Review by midwinter

"More Niche Than Niche"

One of the great things about living in Japan is the number of cute high school girls... another would be the train sims. I know, I know. Like you probably just did a moment ago, there was a time when I scoffed at such ideas as well. On a scale of cool to geek, train watching ranks up there with comb-overs and plaid pants, yet I can most honorably confirm that Densha de GO! Pocket is the bomb. With a heavy emphasis on accuracy, some great visuals, and one of the most intriguing "slice of life" concepts this side of a convenience store sim, it's as fun as any high school girl, and just as obsessive. But first, you'll need to go local...

Narrow minded Western gamer needs more Zen

There's no point trying to deny it, you think I'm insane. You think I've been living here too long and I'm three steps away from up-skirt pornography. I won't deny it either. Something strange happens to westerners once we've been here a few years, and it usually involves experimentation. Without it, I doubt I would have had the testicular fortitude to check out Mobile Train Simulator + Densha de GO!, and I probably would have skipped this update as well. Thankfully however, I know the truth. The genre's hard to believe pleasure stems from childhood dreams, an anal retentive attention to detail, and the ability to lose one's self in the moment. Exactly the type of formula most games successfully tap.

Initially though, the attraction for players will be in Densha de GO! Pocket's accurate portrayal of Tokyo's Yamanote-sen. Circling the Japanese capital, this 34.5 kilometer line connects commuters with most of the city's major business districts, including Shinjuku, Ueno, and famed otaku hot spot, Akihabara. Virtual sight seeing aside, this one hour journey represents some of the most rigorous station-to-station runs a rail network can produce, with trains averaging 200 meters in length, and departing every two to four minutes in either direction. And if that wasn't enough, the line also services some 2 million daily commuters.

Knowing all that, it's surprising to see how pick up and play friendly Densha de GO! Pocket really is. The gently graded difficulty curve eases players into the action, allowing them to familiarize themselves with basic, gameplay principles at their own pace. There's more to Taito's train sim than simply accelerating and slowing down again on cue, though admittedly such a concept forms the basis from which much of the strategy is born. Each individual section of the track has its own speed limit, and its only by balancing your overall velocity with your estimated time of arrival that you'll stay on schedule. Travel too fast and you'll overshoot the next stop, picking up another demerit point for your permanent record in the process. Travel too slow however, and your commuters will opt to take the bus.

* Insert game over here *

Of course, that's the simplified version, and on later levels players will need to match their speed with pre-recorded schedules defining exactly what portion of the track they should be on and when. The higher the difficulty level, the more check points there are between each station, the more chain combos you'll ultimately pick up. It's nerve racking stuff, but success will earn you the points required to purchase new stages. And it's here some increased visual variety begins to show itself. From the last train home in the evening, to marathon runs around the entire city during a rainstorm, Taito have consistently kept Densha de GO! Pcoket's presentation fresh and interesting.

And it's this presentation that makes the biggest, overall difference. Where the previously released Mobile Train Simulator utilized full motion video to represent downtown Tokyo, Densha de GO! Pocket renders the same city in full, 3D. The upshot of this is the former's blurry visuals are nowhere to be seen, and instead we can welcome some disturbing, though admittedly quite expected, pop up. A shame then, seeing as how Taito have done a great job rendering vast tracts of the city with incredible detail. The highly unique brick work of Tokyo station for instance, looks totally authentic, while the blink and you'll miss them loan companies are exactly where they should be. Ex-pats and locals will know what to look for...

OK, so I'm willing to admit this: it's hard to sell a train sim. They're an acquired taste, though thankfully it's one not too hard to pick up. Like Mobile Train Simulator before it, Densha de GO! Pocket is import friendly as its various menus have been well designed and thought out. Unfortunately however, casual gamers who enjoyed the PSP's previous genre entry may not find enough new stuff to warrant their hard earned cash. And while I suspect there's only so much the genre can actually do, what Densha de GO! Pocket does at least, it's does quite well. My advice to you then is check your priorities, and if funds permit, take a chance with this incredibly niche title. You never know, you might actually enjoy it... and failing that, you'll be just as geeky as the rest of us...

Pros
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* The Yamanote sen is one of Tokyo's most recognisable lines
* Densha de GO! demands careful attention to detail
* The game keeps a complete record of everything you've accomplished
* Same great controls keep the action rolling
* Each of the 30 stations have been lovingly detailed
* New weather effects look a treat
* New 3D graphics do away with the FMV blur
* Great, thoroughly realistic sound effects
* Even the Japanese illiterate should have no problems here

Cons
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* It's obviously an acquired taste
* Pop up can become an eye sore
* Densha de GO! Portable: Chuo Sen is just around the corner


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/05, Updated 12/01/05


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