Look! A meme game! It’s not a shock that many folks have been waiting for the launch of Choo-Choo Charles after it caught a fair bit of attention online when the trailer was shown off. Then again, you try making a horror game featuring a giant spider-train hybrid and see if the internet can do anything but make it go semi-viral. Of course, none of these factors necessarily add up to it being a decent game, which is exactly why we need to take a look at this particular meme-fest a bit deeper.
What The Hell is Choo-Choo Charles?
So, what exactly is Choo-Choo Charles? Well, it’s a survival horror title that tasks you with helping a group of trapped islanders to escape their ocean-bound prison. They need the help because some sort of horrific experiment has gone on that produced a giant train-spider hybrid called Charles who keeps eating people. Oh, also, the greedy owner of the island and its resources has stopped all boats from approaching and won’t let anyone leave, because there’s nothing meme-ier than combining communist ideals and trains.
The gameplay in Choo-Choo Charles mainly consists of driving your much-smaller, non-monster train around the island, meeting people to complete missions for, and upgrading your train to become more powerful against Charles. On your own, you have no means of defense at all, relying entirely on either stealth or speed to get by. Your main method of getting around the island quickly also operates as your moving base, meaning you don’t want to get too far away from it.
Choo-Choo Charles and the Demon Train Himself
Charles roams the island searching for prey. He can find you pretty much anywhere, and if he finds you without your train, it’s almost certainly game over. That is unless you can sprint back to your train in time and hit the engine immediately. At that point, Charles will start running behind your train, and you have to use the turret on the back of your train to fight him off. You start out with a basic pea-shooter that can just about make Charles twitch, but as you gather scrap from all over the island and find new weapons, you get a pretty fearsome arsenal.
That being said, Choo-Choo Charles is extremely basic. It was developed primarily by one person, and it’s not hard to tell. The island is huge, but there are a limited number of important places for you to actually visit. It doesn’t take long to figure out pretty much everything that the game has going on and just start running on auto-pilot. You can bomb around the island in your little train, jump out at the first location you come across, grab up all the resources and speak to any quest givers, then repeat until you win. There’s only one resource type and only three things to upgrade to, so as long as you keep an eye out for supply caches as you’re exploring, you don’t need to farm for scrap for more than a little while.
Choo-Choo Charles - Missions and Storyline
The missions at least do offer some semi-interesting things to do. There’s a variety of tasks you’re asked to perform by the random survivors, from a platforming challenge to hunting down items in dangerous areas. There are even a few puzzles, though it’s a bit charitable to call them that. In most cases, you’re either told explicitly what you need to do, or it’s so obvious that it’s hard to actually get it wrong. Still, they’re a fun enough diversion from just driving your train around the island and hiding from Charles. There’s also a sort of tongue-in-cheek air to the entire storyline that sort of makes it enjoyable, even if that’s only true the first time through the game.
Speaking of storyline, it’s a pretty simple affair. There’s a business magnate who has something to do with the creation of Charles, and there’s a cult aspect too. A bunch of mask-wearing psychopaths seems to be worshiping Charles rather than running for their lives. There’s also an ancient ritual and a bunch of Charles eggs to deal with, but it’s not really heavily explored. It has the air of a story that basically exists as an excuse to have a giant train monster running around trying to kill you, so it keeps things mostly superficial. It’s a good job, too, with most of the characters and events being very “B-movie,” for want of a better term. The jank presentation and shallow but zany story end up working in the game's favor.
Choo-Choo Charles - Is it Scary?
For a horror game, Choo-Choo Charles isn’t exactly at the top end of the fear chart. Sure, some streamer or YouTuber will probably get a lot of screams out of it, but it’s mostly going to startle you more than scare you. When you’re outside of your train, you’re incredibly vulnerable, so things do start to feel tense in places. You keep looking over your shoulder and listening out for the tell tall skitter of monster-train legs, and if you don’t notice him until it’s too late, you’re sure to jump. The problem is that the deaths in the game are mostly inconsequential. Even if you get mulched by Charles, you just spring back to life in your train with a slight reduction in scraps, and you can just keep going.
To be fair, there are also some segments that involve the aforementioned human cultists. Again, when you first approach these challenges, they seem quite tense and interesting. They’re intended as stealth challenges, with little in the way of special UI elements to help you along. The issue with those ends up being that, in most cases, you’re much better off just running through all of the challenges. Just keep sprinting until you get what you need, and then sprint back out again. Even better, attract cultists to your train and mow them down with your turret instead of dealing with them like you’re supposed to.
Choo-Choo Charles - Game Length
It’s also not a dreadfully long game. Even during my first play-through, with lots of pausing to take notes, it only took me 3 hours to complete all the missions, optional and otherwise, and see the ending. There are also paint pots to collect, which was the only reason that I didn’t also get all the achievements. Those paint pots are sort of fun when you come across them, but all they do is change the color of your train, so they’re not exactly must-have items. On the one hand, the short length is disappointing, but on the other hand, it’s sort of the perfect length. It let the single developer focus enough that the game is pretty playable from a gameplay perspective, and such a simple idea would have felt overplayed in a longer game.
Honestly, the biggest attraction I can see in Choo-Choo Charles is to speedrun. Thanks to upgrading your train and the fact that stealth is basically useless, it’s actually pretty fun to just boot the game and try to get from the start to the end as quickly as possible. This was, in fact, the first thing that I thought about doing as soon as the game was over, and it was quite a lot of fun. It does completely destroy any fear of Charles, but since you spend most of the game unloading a turret into his face, fear was probably off the menu from the start in most cases.
Overall, there’s not exactly a huge, mass-market appeal behind Choo-Choo Charles. It’s more likely a light diversion for the indie-horror/meme-game crowd. Then again, it could be insanely popular and become the next FNAF, but I don’t particularly see it happening. It’s relatively well-developed and controls well. The core loop is relatively satisfying for the short length, and if you’re into speed-running games or just want an easy 100% achievements game, then you’ll probably get more joy out of it than most. To everyone else, it’s hardly going to rock the monster-train that much.
TechRaptor reviewed Choo-Choo Charles on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
- Controls pretty well for a one-man project
- Game feels almost designed for speedrunning
- Story and game don't outstay their welcome
- Not much threat from Charles or his followers
- The story is only really fun once