RAILGRADE (Switch) Review
I’m normally not really much of a fan of management sims. There’s something about them that just makes me freak out — there’s always too much to do, too many options, too many approaches and, frankly, too many ways to dig yourself into a hole that’s a little too hard to recover from. RAILGRADE is an exception, because it’s not just some endless railway management sim, it’s also a gem of a puzzle game that captivates as much as it challenges.
RAILGRADE’s progression is much like many other puzzle games and much unlike most other railway management sims. It’s a series of discrete stages, each with one or two primary goals. The first few tutorial stages go over the basics – how to lay a track, how to place a train on that track, and how to transport goods from one facility to another – but after that, things get absolutely wild. Each stage going forward presents you with a new challenge, and challenges range from something like processing and exporting 100 ingots of iron to establishing and managing a complex network of facilities to achieve a set amount of resources per minute.
Thankfully, it’s not as if the extremely complex missions come immediately after the more simple missions — there’s a wonderful sense of progression that I think is really the core strength of RAILGRADE. Each stage feels like just a little bit more compared to the last, with things getting slightly more complex with each step forward. Occasionally, however, it’ll throw you a curveball, and it’s here that the game really gets interesting. Instead of letting your rest on your laurels and fall into familiar patterns, every now and then a mission will pop up that very necessarily requires you to change the way you approach your rail networks. Where a straight line, back-and-forth rail network with one product per line might have worked in the last few missions, now you’ll have to start building multi-product, looping networks, or branching networks that really test your logistics skills.
The first time you come across each of these stages, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a terrible score — after all, you’ve settled into a familiar groove, and breaking out of that groove is easier said than done. The more time you spend with that particular stage, however, the more you come to understand the nuances of what’s required to get it all running smoothly. RAILGRADE’s smooth progression means that when you come across one of these roadblocks, not only do you have to rethink how you approach your networks, but that process of rethinking feels natural, and helps prepare you for the next few challenges, too. Oftentimes I would do poorly in a mission and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I would realise that not only do I need to change things up, but that I already knew exactly what to do to make it all work. I just, for whatever reason, didn’t do that. Having a solution suddenly pop into your head makes you feel like an absolute genius, and implementing it and seeing it work – and work well – is remarkably satisfying.
Unfortunately, despite my enjoyment, there were times where I found myself incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed, too. The nature of some of the challenges are often a bit annoying to actually play, and the goal of a challenge is subject to change as you get closer to completion. In some cases, I’d set up a network to deliver on the original goal that was completely incompatible with the second goal, requiring a complete rework that often I just did not have the money and resources for. In those instances it was often a case of accepting a bad score and waiting it out while I built up some cash, or just restarting the level – some of which I had just spent half an hour or more playing – to rebuild something that worked for the later goal, too. This won’t be an issue for everybody, I’m sure plenty of people with different approaches to this kind of game will manage just fine, but for my particular playstyle it popped up quite a few times and often caused me to just quit the game and come back tomorrow.
Another concern worth noting is the text size. Take it from me: if you want to save your eyesight, absolutely do not play this game on the Switch Lite. The text and UI in RAILGRADE is small, and even on the OG Switch, it’s just barely acceptable. On the Lite, unless you get real close, use magnifying glasses, or squint real hard, it’s just not on. I’m sure, on the OLED, you’d probably get by just fine, thanks to its larger screen, and obviously it’s pretty much fine in docked mode, but just be aware that Switch Lite owners will get nothing positive about this experience. Sadly, there are no options that I could find for increasing the text size, so what you see (or don’t see) is what you get.
Other than that, there’s a lot to like about RAILGRADE’s presentation. It looks quite nice, with each stage looking like a little slice of a model railway, and the music is an absolute banger of electric hits that keep you energised while still fading nicely into the background of some of the longer-haul levels. The controls are fine on Switch too; it’s a game that feels like it was very much made for PC so it’s never going to feel exactly right on a gamepad, but it does a serviceable job that you don’t really need to fight against. It’s a touch awkward, but more than usable once you’ve got a little practice in.
RAILGRADE is a wonderful mix of railway management and puzzle-solving, with genuinely satisfying railway gameplay, mind-scratching puzzles to solve, and a bangin’ soundtrack. It does get frustrating at times, and it’s near-unplayable on the Switch Lite, but there’s still absolutely plenty to like.
+ Incredibly satisfying gameplay
+ Good mix of puzzling and railway management
+ Banger of a soundtrack
- Small text makes it unsuitable for the Lite
- Some levels are more frustrating than fun