Ride the rails in our review of Iron Horse

It turns out for most of my life I’ve been hooking up trains the wrong way. I’ve been spending all this time hooking them up with phrases and clauses they way they do it down in Conjunction Junction. According to Appstar Games, however, I could’ve skipped over all that learning mess and just tapped my finger to get the job done. If Conjunction Junction taught us to hook up trains with words, can Iron Horse hook us up with fun?

Iron Horse is a timing/reaction game where you’re tasked with connecting train cars as your locomotive speeds by. You’ll have a split second to tap the screen to make the connection, scoring points for how exact you are. The train moves faster as you add on more cars, with each level ending when you attach a caboose. As you progress through the game the trains get longer and move faster, putting your reaction skills to the test.

Iron Horse

To connect each train car you only need to tap the screen as the train passes by the new car. An image of an oval pops up, with half on the moving train and half on the still car. Tapping the screen while those two overlap is good enough to attach the car and give you points, however tapping exactly as the two pieces form an oval scores a “perfect.”

Similar to one tap games like Canabalt you have one responsibility in Iron Horse, tap the screen at the exact right time. There’s a bit more going on in Iron Horse than you might find in Canabalt, though. For instance, in Canabalt you only get one mistake. In Iron Horse you’re allowed to miss three train pick-ups before the game is over. You can earn more buy racking up those perfectly timed connections.

Every few levels you’ll get the chance to tackle a bonus round where you can attach as many cars as you want, pushing your luck for a higher score. Missing just one train here ends the round though, so you need to stop when you think it’s all too much by hitting the caboose. I found myself pushing my luck too far quite often but always had fun doing it.

Though I admit to enjoying copious amounts of Ticket To Ride, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a “train guy.” If you count yourself in that group, however, you may be a tad upset at what you find here. See, while I’m no conductor I do know that trains don’t pick up and add cars while barreling full speed down the tracks. It works from a gameplay perspective so it’s totally fine with me, but since Appstar says on their site that this game is “for any lover of trains and model railroading” I feel it’s worth mentioning.

Iron Horse

If the trains are modeled after real ones, it would be neat to have some facts or trivia about them (like years of service or top speed) to learn a little about the railroad. Train buffs would love it and people like me that don’t know much about trains could learn a little something. It’s little details like this that really would’ve helped out Iron Horse. As is stands the offering feels a little thin.

With no side games or variety each game plays out exactly the same way. Canabalt is the same way but since each game is random you never know what you’re going to get. Also, those games last in the 1-2 minute range as opposed to 5-10. This gives you a much longer time for the one trick pony to get tired.

There are no other game modes, and no real variety except for some different locales and different trains, and they all play the same. We need something more here, like a campaign type mode where we work our way across the US or something. It wouldn’t have to be story heavy, but anything like this would have been nice. Iron Horse is a really good time-killer, but the lack of tertiary elements hurt it in the long run. This train definitely makes it out of the station, but you’ll likely want to disembark long before you reach your destination.