- Developer: Two Star Games
- Publisher: Two Star Games
- Initial Release Date: 12/09/2022
- Platform(s): PC
- Reviewed on: Steam Deck
- MSRP: $19.99
Choo-Choo Charles is a survival horror indie title about a blood-thirsty train named Charles. He has a clown face and spider legs. This abomination has been terrorizing an island full of miners, and you are hired to hunt him down once and for all. As bizarre of a premise this is, the story is set up simply–go defeat a monster.
It opens with you arriving on the island via a boat and with a guide named Eugene (it doesn’t help that there is a dead body in the water already). As soon as you hop on a train of your own, Charles leaps out of nowhere and attacks. You fend him off with a machine gun attached to your train, but Eugene is killed in the process.
This is when you set out on your own, traveling on your train, navigating the tracks, and meet the residents and take on missions. The optional missions generally reward your with valuable scraps to upgrade and repair your train, and the mandatory missions provide keys to the mines. Why, you ask? There are three eggs located in three separate mines. Your mission is to collect three eggs, place them on an alter in hopes to draw Charles out long enough for a mortal fight to the death.
Yes, that is correct.
When you are not on your train, you are defenseless. So, you must cautiously trek deep into the woods and mines, sneak past the guards–who are wearing masks that look like Charles–and obtain the eggs without getting massacred.
Back to what I was saying earlier–despite the…unique premise, the overarching plot is rather a simple one, culminating to a final battle with the evil train.
Choo-Choo Charles has the ambiance of a typical survivor-horror game. Sounds put you on edge as you wander a dreary landscape. With that said, it is not technical wonder, and the graphics leave much to be desired. The environment was not immersion breaking as much as the character designs were. NPC mouths didn’t move during dialogue, and some of them just looked…awful. Sadly, I felt like I was looking at a game made in the early 2000s. The only thing that looked great was Charles himself–absolutely menacing and frightening.
The controls were basic with a very floaty jump action and button for interacting with objects. It ran smoothly, which I appreciated since the game is still pending verification of the Steam Deck as of this writing (12/18/22). The UI and item management were also simple. Scrap metal was the “currency” of the game, and they are scattered around. the island. When you interact with this, a piece of collectable paper, or egg, you automatically store it. When it is time. to use the item, you just need to interact. Simple and easy. Finally, the combat was also smooth and simple. I struggled with accuracy often, but I attributed that to the use of my Steam Deck. I feel that it would’ve been easier with a keyboard and mouse. Sadly, you cannot upgrade your weapons.
You upgrade your train via a blueprint found within the train. Once you interact with it, you can repair and upgrade its speed, attack, and defense. You will also find paint around the island, and yes, paint your train whatever color you wish. Several weapon upgrades are available via optional quests, such as a flamethrower and rocket launcher. The optional quests themselves were flat and unoriginal. They were all essentially fetch quests–collect drawings, collect new breakers, collect parts, etc. Sadly, side quests aren’t as fun when they consist of the same thing.
One of the main missions has you set up dynamite across a rickety bridge where you must lure Charles during the end-game battle. This set up a level of excitement, as I was ready for something epic because my interactions with Charles left me disappointed. I only interacted with him a half dozen times, including during the introduction. Half of the time, Charles would appear when I am walking around. Charles is fast–and it’s impossible to outrun him on foot. It left me frustrated, and I’d eventually just let him kill me, because here’s the thing, the penalty for death is mild. Whenever you die, you lose a few pieces of scrap metal, and you are brought back to your train. It honestly got to the point where it was more annoying that thrilling–especially as a person who 1) is easily scared and 2) has a clown phobia.
The end-game continued its unusual theme as you bring the three glowing eggs to this triangular altar. The tycoon who owned the mining operation shows up in a yellow suit, demanding you to stop (yes, there are bare-bones “lore” about this tycoon who ordered these eggs to be protected in the mines and the miner tried forming a mutiny). You do it anyway, and of course, Charles comes crashing from the ceiling and…absorbs the eggs? He then transforms into Hell Charles, and the final battle ensues. The most disappointing part is that all you need to do is whittle is health bar down, then you show up at the bridge, it explodes, and Charles face-plants onto a pike.
And that’s Choo-Choo Charles.
I will acknowledge a post-credit scene that was neat, and I won’t spoil it here.
If you don’t take Choo-Choo Charles seriously, it could be an amusing game. It also is very short–two to three hours. Unfortunately, it did not deliver as I had hoped based on the trailer shown from the Day of the Devs. Choo-Choo Charles had lots of promise, but even knowing this was a small dev team, it did not succeed in feeding me a real sense of horror. I was hoping for more (and better) interaction with Charles himself, but I felt most of my game play was just riding around an island collecting scraps. It’s not broken, and it has the basics. However, I can’t recommend it at a $20 price tag. Perhaps if it is on sale and Choo-Choo Charles intrigues you–go right ahead.
Oh, and the best thing about this game? You have a whistle, and you can make your train go choo-choo.
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Featured Image Source: Two Star Games via IGN