Have your tickets ready as we take a look at the railway simulation puzzle game, Station to Station. The debut game from Dutch developer Galaxy Grove aims to deliver cosy vibes through its wonderful voxel art, relaxing soundtrack, and chilled gameplay.
Keep Calm And Carriage On
I’m fairly partial to a relaxing simulation game and took a keen interest in Station to Station due to previously playing Train Valley. What are your favourite games in the genre? Let me know in the comments.
It’s a vast, unconnected world out there in Station to Station. It’s up to you to connect everything. Each level offers a new configuration of mountains and valleys, grass and water, and producers and consumers. To complete a level, all resources must be distributed where they need to go via freight or passenger trains. So, how do you do that? All you need to do is build stations and railroads and watch the magic unfold.
Each location on your map needs an associated station. These have to be placed within a small distance from the building it will serve. Once each building you want to connect has a station, they can be linked by mapping out a railroad between them. Stations have up to 4 connections, depending on how and where you place them, so can connect to up to 4 other stations. Using these mechanics, you’ll need to correctly connect all the buildings in a level before you can progress.
Train and Simple?
Sound simple so far? You’re right, but complications will crop up as you progress through the various biomes. First of all, budget. At the beginning of each level, you’ll have limited funds. Building a station costs $50. The cost of building railroads varies wildly depending on the terrain it covers. Short, flat tracks are low-cost. Factor in bridges to traverse cliffs or water and you’ll soon need to pay an eye-watering amount. Thankfully, successfully connecting a location that provides a resource to a location that consumes it will earn you some cash. Additionally, if the connection allows for the indirect connection of multiple resources, you’ll get a stack bonus. Very nice.
That’s not all. You’ll periodically earn cards to help with construction and complicated topography. These can be used in specific circumstances to reduce costs or increase earnings. Don’t be tempted to hoard these cards as you’ll be glad of the bonuses any time you can get them. Additionally, these little boosts will almost certainly be required to complete the level’s challenges.
There are two optional challenges in each level in Station to Station. One of these always takes the form of a final monetary goal; finish the level with $x. Coupled with that, there is a star challenge. These star challenges are unique to each level and often require careful consideration to achieve. For example, one level requires you to collect lost resources – caches of loot abandoned throughout the map. You collect these by ensuring a railroad intersects with them. Another level has you avoid collecting them entirely.
Thankfully, these challenges can be completed independently of each other. While in some cases I was able to complete both challenges simultaneously, there were also times when I only managed one, or neither. The star challenges were one of my favourite aspects of the game as they made me think outside the box and approach levels in different manners.
Having A Freight Time
I enjoyed the gameplay loop of Station to Station. It manages to keep progression feeling fresh by introducing unique obstacles in new biomes and updating the area’s industry e.g. Wood, Farming, Mining, etc. I also found the gradual addition of buildings during a level added to the puzzle element of proceedings as I needed to think ahead to where railroads might be required later. Conversely, one of the most satisfying levels for me was a small map where all the buildings were available from the start.
One thing I found to be a little annoying that I fell foul of is that once a rail is placed, it can’t be easily undone or edited. This meant that if I was slightly hasty when confirming my placement, it was tough luck. There is an option to reload to a checkpoint, but this can only be done twice and takes a little longer than I would expect a quick undo option to take.
I played Station to Station on my PC and mainly used my mouse to control the action. I was impressed by being able to do practically everything in the game purely using a mouse. The only thing I had to use my keyboard for was to toggle the level status on and off. This feature allows you to see which buildings still have resources to be sent or received. I’d have liked to set this as my middle mouse button but there wasn’t an option to allow it. If you prefer, you can play using a controller. The button mappings look pretty intuitive by default.
Overall, I had a great time puzzling through the various settings and trying to achieve all the challenges.
Graphics & Audio
If you’ve seen anything of Station to Station before this review, I’d wager the beautiful voxel art stood out immediately. It’s a charming aesthetic that works brilliantly. It’s a shame that most of my time spent with the game was, by necessity, at a zoomed-out level.
To plan and build tracks, you’ll need sight of most of the map. This meant that, for the most part, the wonderful details crafted into the trains and buildings were lost to me. I recommend taking the time to bask in the splendour of your completed, colour-flooded levels before moving on to the next. A neat feature would be the ability to switch to a camera that follows a train at close-to-ground level. I’d like to see this added in the future.
Aside from that minor complaint, the graphics are stunning. Even when dulled until a level is completed, the landscapes are still gorgeously lit. The real show, however, comes when you’ve finished and returned all the colours to the world.
The menus and UI are clear and understandable. They also don’t take up much of the screen during gameplay, occupying just a small section across the bottom. There’s an option to toggle the UI off too, for those of you wanting to take screenshots or videos of your creations.
Tracks for Tracks
A whimsical soundtrack will accompany you throughout the game. There are several different themes, each matching the kind of environment you’re in. I’d have liked to hear a few more train whistles and choo-choos as my rail networks expanded and came to life, but that’s the only slight negative to note. The audio presentation certainly worked well enough to let me melt into the world of Station to Station.
At launch, Station to Station contains 32 levels spread between 6 locations. Almost all of them contain both a star and fund challenge. Once you chug your way through those, there’s a custom game mode. Here you can set options and procedurally generate levels for you to tackle, giving endless possibilities. If you decide the constraints of the crafted levels, and the randomness of the custom ones are both not appealing, you can play in No Money Mode. While this does disable the challenges, it allows you to play the set levels with the freedom of building rails however you like. Great for getting an aesthetically pleasing creation.
All in all, there’s a train-load of content here at launch and doubtlessly there will be additional content in the future.
Do you like wholesome, relaxing puzzle games? Are you a fan of trains? Would you secretly like to quit your job and become an urban planner? Yes? Then this is a game you’ll love. Galaxy Grove has created an experience that can cater to both times when you want to relax your mind with some casual creation and when you want to give yourself a mild challenge.
Station to Station rolls into town with a Thumb Culture Gold Award. All aboard!
Disclaimer: A code was received to write this review.