It’s not too often that we get to play an indie horror game, and even more rare when that game breaks the mold and offers up something completely unique that we have never experienced before. Choo-Choo Charles hits both those marks with a giant train engine and spider monster combo that is downright terrifying.
The uniqueness of Choo-Choo Charles begins right from the start when players are told that a train engine has crossed with a giant spider and has begun terrorizing a small and isolated island community. Players get to play a famous monster hunter that is brought to the island in order to fight Charles and end his reign of terror. Your chief weapon to accomplish the goal is a train engine, meaning that you will spend much of the adventure riding the rails around the island. And it helps that the train mechanics for the little yellow engine (you can eventually find paints to change its color) given to players are really amazingly well-done, which for train enthusiasts like myself, help to contribute a lot to the enjoyment of the title.
Yes, there is a giant monster train engine stalking the island, which is why this is a horror game, but even so, I really enjoyed just putting that little yellow engine in gear and riding around the landscape. Honestly, it kind of felt like one of those train rides in amusement parks when I was not being chased by a giant train spider monster. There is a surprising number of things to see and do on the island, plus quite a few hidden areas with nice rewards, and your train is the gateway to all of that. Controlling the train is easy with one lever to move forward, a brake and then one to put it into reverse. There are also many track switches around the island, so you will need to stop your train, get out and throw those switches in order to navigate and explore all corners of the island.
Players also have a means to defend their little train engine with a machine gun mounted in the rear balcony behind the cabin. You will often need to use this to pump lead into Charles as he roars up behind you and tries to damage your train. Eventually, you will also be able to earn new weapons for completing quests for people around the island. Your train can eventually mount a flame thrower, a double barrel sniper cannon or a rocket launcher, all of which are quickly swappable from inside the main cabin. All of the weapons have different stats like the damage they do, how quick they are to reload and how much the shots from each one will slow Charles when they hit — enabling your little engine to pull ahead during a life-or-death chase.
Your engine will be your home for most of the game, and is fully upgradable using scrap, which is basically the currency used in Choo-Choo Charles.
You can upgrade up to 10 levels of your engine’s armor, its ability to do damage with its weapons and how fast it can travel over the rails. The title is pretty generous with scrap too, so upgrading everything to max level is not too difficult long before you reach the conclusion. You can collect scrap lying all around the island and can also earn big piles of it as a reward for doing quests for the various residents you will meet as you travel. Residents with quests are mostly located close to the rails so that you can see them and are also noted on the overview map.
You will also need to leave your train from time to time in order to explore the island, but you have no weapons when on foot, so are extremely vulnerable to just about everything during those times. Charles walks on big spider legs, so he is not restricted to just using the rails. If he catches you outside of your train he can kill you very quickly, although if you can make it inside of a building or other area that is too small for him to follow, you can wait him out and he will eventually leave. There are also cultists on the island who worship Charles (although he will still kill and eat them if he can). The cultists have guns and will shoot at you, but for whatever reason the player, who is supposed to be a famous monster hunter, can’t pick up any weapons and shoot back. To compensate, I would often run through cultist camps and aggro all of them, and then lead them back to the train car where I could introduce them to my rocket launcher. Then once the camp or mine they were protecting was clear, I could explore it at my leisure. If your character does get killed on foot, you will respawn at your train engine with a very minor scrap penalty.
Choo-Choo Charles is an indie title in every sense of the word, made by a single developer. As such, you have to expect that it’s not a AAA game. Characters’ mouths do not move when they talk, and the game world is not exactly photorealistic. However, minor quibbles like that aside, Choo-Choo Charles is a really solid title. I was able to go through and completely finish it in about six hours, taking time to explore everywhere I could on foot and by train, fully upgrading the engine, finding all the various paints to colorize the train and even taking some time to just ride the rails and enjoy the experience of driving a little train through the night.
I had a lot more fun with Choo-Choo Charles than I thought I would, and even went back to play it again later, trying to rely on different weapons in my train and doing the NPC quests in a different order. And yes, I also took some time to just drive around the island a little bit more in that cool little yellow train engine. If you like trains or horror titles, then you will probably take a shine to Choo-Choo Charles. And at just $20 on the Steam platform for the PC, it’s a pretty good value as well for such a unique offering.
Choo-Choo Charles chugs along to a very good 4 GiN Gem overall score out of 5. Pile all aboard this train adventure if you are looking for something new and exciting to experience in first person survival horror games.