Oddly enough, there's a small trend of train simulator games coming to the Nintendo 3DS. Why developers prefer to put these on the portable console is anyone's guess, but there's a surprisingly large selection in the 3DS library considering the niche appeal of the genre. Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails is the latest arrival and, while it certainly has its shortcomings, it's managed to make the experience more enjoyable than any of its competitors have thus far.
There are two main gameplay modes to be experienced here: Creative and Story. Story mode serves as a sixteen level tutorial that shows you the ins and outs of the gameplay systems. While it may be that it doesn't provide much of a challenge, it's entertaining while it lasts, particularly for its unique take on storyline. For reasons that are never explained the world is in a post-apocalyptic state and your main character, Vin, and his dog, Jasper, take it upon themselves to aid in the rebuilding of society by using old trains to move goods and people around.
Most missions in story mode place your train on a closed track and task you with basic things like picking people up, transporting boxes of goods, and, erm, clearing out gophers. Train controls are straightforward and it's pretty easy to pick up, though it must be said that the camera is less than stellar. Oftentimes, when traveling through a building or past a large tree, the view of the train is completely obscured behind whatever object is in the way. While it may be that one doesn't necessarily need to have eyes on the train at all times, it still feels strange that there's no way to manually control the camera. This is made all the more confusing considering that the player has full control of the camera in creative mode.
Creative mode is arguably where the meat of the package lies, where players are allowed to create unique tracks and populate the area surrounding them. Here, you are responsible for keeping people in your area well fed, employed and happy, with various gauges reflecting the status of your world at any given point. This adds a nice layer of depth to the experience, as there is now good reason to be transporting goods and people around, though the editor interfaces could use a brief tutorial. Rooting around through the game's manual will answer most questions, but there are very few in-game explanations for what the various tools and icons actually mean.
In terms of presentation, the graphics are average but not anything stellar. Textures are fairly low detail and muddy, but the models are all fairly well built. The framerate also holds at what seems to be 60 FPS though there were very few instances where it dropped frames. 3D depth is well done and adds a pleasing amount of extra scale to environments, but there's not a lot being missed out on if you choose to keep the slider off. The soundtrack is unexceptional, but unintrusive; there's little here that stands out as particularly memorable or catchy, but we certainly didn't mind having it on.
As for how much replayability you'll get out of this, it all depends on how much you like open ended sim games. Mission mode doesn't last more than a few hours, but the creative mode has potentially endless hours of fun. You can choose from dozens of different buildings, houses, track types, and more, so those who like to make their own fun will have plenty of depth to do so here. Additionally, there's an in-game achievement system that awards you points for doing assorted feats and passing certain milestones. Sure, the points don't actually mean anything, but it's another thing that'll keep completionists busy for a while.
All in all, Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails is a well done train sim game that manages to make the experience of driving a train somewhat enjoyable. While it will likely only appeal to a certain demographic, there's more than enough content between the story and creative mode to keep gamers busy for hours, and the achievement system makes a 100% completion that much sweeter. If the concept appeals to you we'd recommend that you pick this one up; it's the best train sim on the 3DS yet.