Train Conductor 2: Dumb and dumbererer again, dude

Even though it is Game Day Friday this was actually Thursday’s blog intended to show readers how not to design a game. Friday’s blog was to follow up with an iPhone game done right, that deserves a shot at the big time on the iPad. That post will now appear in a special Saturday edition.


Here’s the bottom line on Train Conductor 2. It may not be the dumbest game ever, but it’s pretty insulting.

  • Arbitrary scoring. Seriously, when you advance it’s because the game gets bored with your playing.
  • Almost half the game has nothing to do with trains.

In addition, I declare myself a movie critic, pan a comedy that many consider to be a modern classic (or at least pretty damn good), explain why I will never take my parents’ advice about girls again and wish I never listened to them the first time and discuss the psychedelic aspects of 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Oh wait, I think the last one is actually Wednesday’s review. Talk about flashbacks.

Every once and awhile Carol and I got to one movie and suddenly we discover we’re watching an entirely different movie. It just happens, all of a sudden. You’re watching a movie about the total absolute destruction of the planet earth and—all of a sudden—it’s feel good movie about Noah’s Arc on steroids.

Or you’re watching a movie about two investment brokers who were double crossed by their boss over a dollar bet and before you realize it everyone’s on a train in costume, drunk out of their minds and partying with gorillas.

Or a futuristic female super warrior is sent into a post apocalyptic war zone (think Lara Croft meets Escape From New York) and after she escapes the cannibals, when you think this movie can’t possibly get worse no matter how hot Rhona Mitra is—not to mention the fact that your wife is reminding you that you owe her big time for dragging her to this plastic dog turd of a movie (not even a real dog turd but a plastic dog turd with the Chinese lead paint peeling off) because she now realizes you only wanted to see it because Rhona Mitra’s hot—and suddenly, for no reason other than the likelihood the writers’ ran out of ideas, the heroine’s jousting with knights in a medieval castle.

When this happens, my immediate reaction is, “What the hell were they thinking?”

But, hey, it’s a movie. No one said it had to make sense, except perhaps Aristotle and every major film critic except Joe Bob Briggs who has (or had) a rating scale all his own. And who I would give my entire DVD collection to write as good as him.

At least my entire collection of DVDs I’ve since upgraded to Blu Ray.

What gets me even more is the fact that when Carol and I are walking out of the movie there’s always someone saying to their friend, “Wasn’t it great when Jim Belushi showed up in a Gorilla costume on the train?” And the friend says, “I know, it was the best part of the movie.”

Or, “I thought the movie couldn’t get better after the cannibals ate the guy’s tongue.”

“I know, and then they started the joust. How awesome was that?”

Then, “Who was the girl by the way? I’d do her.”

“I don’t know, I think I’ve seen her on TV.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind if aliens show up in the middle of a western as long as it turns out there’s a reason for aliens beside the fact that the writers came up twenty minutes short and couldn’t think of anything else to fill screen time. If it turns out that aliens eat uranium and there’s a uranium deposit behind the town, the movie may still be stupid, but I can accept the aliens. If they came for plutonium, however, I’d be pissed again since there was no plutonium in the wild west.

The only reason I’m thinking of this is that I was about to level the same criticism at the game Train Conductor 2 when I realized, someone will actually like the game for the very reason I’m going to disrespect it. No matter what I say, or how much sense I make, some reader will say, “No, way. Train Conductor is way cool. Especially the stuff you hate.”

But I’m going to make fun of Train Conductor 2 anyway because I still think two-fifths of the game is just stupid.

Sometimes “cheap for a dollar” is still too much

Let’s get the mandatory positive praise out of the way first. Train Conductor 2 only costs a dollar so it doesn’t have to deliver much to deliver your money’s worth. And the game can challenge your hand-eye coordination. In this respect it’s very much like Kill the Fly. which received a mediocre review a week or two ago.

Kill the Fly, however, had superb graphics and you could earn different tools to kill flies with. In Train Conductor 2 you just move things from one place to another as quickly as you can. Train Conductor 2 even released an upgrade talking about how great their HD graphics are now (I can’t tell the difference).

But Kill the Fly was worth the dollar.

Train Conductor 2 is not a strategy game. It’s a spot the target and react quickly game. Each level but one repeats the same task. Get the trains from the wrong track to the right track before they crash into each other.

Sometimes these kinds of games can be fun. I’m a huge fan of the iPhone game AirportMania where you have to shuttle passengers off planes. I can’t wait for an iPad HD version. In fact, when I think of how great AirportMania is on the iPad even as an iPhone app, I realize why I dislike Train Conductor 2 that much more.

I should also admit I might be biased. The only train game I ever really liked was Avalon Hill’s Rail Baron board game, and that was more about business acquisitions than trains. I loved watching other people’s HO and electric trains, for about ten minutes. I tried building my own train set once, and discovered girls before the attraction to trains could take hold.

