Railbound, the latest title from Polish studio Afterburner, creators of Golf Peaks and inbento, is a super cute puzzler with polished presentation and deceptively monstrous difficulty. It begins very innocently, asking for a small railway line to connect a car to its engine, and sings with toots and huffs as a cloud of smoke from the locomotive rises to reveal the next stage. At 100th level, however, it becomes a puzzle that will get your fingernails in knots.
The goal is to pair the cars to the engines in a numbered order. A level starts with one to four cars spaced around a grid and the engine sitting at the edge of the play area. You have a fixed number of track pieces that can go in any direction, turning and branching each other. You connect the cars to the engine with rails so that car number one gets there first, followed by number two and so on. When you press go, the cars drive charmingly and you see if your plan worked. It’s such an intuitive concept that we’d played a good twenty levels before realizing it was absolutely not how trains work.
There are eight sets of stages, with each set introducing a new mechanic, such as barriers that must be opened by passing over buttons, or numbered stations at which the appropriate car must stop. It’s a bit of a shame that gadgets from previous sets are sometimes left out rather than expanded upon and combined with new mechanics. However, later challenges begin to tie everything together in wonderfully intricate ways.
We won’t pretend that we only used the hint system to test it for you, dear reader: we would have been completely lost without it on the later levels. It works by revealing the correct placement of a few sections of track at a time, requiring a bit of extra trial and error before another clue is available. It’s a good balance between giving you a good try and not hurting you.
Controlling all this is quite pleasant. Small grids are quickly navigable with the controller, and good button assignments mean there’s no fiddling around in menus. It’s equally enjoyable to play with the touchscreen and even uses a satisfying HD Rumble. Switch seems to be the ideal platform for the game.
There are quite a few hours to spend solving over 150 puzzles, although we did have a few minor gripes. For one thing, some of the smarter tests are off the critical path, so their instructive insights might be missed along the way. The game grid also seemed rather limited at the end. The small area meant that there was probably only one correct answer to most, if not all, of the puzzles. The lure of the train to build creatively felt like it was always on the horizon, but we never got there.
However, the charm of Railbound’s chirpy cel-shaded models is impossible to resist and, while they belie some fiendish challenges, the difficulty curve is as smooth as it is steep. Perfect for handheld play, Afterburn has made a great addition to Switch’s puzzle library.