We’ve jumped straight from the cab of Train Valley 2: Community Edition into that of Train Traffic Manager. Whilst they may seem to be fairly similar from the outside – railway-based strategy puzzlers – they are in fact two different beasts.
Train Traffic Manager is actually much more closely aligned to that of Urban Flow; a roads management game from Baltoro Games that released back in 2021. It’s that which Baltoro have used as inspiration for Train Traffic Manager all whilst – in their words – “dialling it up a notch”.
It’s the main campaign of Train Traffic Manager which is the meat and drink of proceedings. There’s an Endless mode too, but annoyingly that is locked away until you have fully completed the Campaign. It feels a weird choice and for the first hours of play we were crying out for the opportunity to occasionally dip into the endlessly unlimited time-restrained side of the railways. Instead, initially, you’ll be left to the standard levels. It is what it is, but we’d have much preferred if Baltoro Games had opened everything up from the get-go.
Drop in though and no matter which of the two game modes you play, things are very familiar. Placed in the shoes of a railway conductor, it’s up to you to help various trains safely traverse the top-down, single stage levels ahead. Of course, this isn’t easy as a web of tracks take locos and their cargo from one side of the screen to another, all via a complex route or two, crisscrossing as they go.
What this means is that to avoid crashes you’ll be left to pull hard on the track lights, switching them from red to green and back again to provide safe passage. Initially this is done with a single button – face or bumper – assigned to each light. But the more you play Train Traffic Manager, the more complex things become, so much so that multiple lights are linked to the same button press.
Slowing trains down, feeding them into gaps on the track is a simple business, with little in the way of real physics ever really affecting any slowdown or speed up of each loco and carriage. We’d have liked to see trains getting up to speed a bit more, or slowing down in anticipation of a light change, instead of having them fast slamming on the anchors and stopping on a dime. But equally we’ve been left thankful for those brakes, as we’ve frantically tried to save certain situations.
The complex nature of Train Traffic Manager comes in the form of the trains. Whilst a single loco is the main engine power, that can have single or multiple cargo trucks attached to the back. That obviously means certain trains are longer – or much shorter – than others so teasing those light changes in order to fit in lengthier carriages is required.
But there’s more and railways come with switches too. To raise the excitement, Train Traffic Manager allows you to then start sending trains off on various routes, sometimes going around the houses in order to safely make their way to whatever destination they have to hand. Combine those switches with drawbridges which need opening and closing with the most perfect of timing, and you’ve got a base game in Train Traffic Manager that fast raises the anxiety levels.
Some eighty levels of railway action is found in Train Traffic Manager, with those split fourways across Desert, Forest, Winter and Midnight scenarios. Each of those come complete with their own unique environmental aspects too; for instance, a desert landscape brings a whirlwind into play, whilst fallen trees scatter and swollen rivers rage across the forests of Train Traffic Manager. Directing trains whilst waggling the left stick to fast remove strewn trees is needed for success to be found.
Of course, much as with any game that comes with a puzzling nature, failure should be seen as a time to reflect, to understand what went wrong, and to head back in again with better intentions and plans. And Train Traffic Manager allows for that in huge swathes, swiftly dropping you back into the action when all hell has broken loose. And occasionally, very occasionally, an extra tricky stage will deliver you multiple attempts, with a hearts system kicking in – you won’t believe how many times we’ve needed that as we’ve stupidly dropped a drawbridge on a train whilst shifting through things on fast-forward.
Stage completion is delivered via a stars system, working one through to three. A mere single star is all you need to be able to move onto the next level, with that sitting behind a certain number of trains that pass through safely; differing for each level. And that star system is appreciated because some of the stages in Train Traffic Manager can become a bit of a railway nightmare if you’re aiming for all three stars and full completion. It’s nice then that it’s possible to go back to any previous stage at will in order to mop up extra stars. And if you need it, a ‘Chill Mode’ can be switched on then too, ensuring you can go about working the tracks for an unlimited time. You can do that with a local friend or two if you wish as well; Train Traffic Manager works really well with multiple cooperative friends, something we didn’t expect if we are honest.
For the most part we’ve enjoyed our time with Train Traffic Manager, but it’s about here we must save a paragraph for the visuals. Whilst far from mind-blowing, they do the job needed, providing a fairly well detailed take on the Wild West scene that Train Traffic Manager is going for. They’re a little cartoony, a little unique, but utterly wholesome, ensuring that it’s always a joy to help navigate the little locos to safety. And whilst the audio that accompanies things is minimal, it’s utterly integral to the gameplay. For every train that arrives on the scene, a quick toot of its horn gives you the necessary kick to ensure that all your ducks are lined up, shifting out older trains that have been waiting patiently, turning lights and setting up switches. Frankly, without that toot – and the briefest of brief arrows signalling their arrival – we’d be doomed.
It all means that if you enjoyed the vibes found in Urban Flow but need a railway take on matters, you’d do well to check out Train Traffic Manager. Whilst we’d have liked to see the Endless Mode opened up from the get-go, playing through the Campaign stages on offer delivers a decently fun puzzling time, ensuring there’s a reason to keep coming back, as you go working through them.
Never too complex, for a couple of evenings worth of play, conducting the railroads feels pretty good in Train Traffic Manager.