Crushing indie hit Choo-Choo Charles hides a lot of depth behind its comedic exterior, and even manages to improve where AAA games have previously stumbled.
The limitations of small development teams for indie games like Choo-Choo Charles can often lead to impressive innovation thanks to these limitations. What’s more, since this recent indie teaser is a solo developer’s passion project, the limitations make Choo-Choo Charles’ similarities to Final Fantasy 15 all the more incredible.
To clarify the comparison between Choo-Choo Charles and Final Fantasy 15, the main similarity should be highlighted in the way the two games allow players to travel through large, open levels. In the case of the AAA title, which has been in development for more than a decade, this takes the form of the Regalia carriage, while Two Star Games’ version relies on a previously abandoned train.
The main similarity between the Choo-Choo Charles and the Regalia upgradeable train from Final Fantasy 15 has more to do with the tracks they’re on than the vehicles themselves. In both cases, these vehicles travel on giant rails that strictly dictate where the player can travel, and more importantly, where they cannot travel at speed and safety. This then allows players to make the long journey from one end of the open-world map to the other in minutes instead of hours on foot.
However, while this transportation is much faster than walking, it is also much more limited in direction than the player character is capable of while walking. These limitations also open up both games to more interesting exploration, challenging the player to step out of the safety of their vehicles to find materials and key items to progress. That said, the freedom players have to hunt down secrets in Choo-Choo Charles is where the comparisons to Final Fantasy 15 end and where the two games’ different designs begin.
The best feature built into the train in Choo-Choo Charles isn’t the gun or the flamethrower, but the ability to jump out of the vehicle at any time and explore on foot. This is a drastic departure from how Final Fantasy 15 handles Regalia, where the royal carriage can only park in designated parking spaces. This may seem like a small difference at first given how much parking space is available, but the freedom to get out of the rig on the go without worrying about it breaking makes for a much smoother experience.
While the Regalia itself is a fascinating part of the world of Eos, and almost a character in Final Fantasy 15 in its own right, the restrictions on parking spaces can significantly hinder exploration. Sometimes getting to the location of a side quest or a secret treasure requires you to drive the Regalia to a nearby parking lot, then hop on Final Fantasy’s cuddly mascot to actually reach your destination. This type of stalled exploration often leads players to not bother to check out all the side content that fills out the rest of the open world beyond the main story.
Interestingly, this improvement from more rigid use of the Regalia to free use of the train actually makes the system simpler. Since there is no need to program parking spaces, or implement traction mechanics, or use secondary assembly to supplement transportation, development of the Choo-Choo Charles has become significantly simpler. That’s not to say that developing a full game as a solo project is easy, but by cutting out most of the traversal mechanics and simplifying the final product, the low-budget indie blockbuster manages to outperform its AAA peers in impressive fashion.
Choo-Choo Charles is now available for PC.
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