Overall Score 72%
Fruit on Rails
I have to candidly admit that Iím a bit of a train buff. And I love video games. So it goes without saying that I want to try anything that combines these two elements. Rather than drive down to the station and play video games there, a better way to scratch the itch is to play video games about trains. Thatís why Fruit on Rails drew my attention. It looked like the kind of game that Iíd like. Not really keen on fruit, mind you, but as long as it didnít get in the way of the trains, I wasnít going to complain until Iíd at least checked it out.
It turns out that Fruit on Rails is a casual time management/strategy game. It consists of a series of hand crafted levels where the player is tasked to move fruit into the map via entry points and offload it at stations. It is then manufactured into juice and must be picked up at separate stations for transport off the map at designated exit points. The same trains that carry the fruit in must be used to transport the juice out. The trains run autonomously, and the player only has control over a few fixed signals where trains can be held. The only other input that the player has is by switching points at junctions on the track. By developing an effective flow pattern and keeping an eye on all aspects of the quickly developing and ever intensifying situation, they score points by making successful deliveries.
The whole situation is made somewhat more complex by the fact that there are different types of fruit and corresponding flavours of juice that need to be delivered to and from matching stations. Oranges, bananas, grapes, and a weird yellowy type of fruit (perhaps a tangerine) do not like to mix. No tropical breakfast mix here, dear readers. Itís strictly fruit apartheid or you will be deducted lives from your limited life pool. Once that count reaches zero, the level is over. And that tends to happen fairly quickly.
As if juggling all your precious fruit trains werenít enough for you to manage at any one time, there are ambulance trains and pirate trains to further complicate your shift. The ambulance trains need to be moved through the level to the exits as quickly as possible. Who would want to try and get to hospital in a train anyway? Perhaps they carry pirates? Actually, now that I think about it, thatís probably exactly who uses them. You see, pirates just enter from the normal portal and wreak havoc by smashing into anything in their path. They wonít stop at red signals and are a real annoyance. Your best bet is to try to lead them off the level via a free exit portal, but thatís not always easy.
Why isnít it easy? Well, one in five or six of your trains will require repairs. If a train enters the map smoking, then it needs to be shunted off to the repair yards, either before, after or in-between making its drop-off and pick-up stops. The result of all of these combined factors means that Iím not seeing any level go over about the five minute mark, and thatís using the ďeasyĒ difficulty from the option screen. Often, my levels are over even before any juice is delivered off the map at all. By the time five or more trains are on the level, my ability to make decisions rationally and thoughtfully has all but gone, and mass panic ensues. Itís really hard to come back from even one mistake, and an early mistake can make restarting the level the best option if youíre going to compete for the online high scores.
Even the best players are not going to last long. The trains appear at the entry portals at a faster and faster rate over time. Although you can increase your life count by scoring well, eventually you will lose the level. Hopefully you will have accrued enough points to unlock the next level, which will bring a more complicated level layout and yet more pain for the overworked controller.
Every time that I play a game like this, I know that I make the same criticism, but Iíll repeat myself here; why not give the player a chance to win the level? Even if itís toggled as an option, the ability to progress through a game by winning levels just feels better than playing a series of levels where the only objective is to play for as long as possible before losing. It could be easily done by simply limiting the number of trains that are spawned each round. Round over Ė you win! Itís just better.
Fruit on Rails installed without any trouble and requires a simple key check when run for the first time on your PC. It looks like you can install the game on more than one PC using the same key. I have successfully installed on two machines. There are options to run in full screen or windowed mode, as well as to customise the spawn rate of trains and to randomise the trainís loads from the otherwise set sequence for each level. Sounds and music are fine and complement the gameplay well. He interface is easily navigated, and the controls are intuitive and smooth. If youíre playing online, you can submit your best scores for each level to a global high score table, which gives some incentive to retry levels as you gain skill.
Generally speaking, I like the game, but would like to see more options to customise the gameplay to my liking. Iím not a fan of the increased spawn rate of the trains over time. It has the effect of ending the levels too early, just as they are getting interesting. Some levels definitely are more fun to play than others. More variety in maps, the ability to have them all unlocked right from the start, and also a level editor would be great additions. Fruit on Rails is no blockbuster, but itís fun and engaging in short bursts and is an original idea for a very reasonable price.
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