Game Info:

Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails
Developed by: Big John Games
Published by: Big John Games
Release date: January 14, 2016 
Available on: 3DS
Genre: Train Simulator
Number of Players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $7.99

Thank you Big John Games for sending us a review code.

The 3DS is no stranger to simulation games, and train simulators are at the forefront. Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails is a newcomer that has tons of features. Will it crash and burn or will it ride the rails to victory?

From the main menu you can choose between a story mode and a creative mode. Story mode is broken into 16 challenges meant to teach the player the many features in the game. The missions are generally easy, so it's best to look at this mode as an overall tutorial. Tasks will range from picking up crates and delivering them in a timely fashion, to picking up passengers and doing the same thing. The main draw for completing these missions is unlocking a special Toon layout to use in creative mode. Once the player is comfortable with the controls, they can move onto creative mode.

Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails

Strong Points: Wide array of customization choices for your train and the world; Cheerful music; Great framerate.
Weak Points: Story mode is very thin; Not many reasons to come back; This is not a roller coaster game, but it plays like it wants to be one.
Moral Warnings: None. This is a game about trains.

There is a huge amount of customization options for the player to experiment with. You can also choose from quite a few different locomotives, each with their own top speeds. You can also connect flat bed cars. These allow you to pick up and deliver various objects. Attaching passenger cars will allow you to pick up people and transport them around your tracks. Once a train is customized to your liking, you can lay out your tracks. 

Designing your tracks and placing objects on the world are controlled by two separate menus. This is a huge hassle since the tracks stretch when you edit them. If the tracks go through any objects, rather than informing you, it lets you go on as though nothing was wrong. Objects also have no collision detection and are completely hollow. Driving through a hill or a mountain will result in an obscured camera view, rather than a horrible fiery disaster. Whether this was intentional or not, it completely breaks any immersion you might have had. That being said, you can share your tracks through QR codes which is neat.

Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 70%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 100%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

It's pretty clear from the start that the amount of replayability will come down to how much a person enjoys trains and city building. While there are a ton of different objects that can placed, none of it feels connected. Since objects lack collision detection, placing them on the map is a nuisance. In most simulation games, objects will 'click' together in a way that ensures no overlapping. This feature is noticeably missing from this game, and it would've made the game so much better had it been utilized. Instead, objects can be placed anywhere, including on top of other objects and even the train tracks. People lack any real animation aside from when they board a train. This makes the entire game feel lifeless and almost post-apocalyptic. This may have also been intentional, as that's ironically the main premise of the story mode.

My biggest gripe with this game is its obvious struggle to identify itself. It has all the makings of a great train simulator, but it's all halted when you can make loops and steep drops. This was all made more clear when I went to delete a track I'd made. The game informed me I was erasing a roller coaster. Confused, I then realized that Big John Games also made a roller coaster game. Whether this is just a reskin to save money or just a careless mistake, these errors detract from the overall product.

Lionel City Builder can be a fun game. Though, the amount of fun greatly depends on how much the player invests into it. I'm sure many younger gamers will enjoy this title for its world building aspects. At $8, I would recommend this if it goes on sale. Personally, I felt there was just simply not enough content to bring me back for more. As an aside, read the digital manual. It explains everything the buttons do in great detail, something the game doesn't do at all.


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