NOTE: As is the nature of mobile games, it is possible this game may undergo changes to its gameplay design, monetization model, or it may include limited time events. This is a review of the game’s state as of December 14th, 2017.
There are many games on the mobile market that prioritize their money-making model over the actual gameplay of the game, but it was quite refreshing to see a game that decided to go with the opposite approach. Tracky Train has a very simple premise behind it: by swiping the screen, you operate a little handcar that is constantly laying tracks behind it for a train to travel on. Once you get going, the handcar moves forward automatically, and it is up to you to navigate it around obstacles to pick up coins, slot machine tokens, groups of people waiting for the train so they can hop aboard and get delivered to a station. If the train crashes into itself or your hand cart, the run comes to an end. It’s a good design for a game that you will pick up and play for a few minutes, but don’t expect it to evolve much beyond that. While the game does have a few different areas with unique hazards and randomly generated levels each time, this game sets out to do one thing with it’s gameplay, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
The first thing you’ll likely notice when you play it is that its visuals are following the trend of blocky Crossy Road inspired graphics after the success of that game. I can’t say the graphical style benefits the game in any way, but it also doesn’t detract from it either. The areas manage to look interesting despite their blocky visuals and there is a decent amount of variety between what you see. No two areas are clear copies of each other, with treks through expected areas like deserts and snowy areas as well as some trips to the medieval era or to the beach. Perhaps one way the game benefits from the art direction is in the appearance of the passengers you pick up. While most of the passengers will have pretty basic appearances, the game has thrown in tons of shout-outs to tv shows, movies, and other video games by way of including characters who just barely seem legally distinct enough to keep Tracky Train’s creators out of trouble. The game can’t call the red-hatted mustachioed plumber you pick up Mario nor can it call the anthropomorphic blue hedgehog you dropped off Sonic, but it is cute to see which characters from media might put in a cameo and hop aboard your train as you play. Unfortunately, the passenger list, despite including over 100 possible passengers, can get a bit repetitive. The main issue lies in the fact that the game waits until you unlock certain areas to have certain passengers appear, meaning early on you’ll see the same faces quite often… but even once you’ve got most everything, the more distinct passengers stick out like sore thumbs as you pick up multiple instances of them on the same train. I grew so sick of seeing the game’s Duke Nukem analog “Earl” waiting to be picked up in every area. The appearances of the passengers don’t mean anything in regards to their function though, but it would be nice if the game did a better job of mixing them up.
Besides the simple goal of picking up passengers and dropping them off, Tracky Train has a pretty good form of progression to keep you coming back. Delivering passengers nets you coins, and with these coins you are able to unlock more areas to play in and more trains for you to guide along with your handcar. The trains also can be expanded to have more carriages to pick up even more passengers, leading to you having to balance the utilitarian purpose of expanding your trains to be more effective with trying to afford the new areas that are far more interesting to see. There is also a basic level of progression where delivering enough passengers will unlock something for free, meaning that you can plan out how you wish to spend your earnings without being punished for choosing either route. Naturally, the coins are where some of the game’s monetization features creep in. You can buy coins with real money to speed things up, but thankfully, the game’s design never worsens the gameplay to try and get you to cave and spend some cash on those coins. In fact, the game is flush with ways to avoid spending money on coins! Free gifts appear on a set timer which often include either coins or things you would normally spend coins on, coins are common in the game world and you only need to pass over them to collect them, and there’s a slot machine that can give out coins or money multipliers that seems to tip in your favor when you’re doing poorly. This slot machine’s payouts do get less generous the better you’re doing, but this already random feature adjusting itself to be kinder when you’re worse off is an unnecessary but welcome feature.
