Sometimes, you like a concept so much you’re willing to accept some major stumbles just to get a chance to try it out. This has been true more times than I’d like to admit in games and other areas of interest for me. I’ll stick with a show or a game longer than I know I should because I keep hoping it’ll take a turn and things will improve–root for the underdog and all that. It’s why I keep checking out new “flipper” type games. I’ve been burned before, but the idea that I could play out my house flipping dreams without having to invest in actual real estate or have any actual building skills keeps me hoping for a game that’ll finally scratch that itch. When House Flipper turned out to be a flop, I wasn’t mad. Just disappointed. Castle Flipper was a step in the right direction, if different, but it still had a lot of the same problems. But the third time’s a charm, right? Well, not if you’re checking out Train Station Renovation. And in retrospect, I am mad.
Everyone’s got expectations when they get into a game. One obvious expectation is that the devs know a thing or two about a train station–what it looks like, how it functions, etc. But we should also expect, going in, that the devs also know about games themselves. This means understanding that mechanics are important, ensuring objectives are clear, and providing gameplay that is paced well and doesn’t suffer from a swarm of immersion breaking bugs. Sadly, none of this is the case in Train Station Renovation. Instead, we’re yet again faced with extremely unrefined controls, bugs, and a general lack of attention to detail.
In Train Station Renovation, you’re tasked with, well, renovating train stations. As with past flipping games, you begin doing “simple” jobs to get some money to actually start your business going. The tutorial itself is an entire level, and a broken one at that, which I only discovered when I was about three quarters of the way finished with it and had to abandon it because I didn’t have access to the tools I was supposed to have to be able to. This could’ve been a small frustration but one of the glaring problems with Train Station Renovation lies in its pacing, so the tutorial, along with most “jobs” are interminably long, making having to abandon them extremely painful.
Train station renovation turns out to not be that different from flipping houses or castles. You’ll need to clean, take trash out, fix things, and add new things in according to the customer’s wishes. Only now, it’s a train station, so you might be fixing departure boards or setting up benches for commuters instead of painting a baby’s room.
To complete tasks you’ll need to walk slowly to wherever your objective lies (and multiple objectives light up at once, so you won’t have an easy time finding it, either) and then take out one of your tools. Sounds simple enough, until you’re forced to reckon with Train Station Renovation’s tool wheel, which is an atrocity even more egregious than ones I’ve encountered in other games in the genre. It’s at once too sensitive and not sensitive enough, and there’s way too many options in each individual section and overall. It’s clunky and hard to use, and makes things that much more tedious to complete.
Jobs are long, and each individual task has its own nightmares to uncover, like the infinitely precise “hitboxes” for cleaning graffiti or sweeping, that mean you can be stuck at 90% completed because you haven’t hit the right pixel of dirt or paint yet. This is to say nothing of the overall massiveness of each job. There are only a few objectives you must complete, so perhaps this shouldn’t matter, but when you say something like “renovation” and after you’ve completed the whole checklist there’s still graffiti all over and trash everywhere, you lose the “why” to doing any of it at all–something that comes up all the time in Train Station Renovation.
I could go on, but Train Station Renovation has me hesitant to waste more time on it. Games like this could and should be good, and it’s not worth it to play a game with a neat concept that’s taken no care to make the actual gaming experience a good one. It’s not even as if these mechanics can’t be fun in the right hands–I enjoy the relative tedium of weeding my island in Animal Crossing, tending to crops in games like Stardew Valley, or even cleaning up after messy aliens in Cosmo’s Quickstop, so I know that cleaning/designing/upkeep tasks CAN be done right.
I keep hoping to see a well thought out, mechanically sound, well paced and clean version of the flipper/renovation genre but thus far have come up empty, and yeah, I am mad about it. Train Station Renovation is destined to go nowhere, just like so many games in this genre, if it continues to fail to pay attention to gameplay loops, mechanics and pacing, and it’s a ride I wouldn’t suggest taking at present.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR
You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites on our Twitch channel.