I discovered girls. They didn’t discover me for a few more years. But I blame that on being a Baptist Preacher’s Kid who made the mistake of believing his parents when they told him girls don’t like boys who want to make out or even hold hands. By the time I found out how wrong they were, I was way too old for trains anyway.

So maybe I’m bringing a lot baggage to this review. But I still think I’m being fair when I say you probably won’t play it more than once or twice unless you really, really love trains. And stupid games about trains.

Arbitrary advancement

This is the only game where I think the only exit strategy is when the game gets tired of playing with you. Scoring is simple. You get one point for every train that ends up on the right track—no points for trains that don’t—and you lose if you crash. So how many points does it take to win?

I don’t know. My highest score on one level is 191 and I still haven’t won the level. The trains just keep coming faster and faster.

How many points does it take to get to the next level?

It depends on what mood the game’s in. I think. I mean I can’t be sure, because I honestly can’t tell.

On the first level, Miami, I played twice, scored 11 points then 7 points and then the game opened up the second level, Nashville. On the second level I played three times, scored 49 and it opened up the New York subway. I played the subway two or three dozen times, never advancing and then, in the middle of a round, with no trains having crashed, the game came to a complete stop and said, “Okay, move onto Las Vegas.”

In Miami I only needed 7 points to advance

In Las Vegas, which is by far the easiest level, I scored 149, 161, 185, 191, several times in the sixties, several more times in the seventies, and then I was tired and sent a pink ghost to hell by accident right out of the box, for a grand score of 7. That’s when the game told me I was ready to move on to the Grand Canyon.

New York just halted the trains in the middle of a round
and said, “You’re ready for Vegas.”

I felt like I was a student in one of those charter schools where they said, “You tried hard even if you didn’t pass a single exam. Move on to the twelfth grade. Here’s your cool color certificate personally printed on the school secretary’s BubbleJet.”

I can already sense you saying to yourself, “Back up a paragraph. He wrote that he sent a pink ghost to hell. Did he forget what game he was reviewing?”

Not in the least. Do you remember my diatribe about seeing a movie in the post-apocalyptic future and suddenly everyone’s jousting in armor? Wait until I tell you about levels 2 and 4.

Is this a game about trains, Casper,
or a subtle message on segregation?

Level 1 is cute. You have little blue trains and fast orange bullet trains and you have to switch tracks without any of them crashing. It’s a good warm up challenge, very much in keeping with a game called Train Conductor.

You’ve played two rounds and ended with a crash after six or seven trains both times. Now you’re ready for Nashville where all the trains are ridden by ghosts. And you know what? You don’t even have to get the ghosts on the right track. They’re dead; it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What you do have to worry about are the Demon Trains.

Ignore the ghosts. Just don’t piss off the demon train.

Demon trains? On level 2? Did the developers decide trains were so boring after only one level they needed to throw in ghosts and demons? And why are they associating ghosts with Nashville? Are they implying country music has given up the ghost? Are they implying only brain dead ghosts like the Oak Ridge Brothers?

It doesn’t matter. Even if none of the ghosts get to their destinations and a demon always crashes sooner or later, it’s time to move to New York.

Great, I thought. What are we conducting here? Aliens? The ones from the Middle East or the ones from outer space?

I guess the people from New York are the aliens, because it’s just a subway. Thinking the demon trains were just a bad hiccup in the Train Conductor 2 development process I finally arrived in Vegas.

If you’re asking yourself (as I was) if trains even go to Vegas, it doesn’t matter. I even considered the possibility that might be conducting those little mini tour trains from one casino to the next.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. There aren’t any trains in Vegas. Just ghosts on box cars. And you don’t have to switch tracks. Just flick the pink ghosts to heaven or green ghosts to hell before the box car gets to the center junction. But be careful where you send a ghost because “pink ghosts and green ghosts don’t mix well.”

Keep the green and pink ghosts separate but equal.

Great, I thought. They’re trying to bring back Jim Crow. What will we get in Level 5? Negro porters in little red suits to carry the ghosts’ baggage?

Finally, after scoring my worst score on any of the levels, I qualified for the Grand Canyon, which brought us back to trains.

I understand that the game is only a dollar, but I think the developers spent the dollar on really cheap wine before they started planning the game.

And you may think it’s fun. Just like those teenage boys who thought the cannibals and jousting were the highlights of Doomsday. I may even change my mind about Train Conductor 2.

To be honest, I still watch Trading Places every Christmas; I just fast forward through the gorilla suits on the train. I suppose I can skip levels 2 and 4 and play the levels that really involve trains.

Jenny Manytoes rates Train Conductor 2

Then again, probably not. Jenny Manytoes is already reminding me she warned me as soon as I downloaded the game. She circled the iPad with her tail bunched the entire time I played.

Look at that, she thinks I was too kind. She just learned how to hold her paw on the iPad long enough for the apps to go into delete mode.

Now that it’s gone, she’s cuddled up beside me with her head resting inside the crook of my elbow. It’s hard to type, but at least she’s happy.


The Jenny Manytoes Rating System


Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.

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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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