Review by midwinter

"Now Departing From Platform Geek"

Believe it or not, there's far more potential in a Tokyo train simulator than first meets the eye. Sure it may seem like a bad idea, but much like being stuck in the morning rush hour crush, there's excitement to be had if one simply knows where to look. Take for instance the chikan otoko who, using a crowded train to his advantage, rubs himself furiously against anything of the female persuasion. Is he willing to settle for yet another tedious journey to the office? No, not at all, in fact he seems to be making the most of his situation. It's with similar "well I'm here and I might as well enjoy it" intentions that players should view Ongakukan's latest as being the proverbial junior high school girl to their bleak and tedious, daily grind. Sure, others nearby may think what you're doing is essentially quite wrong, but given a chance even they may begin to enjoy the naturally smooth, back and forth motions of Mobile Train Simulator + Densha de GO! Tokyo Kyuukou Hen. Yes sir, what we have here is the PSP's latest guilty pleasure. Please don't judge it until I'm done...

But firstly, how does one go about breaking the stigma associated with such games? I could drone on about the anal retentive attention to detail required of players in order to meet the strict schedules of the Tokyo to Yokohama express lines, that however certainly isn't going to help my situation any. Perhaps then we should start with Mobile Train Simulator + Densha de GO!'s realistic good looks, explaining how some once lamented full motion video has been effectively used in portraying the hustle and bustle of Tokyo's urban sprawl. Sit down then and gaze out the window as real life apartment buildings flash by, giving way to tunnels, panoramic cityscapes, and the occasional river crossing. Meanwhile the many cherry blossom trees that line the track serve to inject the player's long journey with a suitably invigorating sense of Spring. Oh yes, the sun is shining and the birds are singing, and there you are, King of the world... or something like that. A bell then chimes in the background as the PA system makes the next announcement, and now you must prepare yourself for the stop ahead.

It's with such authentic rail action working for them that players should find themselves immersed in the experience... so long as they're thundering along like a bat out of hell. Putting the brakes on however shatters the illusion with the full motion video coming off particularly worse for wear. The screen blurs ever so slightly, video playback becomes frame-y, and for a moment there you're back in the real world and people are staring at you. Yes, I'm playing a train sim damn it. What's it to you?! Those that push on through the public shame though will slowly begin to notice that such trifling issues aren't really much of a problem. After all, the video only gets blurry when you're supposed to be keeping an eye on the heads up display, and why on earth are you ogling those ladies on the next platform anyway? Come now, if you can't be a good and diligent driver then we can always send you back to the unemployment queues. So what do you say?

Before making that decision, please know that you'll be working with a range of adorable anime-esque girls, designed with a knowing eye for what gets your average otaku started. Simple in appearance yet deep in wisdom and knowledge, their timely tutorials walk players through exactly what's required to drive a train and get their passengers to the station on time. Importers need not panic either as Ongakukan have done a sterling job in keeping the gameplay accessible to all. The basic concept will simply have you adjusting the speed of your train in order to suit the current section of track you're on. Go too fast and you'll risk over shooting the next station, too slow and you'll fall way behind schedule. Get the balance right however and it won't be long before you're caught up in the moment, instinctively knowing when and where to slip the train into neutral so that it can coast along under its own momentum. A tap of the L or R buttons will sound the horn, and if that's not a boyhood dream then I sure as hell don't know what is...

It's this sense of childhood adventure that makes Mobile Train Simulator + Densha de GO! such an enticing experience. A carefully tuned learning curve gently eases players into the rigors of rail life with some "inter-city" action, then eventually ups the challenge to include a little "stops all stations" style madness. And it's here with the clock against you that you'll finally begin to appreciate exactly how demanding such a vocation can really be. Any thoughts of easy, union supported days at the office are put to rest once the marathon-esque, trans-Tokyo routes open up. You'll pull out from one station and have all of 90 seconds to make it to the next. The pressure mounts while a single mistake will cost you points, loose too many and it's back to the start to try again. Even still, repetition shouldn't be much a problem thanks to the number of different lines on offer (Toyoko-sen, Denentoshi-sen, and Oimachi-sen), each of which guarantees players something new to see, every time they step out onto the track.

It's then as we enter the last leg of our journey that special mention must be made of the two game types Ongakukan have thoughtfully provided. Serving as the relaxing alternative to Desha de GO!'s score focused gameplay, Train Simulator gives players not only the opportunity to test their skills, but the ability to enjoy free reign of the rails as well. Scores, time tables, passengers? Whatever! This is your chance now my friend, enjoy it while it lasts. Over time Mobile Train Simulator + Densha de GO! will definitely grow on you, it is after all what acquired tastes have a habit of doing. And though until recently I hadn't given the franchise a second thought, having had the opportunity to explore its delights I can honestly say that it was money well spent. If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary and can handle the stigma then by all means, give this a shot. Sure you won't be groping high school girls, but then again there are far worse things that you could be doing with your time, and at the very least you'll be getting into something deep.

Now if you don't mind, I have a train to catch...

Pros
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* There's some surprisingly deep gameplay that takes a while to master
* With 3 different lines there's always something new to see
* The in-game tutorials are quite effective and easy to follow
* Two differing game modes provide a little something for all comers
* A nicely balanced difficulty curve keeps things real
* Full motion video has been put to good use at last
* Realistic sounds help elevate the immersion factor
* As of now, it's one of a kind as far as portable gaming goes

Cons
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* Video play back can get blurry once the action starts to slow
* Perhaps some varied weather effects would have added variety
* How do you tell your friends that you enjoy a good train sim?


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/22/05, Updated 03/15/05


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