Railbound, the latest title from Polish studio Afterburner, makers of Golf Peaks and inbento, is a super-cute puzzler of polished presentation and deceptively monstrous difficulty. It starts ever so innocently, asking for a little railway line to connect a carriage to its engine, and sings with toots and chuffs as a billow of smoke from the locomotive clears to reveal the next stage. By the 100th level, however, it becomes a head-scratcher that’ll wear your nails to nubs.
The goal is to couple cars to engines in 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 off each other. You connect the cars to the engine with rails such that car number one will arrive there first, followed by number two and so on. When you press go, the cars rattle along charmingly and you see if your plan worked. It’s so intuitive a concept that we’d played a good 20 levels before we realised that this is absolutely not how trains work.
There are eight sets of stages, each set introducing a new mechanic, such as barriers that must be opened by running over buttons, or numbered stations to be stopped at by the appropriate car. It’s a bit of a shame that gimmicks from previous sets are sometimes left behind rather than expanded on and combined with new mechanics. However, the later challenges do start to tie everything together in wonderfully complex ways.
We won’t pretend that we only used the hint system to test it out for you, dear reader: we’d have been completely stumped without it on the closing levels. It works by revealing the correct placement of a few track sections at a time, requiring a bit of additional trial and error before a further hint is available. It’s a good balance of making you have a proper try but not making you suffer.
Controlling all this is entirely pleasurable. The small grids are swiftly navigable with the controller, and good button assignments mean there’s no fiddling through menus. It’s equally delightful to play with the touchscreen and even makes use of some satisfying HD Rumble. Switch seems like the perfect platform for the game.
There’s a fair handful of hours to be spent working through over 150 puzzles, although we did have a couple of small gripes. For one, some of the cleverer tests are off the critical path, so their instructive ideas might be missed along the way. The play grid did also feel rather limiting by the end. The small area meant there was probably only one correct answer to most, if not all, puzzles. The train-set appeal of building creatively felt like it was always just over the horizon, but we never got there.
However, there’s no resisting the charm of Railbound’s chirpy cel-shaded models and, although they belie some fiendish challenges, the difficulty curve is as smooth as it is steep. Perfect for handheld play, Afterburn has laid down a great addition to Switch's library of puzzlers.