ‘bud’ library (made even harder to navigate with the latest, and only, update), which serves to undermine the attempt at personalizing each ‘bud’ through their names and catchphrases upon collection. Further, the goals required to earn tickets to expand your train collection are not very varied (often feeling like a bit of a grind), or require one to watch advertisements for other games. The train library could also do with some flavour text, an improved layout, and some customization options.
Worst of all, the concept that each ‘bud’ needs to be transported to their preferred station is a completely moot point, as a) if players do not stop at EVERY station, their score resets anyway, and b) the 8 bit graphics and lack of signage at most stations makes it impossible to determine a ‘buds’ desire or the name or theme of a station. What’s more, there is no benefit to achieving an A+ rating (stopping so that your train is spaced well along the platform), outside of whether it is required for a ticket redemption. Players can earn high scores in the game through holding their finger down and letting go three or four times, earning a D rating for each journey.
‘The release date isn’t the end- it’s the start,’ explains Longmore. ‘We’ve released the bare bones. I didn’t want to run off in any direction until we had player feedback. We’re going to make the game better, and we’d like some player feedback on the mechanics.’
Station Stop is on the precipice of being a good (though not great) product but needs to spend some time in the maintenance yard. I think this is another cog to add to the discussion on the trend toward the release of ‘unfinished’ games with the intention to provide updates down the track.