When I first discovered Station to Station’s voxel-powered railways, I anticipated a traditional train sim with a touch of city building, much like the A-Train series. However, I quickly realized that the game is much more than that. It’s a puzzle game with elements of simulation-style gameplay, incorporating resource and money management to progress through the gameplay loop. The objective is simple: connect the buildings that produce resources to the ones that require them, and ultimately connect them all to the cities to generate profit. In other words, the key to winning the game is figuring out how to establish all the necessary connections.
Even though Station to Station may not delve deep into rail management, I was captivated by its clever levels and stunning art style. The fact that it wasn’t what I expected added an element of unexpected delight to my gaming experience. Even if I had known beforehand what the game was all about, I still would have thoroughly enjoyed it because of its charm, interesting mechanics, and overall appeal.
Station to Station is marketed as a “relaxing and minimalist game about building railway connections,” and I couldn’t agree more with that description. It features six different worlds, each consisting of five or six levels. The size of the levels may vary, but they all reflect the theme of the world they belong to. For instance, the “Sunforge Sands” and “Golden Dunes” worlds are set in desert biomes, while Eveningstar Valley and Greendale pay homage to the American west with their voxel-infused designs. Although the different themes don’t significantly impact the puzzles themselves, they do offer some bonus tasks that add to the overall experience. However, I do feel that more environmental differences between the worlds could have elevated the strategic aspect of solving each level.
Station to Station’s worlds are constructed using exquisite voxel art, reminiscent of the visuals seen in 3D Dot Game Heroes on PS3. Every aspect of the worlds, from the wildlife like birds and horses to the cities and industries, is meticulously crafted with voxelated models. The attention to detail is so captivating that it makes me long for my ashes to be scattered within the game’s virtual universe when I pass away. If only someone could figure out how to make that happen. The beautiful 3D pixelated look is present in every corner of the worlds.
The stunning voxel models alone are enough to capture one’s heart, but the lighting in Station to Station elevates the charm further. The sunlight shimmers on rivers and lakes, casting a perpetual golden hour glow throughout many of the levels. As you construct your tracks and establish connections, the landscape gradually fills with vibrant colors. Each connected industry radiates a golden ring of life, breathing vitality into the map. The bustling trains, soaring birds, and other animals create an inviting and colorful world that exists regardless of whether the player is present. I could spend hours simply exploring the map, zooming in to admire the intricate architecture of the tiny buildings or observing seagulls lazily soaring above it all. The rail management game layered on top of these tiny worlds is like the cherry on top of an already enticing sundae.
I could go on and on about the captivating visuals of Station to Station, but it’s the gameplay style that truly sets it apart. The puzzle-like stages feel like a living board game conjured by a talented magician. The concept is relatively straightforward: each level begins with a few buildings on the map, and your objective is to connect them in such a way that each resource reaches the building or city that requires it. For example, the second level in the Golden Dunes world features a paper mill, a logging camp, and water towers. The paper mill needs logs and water to produce paper, so you must link these buildings together by adding a train station to each one, then connecting the stations with railways. The city itself requires water, among other things, so running a track from the interconnected stations will deliver the vital resource. The game encourages unconventional connections through a “stacking” mechanic, adding a clever twist that pushes players to think outside the box… or rather, the boxcar.
In a nutshell, to obtain tools for your city, you need to make connections in reverse order. Tools require a tool factory, which depends on steel, which in turn requires coal and iron ore. By linking the coal and iron ore to the tool factory and the steel mill to the city, you can run a freight line to the city and witness the bonuses accumulate. Resources flow seamlessly from one step of the process to another, generating income for your coffers. Achieving the cash-based bonus goal at the end of each level feels as satisfying as hitting the jackpot in a casino and watching the chips pour out. Although it’s not necessary to optimize to this extent, it’s still enjoyable to strive for Station to Station’s financial goals.
Completing a level with a surplus of cash isn’t the only bonus objective. Each map has a Star goal, such as finishing a level with a stack worth $1200. While the main “story” took me around eight hours to complete, I’m now focused on replaying the levels more meticulously in an attempt to achieve those bonus goals. I’m not sure if there’s any special reward for completing them other than a few additional achievements, but the extra challenges provide sufficient incentive for me to revisit the levels purely for enjoyment.
Station to Station strikes an excellent balance between planning ahead and thinking on your feet. It won’t frustrate you with its difficulty, but it will keep you engaged by requiring strategic decision-making. At the start of each level, you don’t have access to all the buildings; they become unlocked only after reaching a specific monetary threshold, which varies from stage to stage. Consequently, you may find yourself planning the ideal rail line from one resource to another and back to your city, only to realize that you need to build a more expensive bridge to connect two newly unlocked map features. The game constantly challenges you to adapt and make the most of the available resources and infrastructure, making it a thoroughly satisfying experience.