As a resident and citizen of Great Britain it is perhaps far too easy to dismiss the train as a form of transport. It is after all, more often than not, late and overpriced. However, despite the grievances of the modern commuter the train does have its lovers and for them Loco Mania will no doubt prove a refreshing diversion. Not only that, but it is, unlike a ticket to Waterloo, a steal at only £12.99.
Loco Mania bills itself as a Logical Strategy game and this description runs very true. This is no tycoon-esque business venture, but an exercise in lateral and mental acuity. The concept is simplicity itself; you manage a rail network, full of stations, signal lights and switches. The aim of the game is simply to get each train that enters the map through it as quickly as you can.
There are three genuine gameplay modes: Time Attack, Checkpoint and Time Attack Unlimited, plus a Free Run mode for those that just want to cruise around without any scores or time limits. In Time Attack mode you gain points for successfully completing a stop or by clearing a train off the map, but you slowly lose points as you play. For each map there is a target score, which you must reach to complete the map. Checkpoint mode is a survival type variety where you start on a score that constantly counts down. By clearing trains off the map you receive points to top it up until you run out and the game is over. Time Attack Unlimited follows the same rules as the normal mode but without a score limit and you choose when to stop. All these game modes allow you to upload your times and compare them with other players.
Although these different modes provide a semblance of variety, the aim of the game remains the same. If you want to do well, get the trains through as fast as you possibly can. The real variety comes in the twelve maps that you can unlock. Each map is ingeniously designed adding further complexity as you go along. Early maps are relatively simple with single tracks and a small smattering of stations, but the difficulty quickly ramps up. Soon you'll have to deal with more stops, and stations with many more track switches. Although twelve maps may seem like a small number, each of them provides a challenge which will consume plenty of time. There are a huge number of full-price titles which don't come near to providing the depth of experience Loco Mania provides.
One slight disappointment is the lack of a map editor. The nature of the game would lend itself very well to such a tool and would certainly help develop a community for the game. Namesake Trackmania has exploited this mechanism to great effect, creating a fanatical and loyal fan base. An online versus mode would also have been a nice addition. Hopefully these are things that can be added in the future. My only remaining concern is the feeling that Loco Mania won't keep you coming back. Unless you're a fanatic, one play through the game will probably be enough.
As a budget title one has to accept a fairly lo-fi level of production. Graphically Loco Mania can be described as nothing more than solid and sound effects are similarly basic. However, these things do nothing to detract from what is largely a pleasurable experience. Loco Mania's basic premise is absurdly simple but good design means there is plenty of complexity and depth to be found. If you have a deep seated love of trains then Loco Mania will be a treat, but at this price it represents great value for money for almost anyone looking for a logical puzzle game.