December 9, 2022
I never thought I’d round off the year fighting an evil train named Charles, but you never know what’s round the corner. It’s one of the most original titles I’ve played, and while not particularly long, it was the right amount of crazy, featuring the right amount of firepower and b-movie acting that gave me a few hours of escapism on an island I’m certainly not planning on returning to. Choo Choo Charles isn’t supposed to be taken seriously, and it made me laugh more than it made me jump.
Regardless of this, I enjoyed its simplicity and silliness. The premise is straightforward enough. You have arrived on island that’s been terrorised by a train that’s part machine; part monster. Your goal is to destroy Charles and return the island to some semblance of normality. To do so, you must find three eggs that have the power to draw it out of hiding, and using whatever weapons you find, you must blow the abomination to kingdom come.
Traveling around the island can be done on foot, but your main source of transport is your very own locomotive. It can be upgraded, get a new lick of paint to change its appearance, and loaded with new weapons. There are three levers that allow you to make it go forwards and backwards, and bring it to a halt. At certain points in the track, you’ll have to get out and pull a switch to change its direction, and you can always take a break from riding it to go off on foot. Doing so, however, will leave you vulnerable if Charles ever decides to make an appearance.
I found that the hellish-looking train seldom attacked me when I was out exploring, but when he did, I’d rarely make it back to my train alive. If you die, you respawn at your train, but you’ll lose scrap metal as a result. If he appears when you’re in the train, you can shoot at him to make him disappear for a while, but Charles is relentless in his pursuit. It isn’t particularly scary, but when he arrives, you’ll certainly jump and do what you can to prevent being eaten. I found on occasion, he appeared on the opposite end of my train and wouldn’t come anywhere near my mounted gun, so I had to endure his beating without doing anything about it.
Various NPCs are scattered around the island. Some of the inhabitants will give you optional quests that offer up scrap metal which is used to upgrade your train’s speed, armour, and damage. Scrap metal can be found everywhere, from abandoned huts and stations, to inside mines. lighthouses, and in the woods. Other quests give you the opportunity to unlock a new weapon, such as the flamethrower and rocket launcher. Each weapon has different stats, and they can all be switched out fairly quickly when you’re being attacked by both Charles and his cult of followers.
Speaking of his followers, you’ll encounter them across the island, but the mines in which the three eggs are located are more populated by them. You can’t take any of the weapons with you on foot, so encountering them can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to be sneaky. Like Charles, they’re relentless in their pursuit, so if you want to kill them, you’ll need to lead them back to the train where you’ll be able to gun them down. The final quests you’ll need to complete aren’t optional, and they’re represented by blue icons across the map.
These quests will give you the means to stop Charles across the map, such as a bridge where you strap explosives to, so if you lead him towards it in the final battle, there’s a added chance to do some extra damage. Choo Choo Charles can be completed quite quickly, but preparation is everything. You can spend longer finishing the optional side missions for added scraps, and by doing so your train will be stronger and faster, and your weapons will also do more damage. Scrap metal can also be used to ‘heal’ your train, so having extra supplies is key when all hell breaks loose towards the end.
Choo Choo Charles is a simple yet enjoyable horror that never takes itself too seriously. NPCs don’t move their lips, and some of the visuals aren’t particularly exciting, especially as it all takes place at night and most locations look the same. What makes it appealing is how fun it is getting around on your train and using everything you’ve acquired to put an end to Charles’ reign of terror. Being a short game and one that’ll clearly do well on streaming platforms makes it a must for fans of the silly, scary, and cult titles akin to Deadly Premonition.
Driving the train is fun
Not much variety in its visuals
Some issues with gunplay
Quests lack diversity
Choo Choo Charles never takes itself seriously, but there's a fun game at its core with simple yet effective mechanics.