Last year the new horror game Choo Choo Charles went viral online thanks to a very good trailer teasing a cat-and-mouse game with an evil spider-legged train. The train itself was pure nightmare fuel, and the gameplay looked intense and fun, unlike any other game out there. Now that I’ve played it, I’m sorry to say that the actual game isn’t nearly as exciting or scary as the original trailer promised. But at least it’s about the length of your average B-grade horror movie!
Already in October 2021, Choo Choo Charles took the internet by storm after its sole developer uploaded a wonderful trailer showing a giant, spooky spider train chasing you and your locomotive across a spooky looking island. There’s a machine gun on the back of the tiny train, which you can use to fend off the monster (aka Charles) until you’ve collected enough scrap and upgraded your train to the point where you’re ready to face him in one-on-one combat to the death . Win and rid the island of this monster. If you lose, you die and Charles becomes more powerful. This is an immersive setup and it looked pretty slick, so it’s no surprise that the trailer spread like wildfire during the spooky month of October. A year later and I’ve played now Choo Choo Charles and, well… it’s very similar to the trailer and not much more.
Visually, Choo Choo Charles looks good. I like the mix of low res elements and more modern grass, textures and lighting. This gives it a quirky vibe, which is enhanced by the spooky, deserted island and the odd people you meet on it. They’re all kind of unsettling with their funky looking models and the way their mouths don’t move when they speak. It’s a good example of a lone developer using the limits of what they can reasonably do to add to, rather than detract from, a game’s atmosphere. There is something sympathetic about the path Choo Choo Charles feels a bit beat up in places. The rough edges give it an artisanal quality that makes it feel like it was made with the passion of one individual rather than being designed by a committee.
As the trailer suggests, the main loop here is to take your train around the island, collect scraps that you use to upgrade your train, and hunt down three eggs that can set off the big final fight with Charles. But before you do that, you should probably make sure you’ve upgraded your locomotive to go faster, take more damage, and have more weapons. Again, this setup is cool and controlling your train is both easy and fun. In fact, it might be the best part of Choo Choo Charles. The game was at its best when I was walking around my tiny, fast-moving yellow train, looking out for a giant spider monster or the next speck of civilization.
But alas, a cool move, charm, and passion can only go so far, and the experience quickly turned from horror to boredom. The big problem is that Charles just doesn’t flow into the game that much. Aside from its scripted appearances in the final battle and the opening intro, I’ve only encountered the monster train three times. The rest of the time I was either wandering around by myself collecting junk or dealing with the game’s main enemies: masked shotguns that you had to sneak around.
The real shame is that the best part of this game – driving a train and escaping Charles – is only a small part of what you do. Most of the time, you’ll be asked to walk around to collect eggs or solve meh puzzles or side objectives. And secretly in Choo Choo Charles not much fun. When I got to the second egg hidden in a large underground mine, I just started running around and grabbing what I needed to grab. No sneaking. And it worked. Wardens are terrible marksmen, they have infinite stamina and they hardly hear any noise. Was any of that funny? Not really!
About an hour into the game I found that I had almost completely upgraded my train, although about half of the side quests on the map remained untouched. About 30 minutes later I had collected the last egg and activated the final fight. After dying doing it once, I tried again and beat the game.
That’s a shame Choo Choo Charles isn’t bigger, better or scarier. That first trailer looked so good, and the developer behind the game seems like a cool person with interesting, original ideas. There is a lot to admire here. The lockpicking mechanics are good. The way the island looks and sounds is spooky and perfect. And the lore surrounding Charles (and that ending) has me excited for a sequel or spin-off in the future. So yeah I hope they keep making games and Share the process on YouTube.
But unfortunately, a reliance on poor stealth sections, a lack of scares, and an overabundance of upgrade materials derail the game early, making it a rather lackluster, not very scary experience.
https://kotaku.com/choo-choo-charles-evil-train-game-pc-review-steam-1849866413 Choo-Choo Charles Review: Original but not scary