Choo-Choo Charles Review: I enjoy the bizarre, silly, and plain idiotic (see my review of Goat Simulator 3 for proof), so I was pleased to learn of a game where you’re being followed by the devil version of Thomas the Tank Engine. While Choo-Choo Charles’ premise makes me incredibly happy, the janky and basic adventure itself is much duller than I had anticipated.
Sadly, despite having a length of only roughly 90 minutes, this comedy game masquerading as a horror game manages to be devoid of both humor and fright in equal proportion. As a result, I found myself wanting to get off this insane train much sooner.
Choo-Choo Charles Review
Choo-Choo On the surface, Charles may seem like nightmare material, but the entire game is really simply one big joke. Your journey starts off with a bang as you board a train with a gun mounted on it and are attacked right away by an evil railcar with spider legs, but since those first few seconds are the best part of the entire experience, the rest of the journey is a dull trek.
You’ll need to go around an island performing objectives for NPCs to upgrade your weaponry and boost the stats of your train before you meet Charles in a climactic fight. Its deliberately hilarious nature is evident in everything from its ludicrous characters to the crazy jobs they assign you, such as having you get a jar of pickles for a woman who is fixated on the fermented delicacies. However, most of those things aren’t especially funny.
Choo-Choo Charles Screens
The outrageous plot of Choo-Choo Charles’ story may seem like the ideal setting for a funny voyage, but because of the lackluster writing and unmemorable characters, it nearly never manages to crack a smile.
The voice acting is great—appropriately ridiculous and obviously not taking itself seriously—but the dialogue is read much more seriously, and I kept shaking my head at all the wasted opportunities for mischief.
In one section, an NPC describes how to enhance your train without recognizing how absurd that idea is, and in another, a woman begs you to exact revenge for her husband’s murder without emphasizing the fact that her spouse was actually devoured by an evil train. I was hurt by how painfully unfunny everything was.
The majority of the time, you’ll be driving your train across desolate and deserted landscapes, stopping sometimes to gather scrap metal or finish a tedious task that may need you to get something for someone else or play a horribly monotonous lockpicking minigame on a nearby chest.
Finding three eggs that Choo-Choo Charles reportedly has waiting to hatch into more railcar abominations so you can use them to trick him into a final deathmatch is the uninteresting main quest’s objective.
To obtain those eggs, you must first speak with three NPCs who all give the same background information about them before sending you into a mine to take the egg, where you must evade clueless cult members brandishing shotguns in some pretty dreadful stealth portions.
These brief sections consist mainly of a succession of halls filled with undetectable opponents that you must avoid. NPCs are slow, foolish, and have lousy aim, so you’ll either have to sneak around and wait for them to walk by or just go by them as you aren’t provided with any weapons other than the ones you keep on your train.
Since the only tool you are given to help you is the ability to lean left or right to look around corners from the cover, sneaking is decidedly not entertaining.
You are unable to use stealth takedowns, distract foes, or even crouch to your advantage. In my opinion, it was easier to simply sprint through everything, grab the egg, and go. Or, if you’re feeling particularly cunning, just lure the adversaries outside the mine, board your train, and shoot them to death (though the time it takes to pull it off isn’t really worth it).
Every now and again as the plot develops, you’ll hear a scary train whistle and realize that a confrontation is approaching, but any expectation of thrill is dashed because it’s the same encounter each and every time.
Keep advancing after the train approaches and make use of any weapons you have before Charles retreats to tend to his wounds and start the cycle all over again. You won’t be strong enough to deal with the evil train early in the journey, and you’ll almost probably die, with nearly no repercussions.
You will be able to repel Charles without difficulty after receiving a few upgrades and a few new weapons, such as the lethal flamethrower or the rocket launcher that takes far too long to reload.
It’s simply so depressing that every one of these interactions is identical. Choo-Choo Charles simply pursues your train and swipes at you until you cause enough harm for him to leave you alone. Repeat as necessary.
Even when you reach the climactic fight, which I completed in less than two hours both times, he only becomes bigger and teleports occasionally to confuse you.
Every time you see the demon train after the first time, it is just a predictable monotony as you cruise along the railway because he doesn’t employ any novel attacks or startle you in any manner. The encounter loses all of its potential for horror and is instead filled with boredom.
All of the NPCs in Choo-Choo Charles appear to be characters from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and don’t move their mouths when they speak, giving the movie a very low-budget vibe. Its absurdist aesthetic is aided in some ways by this, but in others, such as when it occasionally malfunctions, it is less endearingly terrible and more simply annoying.
In one case, the upgrade menu flashed up during the closing cutscene, which meant I didn’t get to watch the complete ending of the campaign until my second playthrough. Even though the level of jank is understandable for a game with such a satirical design, it still kind of stinks.