Polish studio Something Random burst onto the scene after some key talent departed from SUPERHOT Team, the minds behind the hugely popular FPS SUPERHOT. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for expecting their debut title Toy Trains to continue that same vein of ultra-violent, reaction-based gameplay. However, they’ve switched tracks entirely with this adorable, family-friendly trainset builder that looks to tap into long-lost childhood joy.
As soon as you boot up Toy Trains in VR, it’s clear this is a passion project fueled by nostalgia. You play as a kid exploring your grandparent’s attic, where you discover an old train set brought to life by a tiny community of imaginative little workers called Railies. They need your help expanding their intricate track system to connect resource sites like mines and lumber yards to construction projects sprouting up around their bustling model town.
It’s simple in premise but smart in execution – you grab track pieces, bridges, and tunnels from a catalog and slot them into the 3D space, shaping the landscape almost like a toy train-flavored puzzle game. The only real goal is to ensure each new shop or venue can receive its required materials and personnel via your rail network. With no scores, timers or penalties, Toy Trains encourages creativity, experimentation and occasionally getting delightfully lost in building the transport network of your childhood dreams.
Laying Down Tracks and Solving Puzzles
The foundation of Toy Trains’ gameplay is beautifully simple – grab track pieces and customize layouts to connect destinations across imaginatively crafted landscapes. Each level centers around a construction site for a new town venue, which needs access to resources and workers via your railroad network. At first these might be short point-A-to-point-B setups, but soon you’ll be devising multi-stop loops and complex interchanges worthy of public transport system architects.
The open-ended puzzle design means there’s no single solution – if a track configuration gets the job done, you’re golden. This gives wonderful freedom to tap into your inner child and sprinkle creative flourishes across the charming, toy-like topography. The only hard rules are not building over trees or merging new tracks into complete existing ones. Otherwise, find paths around hills, over rivers and through tunnels in whatever way tickles your fancy.
As you progress from a cute village to sprawling metropolis construction projects, Toy Trains gradually layers new wrinkles to consider without ever compromising the relaxing, freeform experience. Slopes and variable height layers let you build multi-level suspended tracks. Waypoint tokens unlock mid-journey stops like sawmills to pick up added resources. And blueprint puzzles transform blank canvases into challenging brain teasers focused purely on network layout possibilities.
Through it all, the tactile VR control scheme handles like a dream for grabbing, rotating and slotting track pieces into place. You can stand, sit or even lie down while playing, lining up pieces is intuitive, and snapping to grid spaces eliminates fiddly micro-movements. Handling paginate catalog selections is a bit clunkier, forcing you to awkwardly orient new pieces. But this vanishingly minor gripe pales in comparison to the smooth-as-silk track building.
By the closing stages, you’ll have interconnected resource gathering, manufacturing, residential zones, and leisure destinations through an elaborate transport network filled with personal touches and creative choices. Toy Trains hand-holds early before graduating into a remarkably powerful track editor disguised as a friendly, welcoming train set experience for all. The result is a rewarding gameplay progression that unlocks new possibilities without ever compromising the nostalgic warmth at its heart.
A Diorama of Delightful Charm and Personality
From its very first moments, Toy Trains’ visual presentation casts a spell of warm nostalgia with its vibrant, toy-like art style. The dusty attic setting where you discover the train set exhibits subtle background detail, from floating dust motes in shafts of light to the clutter of boxes and furniture all around. It grounds you in a believably lived-in space while conveying a childlike sense of adventure.
Then when you peer down at the model village sprawled across the train set board, the game shifts gears into a stunning diorama brimming with personality. Cheerful buildings colored in bold primaries pop against backdrops of rolling green hills and azure lakes. Adorable tiny residents wave enthusiastically as diminutive trains chug along hand-crafted tracks. And playful touches like picnicking families, hot air balloons overhead and even a rocket launch site create endless visual surprises to discover.
The minimalist style isn’t concerned with realism or highly complex scenery. Instead, it wants to evoke core memories and feelings associated with childhood train sets. There’s an organic warmth that feels like peering into an elaborate model village built lovingly by hand rather than one rendered clinically by computer. Standout elements like the real-time water physics lend an extra sense of tangibility to your interactions.
From rustic logging camps to industrial mining quarries and quaint seaside villages, the variety of locations you build across keeps environments feeling fresh all throughout. Night and day cycles bathing everything in golden sunrise hues or cool moonlight are a superb added touch. As are weather effects like passing rain showers or fall leaves cascading across the map signalling seasonal changes.
On a technical level, Toy Trains impresses by scaling smoothly across various VR platforms without compromise. Our Quest 3 playthrough delivered sharp visuals and accurate controller tracking throughout. PSVR 2 enhances textures, materials and lighting further with its power advantage. While PC VR headsets like the Valve Index offer flexibility for modders and customizations down the line. Regardless of your system, it’s a lovely experience bound to make VR newcomers and veterans alike crack a nostalgic smile.
Sounds of Rekindled Childlike Wonder
Toy Trains beautifully complements its visual presentation with an audio palette equally awash in nostalgia. Playful piano melodies evoke carefree summer days while you build, punctuated by chirpy station announcements and the toot-toot of train whistles. Nature mixes create gentle ambient soundscapes – bird song in the meadows, raindrops pattering on lake surfaces and the rustle of fall leaves.
These combine to wonderful effect, but the masterstroke lies in more emotional musical cues. Occasionally the score shifts into subtly melancholic piano refrains, crystallizing Toy Trains underlying theme of reconnecting with our inner child while poignantly reminding us of innocence lost. As you receive bittersweet letters from your in-game parents, the music swells to amplify their comforting yet distantly wistful tone.
