On Deck will be a series of Final Thoughts and Impressions for games that I exclusively play on the Steam Deck.
Ever wonder what would happen if a demonic train with the evil face of Thomas the Tank Engine and the legs of a giant ass spider spawned on an isolated island?
Two Star Games released Choo Choo Charles back in December of 2022 with great player success. The story is simple: A man comes to you from a isolated mining island and request your help to bring down a monstrous, sentient spider train by the name of Charles. Your silent protagonist character, being some kind of archaeologist of a museum or something, decides to go for it. Because who doesn’t want to go to an island with a demon train?
Your mission in Choo Choo Charles is to take out Charles, the demonic train. To do this, you are supplied with your own locomotive to get around the island. Unfortunately, your train isn’t alive, its just a train. So you’ll have to stick to the tracks while Charles can come screaming out of the trees trying to take you down. Around the island you’ll meet other people who live there who will give you quests to earn more scrap metal to upgrade your train, as well as main quests to unlock a new weapon that can be mounted on your train to fight off Charles. I recommend hitting each of the side quests. The NPCs might not look super nice graphically, but some of them are just weird enough to entertain you quite a bit. It also gives me the chance to explore the island a bit more than just what’s right off the side of the train tracks. Of course, it’s always a gamble as to when Charles decides to bust out of the trees to come and eat you.
There were several times I would be making my way to talk to an NPC, and the horror music of Charles coming my way sends me into a panic. It’s impossible to run away on foot. So you have to make the decision on whether you want to risk running for the busted up barn to take cover, or trying and get back to your train to battle him on the tracks. There were a few times I made the wrong choice, and watched in horror as Charles picked me up and chomped down on my body.
The games atmosphere is genuinely a tense. I made sure my focus was hitting side quests so I could upgrade my train as quickly as possible, so I knew I could fend off Charles after the first hour in the game while I was on the tracks. Unfortunately for us though, Charles isn’t the only bad guy in this game. There is also a secret cult that are seemingly wanting to help Charles, or keep him around or something. So sneaking into their areas and bases is scary. You don’t have any weapons on foot, so slowly walking around and not being seen is the only tactic. Or, you can do what I discovered and lead the bad guys to my train on the tracks and burn them alive with my flamethrower that’s mounted to the back of my train.
Combat is all done from your train, so unlocking all the weapons is a pretty good idea. Speed and armor helps as well. It’s not a deep customization, but your train will take on a new appearance as you upgrade it. It’s small details, but noticeable and welcomed. You can also change the color of your train, but you have to find the paint cans to be able to do that. There are 11 colors to find, and some of them are right in your way while doing missions, while others might be off the beaten path.
Exploration isn’t entirely necessary in Choo Choo Charles. I actually went through almost the entire game before I decided to stop at these old ruins, or to see what’s on the beach over there. It is worth it in the end though, if you want to 100% the game. Like the paint cans specifically. But there are notes all around the island detailing some story stuff that is cool to read. It doesn’t ruin anything if you don’t find them, but it does add to the experience overall.
Death didn’t feel like it was a huge set back while playing. You lose a few scrap metal, but there was an over abundance of this in the game that it felt like they kind of wanted you to explore away from your train sometimes, and not to push you away from it just because Charles could come destroy you at any moment while on foot.
I think the thing I was super impressed by was the games map. It felt super cool to just hit a button and the whole world would just zoom out. You can see your train in real time moving, all the tracks and intersections. Zooming in the map just makes it feel like your floating above the game entirely. Maybe this has been done in other games. I’m sure it has, but it felt so smooth every time I would open the map. It was super well done and looked awesome.
I decided to play Choo Choo Charles entirely on Steam Deck because I knew that it was a pretty short game. I completed in a little over 3 hours. The only thing I had to change was the graphics. Having them at the highest setting definitely dropped the frames to sub 30. With a game that has you constantly on the move, I was totally fine with dropping down the graphics a bit to make sure everything was smooth. Besides, the graphics were not necessarily the thing the developer was focusing on while making this game anyways. It was always the atmosphere and gameplay, which it does very well.
Overall, Choo Choo Charles was a super fun experience. It was tense and scary at times, has some pretty simple but fun mechanics, and has an expandable story for that can easily add in more lore to hopefully give us a sequel in the future. It’s a short game, which I 100% in under 4 hours, but it was only $20 when I got it, and has been on some sales on Steam already. The user reviews are currently sitting at Very Positive, and I have no doubt we will eventually see this game ported over to consoles in the future.
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