Toy Trains VR – it does what it says on the tin (Picture: Something Random)
After several disappointing VR releases, GameCentral reviews a game that takes full advantage of the technology, with none of the usual drawbacks.
VR has always been a compelling proposition, promising to place you inside a game rather than making you an observer looking at it on a screen. When it works, the sense of being there is genuinely inspiring, whether putting you behind the wheel of a Skyline GTR in Gran Turismo 7 or into Resident Evil Village’s fetid depths. All too often though, VR games’ limited development budgets mean glitches, control issues, and an entirely unwelcome graphical fuzziness.
Against the backdrop of diminished expectation, it’s a delight to discover that Toy Trains does almost everything right. You play as a bored child whose parents are away on a business trip and who discovers an old train set in your grandparents’ attic. Opening its box and taking out the catalogue of railway parts, you soon find that you can lay track simply by plucking each piece from the catalogue and dropping it neatly onto the table in front of you.
Your job in each level is to connect all the buildings with a central depot. Initially that’s a town hall, but later levels have you hooking up everything from dam construction to a space laser. You need to make sure the train links up every structure, which to start with means creating a simple loop and putting a miniature train on the tracks.
Everything’s built on a tiny scale, with your train no more than 10 in-game centimetres long, its chimney puffing out miniature clouds of steam, which cast their own perfectly drawn shadows on the table. As you connect buildings and run your train service, residents pop out to thank you, their speech triggered by pulling a little tag joined to their word bubbles.
That level of simplicity is echoed in every aspect of the game, which only ever requires you to use the trigger on each controller to grab and release objects in the world. Pull a piece of track from the catalogue and drop it onto the table, and it will conveniently snap to an invisible grid, ensuring that your creations will always be neat, tidy, and able to be made into a loop using the preset track pieces available.
Once you’ve completed the circuit, you drop a train on the track. If the track’s been built without any breaks in it, a ring pull appears above your train and over the board’s central structure. Grab and pull both to see your creation come to life, the train steaming around the track, triggering actions from each building it passes, while your construction site in the middle automatically upgrades itself with the materials supplied.
The range of props you can use to build with gradually increases as you work your way through the game, with the starter set of straights and curves soon joined by bridges, tunnels, inclines, and more complex pieces of track, letting you build circuits that loop up into the hills. Levels also start to add complexity with several tranches of buildings to service, with subsequent sections of track needing to fit around the pieces you’ve already laid.
It’s not difficult per se, except possibly for the final level, which takes a bit off puzzling, but it is very satisfying. The feel of picking up and clipping together track, the cheerful sound effects and acoustic music, and the sight of your train doing its rounds once you’ve put everything in place make it a lovely place to spend your time.
Toy Trains VR – many of the same team also worked on Superhot (Picture: Something Random)
Despite coming from a small studio, everything looks glorious, the pocket-sized set dressing appearing pin sharp and avoiding the muddiness and blur often associated with VR games. Little white cardboard clouds float past, and you can add decoration to your track layouts for no other reason than the joy of its aesthetics.
On PlayStation VR2, its limited play area when sitting down means you’ll continually be plunging your hands and head through the grid that delineates its limits, breaking the immersion. However, you can fix that by standing up and since the game clocks in at under three hours, that certainly won’t prove too physically taxing.
But what a three hours it is, its charming graphical style and perfectly designed interface makes assembling tracks a tactile pleasure. Fiddliness when reloading guns or undertaking subtle movements in VR is frequently an issue, but developer Something Random has built a game where you take precision for granted.
The low difficulty level and cuteness may not appeal to players in search of serious challenge, but for anyone who fancies a bit of short term escapism, Toy Trains is a gentle and welcoming environment. Laying track, adding decorations, and doing a bit of light puzzling – accompanied by piano and guitar – provides a perfect, if temporary, antidote to horrors in the news and social media’s perpetual confected outrage.
Toy Trains VR review summary
In Short: A charming and beautifully constructed virtual train set, with an immaculately designed interface whose elegance helps make up for the game’s brevity and lack of challenge.
Pros: Looks great and manages to avoid the fuzziness that haunts many VR games, light-hearted atmosphere and controls that combine simplicity and precision.
Cons: It’s all over in under three hours and only the final level offers any sort of difficulty. PlayStation VR2 players may prefer to play standing up.
Formats: PlayStation VR2 (reviewed), Meta Quest 2 and 3, and Steam VR
Developer: Something Random
Publisher: Something Random
Release Date: 16th January 2024
Age Rating: 3
To submit Inbox letters and Reader’s Features more easily, without the need to send an email, just use our Submit Stuff page here.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.
Sign up to all the exclusive gaming content, latest releases before they’re seen on the site.