These masterfully subtle audio touches lend unexpected emotional resonance, refracting Toy Trains’ central nostalgia through a more mature lens. It prevents things ever feeling cloyingly sentimental. While also giving long-time hobbyists and parents eager to recreate formative experiences with their own kids an added layer of reflective depth.
Of course if you just want to mute everything and chill out to the hypnotic ambience of rails rattling, wagons rolling and picturesque landscapes passing by, that works brilliantly too. Toy Trains plays things smart by enhancing but never overwhelming your engagement. Allowing ample space for train spotting daydreams or a podcast on the side as you gradually transform modest station stops into extraordinary transport hubs filled with personal touches.
Custom-Built for VR’s Unique Strengths
As a game fundamentally centered around building and creation, Toy Trains is a natural fit for realizing its full potential in virtual reality. The ability to closely examine pieces from all angles, precisely line up tracks in 3D space with both hands, and peer down at your bustling model village like a curious giant are perfect plays to VR’s strengths.
The immersion begins with the charming attic environment, its cluttered shelves, stacked boxes and shafts of light setting the scene. But gazing down at your train set as it comes alive truly sells the imaginative childhood fantasy. You point at buildings to prompt conversations with puny rail workers, pull levers to send wagons hauling and even splash lakes to elicit ripple effects. It’s a vibrant, living world that responds wonderfully thanks to intuitive VR interactions.
Toy Trains also thinks smartly about movement and comfort. You can choose to stand, sit or even lie prone on the floor while playing. Its stationary nature with no artificial locomotion means no motion sickness, allowing hours of relaxed engagement. And the detailed visuals pop sharply yet avoid oversaturation on mobile standalone VR headsets like Quest 3.
The experience is further enhanced by how smoothly Toy Trains handles the fundamentals. Plucking track pieces and menu selections from the catalog uses appropriate resistance to feel tangible without ever being sticky or clumsy. Rotating and slotting those pieces into the customizable grid snaps into place with precision so you can focus on creativity rather than fighting finicky controls.
In terms of future hopes, one great fit would be implementing mixed reality functionality similar to games like Lego Bricktales. Being able to view your model village overlayed in real life locations using AR capabilities would catapult engagement. But even without this addition, Toy Trains already delivers an utterly charming trip down memory lane perfect for VR.
Childhood Memories Brought to Life
While Toy Trains focuses mainly on engaging puzzle design and creative freedom, it does use a lightweight narrative wrapper to further amplify nostalgia. The set-up has you playing as a child who discovers an old train set in your grandparent’s attic, brought to life by a community of tiny rail workers.
This imaginative framing device fuels the whimsical tone and grounds the experience in childhood creativity. As you build elaborate transport networks, you receive affectionate letters from your off-screen parents checking in and spurring you on. It’s a simple yet effective storytelling anchor harnessing the innocence of youth and the warmth of family.
The attic location proves an inspired setting, with dust particles dancing in light beams and the cluttered environment feeling believably lived-in. It builds anticipation, making you keen to uncover what waits inside the dusty train set box. And when you gaze down at the model village, station and rolling hills that spring to life, it captures that magical feeling of receiving a coveted childhood gift on holidays or birthdays.
Toy Trains continues channeling this youthful wonder as playful characters like the Hot Air Balloon Overseer provide ongoing guidance and colorful side commentary. The cheery rail workers celebrate your routing accomplishments with infectious enthusiasm between casual conversations about ice cream flavors and movie theater outings.
The result is a charming trip down memory lane that uses its premise, locations and characters to wonderful nostalgic effect without ever feeling cynical or overtly manipulative. It simply taps into the shared cultural childhood memories of model villages and iconic train sets we all hold dear.
A Triumphant Trip Down Memory Lane
After spending several wonderful hours lost in Toy Trains’ immersive model village builder, it’s clear Something Random has crafted something very special. This imaginative train set brought to life succeeds as a relaxing creativity toy, a smart series of spatial puzzles and an overwhelmingly effective nostalgia delivery device.
Its strengths lie in intuitively realized VR interactions, charm-filled visuals and audio that wonderfully complement Toy Trains’ heartwarming charm. The straightforward gameplay premise belies remarkable depth in puzzle design and possibilities once you factor slopes, multi-level tracks and complex routing maneuvers into later challenges. While a more advanced building toolkit unlocks creative potential far beyond simpler childhood train sets.
There are minor nitpicks around clunky orientation for grabbing pieces and a lack of settings options thus far. But neither come even remotely close to derailing the experience. As long as players set expectations around a shorter, more Zen-like adventure rather than action epic, Toy Trains delivers on every front.
Imaginative kids will lose themselves for hours in friendly competition to create the most elaborate rail networks. Parents eager to reconnect with beloved childhood pastimes will shed a nostalgic tear or two at the overwhelmingly effective atmosphere. Even hardened VR enthusiasts will crack a smile at the personality-packed attention to detail as they sculpt model village masterpieces.
Toy Trains succeeds wonderfully because it knows exactly what it wants to achieve and precisely how to tap into timeless emotional touchpoints using VR’s strengths. It’s a heartwarming reminder of innocence, playful creativity and the traditions we pass between generations. This debut title from Something Random is an essential experience for VR gamers of all ages and a strong contender for most uplifting game of 2024.
Toy Trains is a magical journey that uses smart puzzle design, creative freedom and heartfelt nostalgia to deliver a grin-inducing trip down memory lane. Its imaginative worlds and clever VR implementations create an essential experience for gamers of all ages.
- Intuitive and smooth VR implementation
- Charming visual aesthetic brings train sets to life
- Relaxing, open-ended spatial puzzles
- Great level variety and new mechanics introduced gradually
- Heartwarming nostalgic theming executed wonderfully
- On the shorter side in terms of length
- Catalog interactions can be slightly clumsy
- Lack of comfort settings or audio options