C’mon N’ Ride It
One of these days I’m going to go to Japan. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine, and there is so much I want to see over there, from Mt. Fiji to Chuka-Soba Tomita to the torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I’m also going to want to ride its public transportation system because after living in the Bay Area for a few years and dealing with Bay Area Rapid Transit, it’d be nice to see what a competent transit system looks like.
If A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism is any indication, Japan really has its shit together when getting people around on rail.
A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism (Switch)
Released: March 12, 2021
When I first booted up A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism, I thought I was getting a city builder along the lines of Cities Skylines or Pocket City. As I quickly learned, that isn’t exactly what the A-Train series is about. Cities are built, sure, but they’re built on the back of a strong public transportation system. As the newly minted CEO of a transportation conglomerate, it’s my job to connect isolated villages with rail and road so they can blossom into bustling metropolitans. It seems easy enough — and when playing on the easy difficulty, it actually is — but A-Train isn’t afraid to bury you up to your neck with its different systems.
This is a complicated game, or at least one that is saddled with enough features that can make it seem more complicated than it actually is. You’re not just worried about transportation here. You also have to consider the stock market, local governments, bank loans, taxes, land use, employee satisfaction, property acquisition, advertising, freight, and a smorgasbord of subsidiaries, all of which constitute the different ways you can earn or lose money across the game’s several scenarios. This is possibly the most detailed and in-depth simulator I’ll ever play, and it can often feel like reading spreadsheets.
But you know what? I like that about it. I like that I have several options at my disposal to succeed in each scenario, whether I’m building a bullet train in the ‘90s or getting more fans to come see my baseball team in 1960s Japan. I like that the objectives for the scenarios really force me to consider my approach. I like that even when I’ve done all that’s been asked of me, I can just keep going with each map to see how much more I can do for these communities. And I like how this game is really an educational title on the power of public transportation and its ability to grow communities and drive tourism.
What I don’t like is how poorly implemented the user interface and tutorials are, and the dire quality of both is enough to drag the entire package down. The UI is over complicated and busy as hell. I know there is a lot to manage here and many different menus players will want to access, but the way it’s designed can make simple tasks more bothersome than they need to be. It can also lead to mistakes that cost time and money to reverse. As for the tutorials, a lot of precise information is thrown at players quickly. While the central systems of A-Train are spread out over two tutorial scenarios, a lot of the information you need may be hard to come by, or the many menus of the game can overwhelm you with unnecessary details.
And that’s only when talking about the scenarios you play because you can also make your own, and the process is just as arduous. A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism has an exceptionally deep scenario builder, letting you set your own rules and limitations for maps that can be shared with others online. You can even write your own stories featuring different characters from the game. But again, the user interface is unnecessarily complicated, and the tutorials for this mode are nothing more than the user manual, which wasn’t always able to provide answers for the many questions I had.
It’s a shame more effort wasn’t put into making this game more appealing to newcomers because it’s launched on Nintendo Switch at what might be the peak of the console’s popularity. If there was ever a time to get more people into this incredibly niche series, this would be it. That’s not to say this game won’t make a fan out of you. After all, anything is possible, and despite the score you see below, I actually like most of what was made here. I mean, you can zoom all the way down to street level and just watch people go about their lives. Will you do that more than once? Probably not, as the game is a blocky, low-res eye-strain at that level, but it offers a neat point of view to see how these villages and towns change with improved infrastructure.
So much about A-Train: All Aboard! Tourism is neat that I wish I could more strongly recommend it. At the very least, I’d love to force people who don’t think public transportation is worth investing in to play it so they see what an adequate rail system can do for their community. Because this does make a good argument for expanding public transit, it’s just that its antiquated user interface and woeful tutorial and manual mean very few people will bother listening to what it has to say.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]