Because the game decided to make paying real money for coins optional, Tracky Train’s true method of staying afloat comes by way of advertisements, but rather than sticking them in and wasting your time, Tracky Train has an advertisement model that I think is the perfect concession for being a free game on mobile devices. When you crash your train, a continue screen will appear, where you can watch an ad to turn back time a bit to continue your run. You can choose not to watch the ad and end your run, or rather nicely, you can even pay a bit of coins to continue instead, bypassing the ad entirely! I noticed after a few times of not choosing to watch the ad the game did eventually play one after the end of a run, but it then paid me some coins for watching it. Since this happened so rarely, it hardly felt obtrusive, and giving a reward smoothed over the ill will it could have generated for forcing the ad watch. Tracky Train’s last way of getting cash comes in the form of its time limiters. The trains all have a certain amount of fuel, and while they’ll never run out of fuel during a proper run, when a run ends, they may need to be refueled to continue being used. Fuel does naturally regenerate over time, but you can also watch an ad for an immediate refill or pay some coins to get it. Or… just switch to one of your other trains. I was never in a situation where I absolutely needed to refill a train to keep playing, and the only way I can see that being necessary is if you decided to sit down and play this game for hours on end. The easiest thing to do when a train is out of fuel is to switch to one of your reserve trains, and while they won’t be able to carry as many passengers, you can still play the game, earn coins, and then get your biggest train running again quite easily.
Tracky Train, like many mobile games, is best served by playing it every now and again rather than in one long stretch, and after chipping away at it for quite a while, I’ve confirmed the game never gets overbearing with its attempts to earn money. The areas you traverse with the train do require better and better reflexes with your swipes, with mazes and gimmicks that can trip you up as your hand cart gets faster and faster over time. Outside of the progression, the game does track the furthest you’ve gone with the train, adding an evergreen goal once you’ve managed to unlock everything. Unless you pay your way to get the content, the progression system lasts a good chunk of time, only slowing down to a bit of a grind near the last bit of unlockable content. Most hazards and obstacles seem fair, requiring only good reaction times and some awareness of the areas you’re passing through, but the game has two ways that seem a little unfairly tipped to end your runs. One comes in the way of busy streets you sometimes need to pass over, where you might not have the time to plan your approach and thus you crash when you have to brake for some passing cars. The other and more egregious obstacle are rivers, where you must wait for boats to arrive that you can build your tracks over to progress onward. The boats usually come at a decent speed, but it’s clear the game is trying to kill you when the boats start coming at a snail’s pace. It’s difficult to tell if there is some possible way to survive these slow-arriving boats, but I suppose without them it could lead to nearly endless runs of the game, not that that makes them acceptable. The game also stops giving you continues after crashing by a system I can only guess is based both on how many continues you’ve used so far and how much progress you’ve made in the run in general. This feels like a more acceptable run limiter, as you can still get pretty far without burning continues and besides the streets and rivers the game rarely forces you into a situation where you will most definitely crash.
THE VERDICT: Tracky Train may be a simple game, but it’s one that balances its few elements pretty well. The gameplay is basic but engaging enough to draw you back, helped along by the game providing progression goals to give a proper sense of accomplishment. It never gets in a player’s face with its attempts to make money either, instead forming a symbiotic relationship with them where it dishes out extra goodies for indulging its ads while still giving more than enough goodies through regular play that you aren’t reliant on watching the ads to enjoy the game.
And so, I give Tracky Train for iOS…
A GOOD rating. Tracky Train sets out with a simple goal in mind and executes it well, but that’s all it really does. It doesn’t drag itself down with greed like some mobile games, but it still can’t rise up to be one of the best of them without some extra aspect to it. It’s hard to imagine what more the game could do to elevate it higher besides changes that would make it a fundamentally different game. Picking up passengers and dropping them off with the train is fun enough, but not exactly exceptional either. Still, for what it sets out to do, it does so competently. The only hiccups I noticed in its design were some graphical glitches with the clouds and the right-hand train stations in the City area having issues with passenger delivery. Tiny issues I wouldn’t be surprised to see fixed in the future, really. Because the game is free, it’s an easy download to recommend, and while you won’t be floored by the experience of playing Tracky Train, you’ll likely have quite a bit of fun guiding the train down the trackies.