Railbound – Review
Follow Genre: Puzzle game
Developer: Afterburn
Publisher: Afterburn Studio
Platform: Switch, PC
Tested on: Switch

Railbound – Review

Site Score
Good: Challenging yet intuitive puzzle gameplay
Bad: Story could have been fleshed out
User Score
(1 votes)
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VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Whether it’s a hyper-realistic driving experience, a deep management sim, or even a wacky party game, trains are a very thankful subject for game developers to work with. It’s only logical that Polish indie developer Afterburn, of Inbento and Golf Peaks fame, turned to trains for their latest game, puzzle title Railbound. Given the developer’s track record and the endearing art style seen in the game’s key artwork, it definitely piqued our interest. When we were presented with the opportunity to take Railbound for a spin, we eagerly hopped aboard. Is Railbound the perfect game to blow off some steam or does the game go off the rails?


There are a handful of story elements present, but there isn’t a real narrative present in Railbound. The closest thing that you get is a series of postcards, which are gradually unlocked through level completion. These depict the game’s mascots, a pair of dog conductors, as they visit various locations. It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words and this is certainly the case here. Despite not a single word being uttered here, the postcards make the dogs feel like actual characters and even if their journey is inconsequential for the gameplay, it was still enjoyable to see their antics. Ultimately, we have mixed feelings about this: the rich world is a joy to explore, and the dog protagonists ooze character, so it feels like a missed opportunity to not flesh out things more. After all, why put in the effort of introducing us to these characters if you aren’t going to do anything substantial with them? There is a lot that could have been done here to further drive Railbound’s cozy and wholesome atmosphere home.


With its simple, cel-shaded visuals and character designs that look like they could have stepped straight out of a storybook, Railbound has a lot going for it when it comes to visual design. The game takes you on a journey across the world, from snowy mountains to a lush jungle and everything in between. There is a feeling of wholesomeness imbued in Railbound’s visuals, to the point where the vivid animations of the trains themselves make them feel like cute characters in their own right.


Accompanying Railbound’s charming and cozy visuals is a very understated ambient soundtrack that never takes center stage, but is always present. Soft piano tunes and subtle horn sounds create an idyllic set of music. The satisfying clicking sounds made by placing railtrack pieces and the sound effects coming from the trains further enhance the relaxing atmosphere that the soundscape attempts to convey.


With its very first puzzle, Railbound lulls players into a false sense of security, as it appears deceptively simple. All you need to do is connect a train wagon with a locomotive by creating a little railway line between the two. Fast forward twenty puzzles and that little railway line wants you to connect not just one, but several wagons to that locomotive, and in the right order too. With over 150 puzzles to solve in total, Railbound subverts those cutesy aesthetics and offers one of the most challenging puzzle games we’ve encountered in a long time. Fortunately, it’s also one of the best ones. The level of difficulty increases gradually and there is a hint system in place, which does help with accessibility, but Railbound is incredibly intuitive on its own. In essence, you’re simply placing track pieces and then let the locomotive take your wagons to the next level once you clear everything for departure.

Puzzles are neatly divided over eight stages, with a set of levels that you need to complete to move on to the next stage and an additional set of stages that are entirely optional. Each stage adds a new mechanic to Railbound’s core gameplay. You’ll need to guide your wagons towards a switch to open gates, for example, or visit railway stations in the right order. More often than not, getting the right solution involves trial and error, as there is only one right solution to the puzzles that Railbound serves up. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword: on the one hand, having only a single solution to a puzzle ensures that everything is concise here, but on the other hand, allowing a more creative approach would make for a more satisfying gameplay feedback loop. There were a few stages that we brute-forced our way through simply by exhausting possible combinations until we got the right one. Fortunately, those instances were few and far between, and most of the time, we got the right answer by applying logic.

The straightforward design philosophy that is applied to the puzzles is noticeable in pretty much every other aspect of the game. Railbound even eschews a main menu: upon booting the game for the first time, you’re immediately taken to the first puzzle. There is an overworld map, and from here you can navigate to the settings menu or see the game’s credits, but overall, Railbound employs a very minimalistic approach. Even so, there are a plethora of options available to tweak the game’s performance to your liking: things like a so-called focus mode, enabling or disabling the Switch’s HD Rumble Feature and even a color-blind mode are all present. The game’s simple-yet-complex mechanics translate wonderfully to the Switch too. The game can be played using the touch screen in handheld mode, but using the Joy-Cons or a controller was just as satisfying. Don’t let Railbound’s utterly charming appearance fool you though: this is a tight and streamlined puzzle title that is pretty much polished to perfection.


While we were immediately enamored by Railbound’s aesthetics, we weren’t expecting to like the game as much as we did. From the minimalistic yet accessible gameplay, the cutesy visuals, and the clever puzzle designs, Railbound is a delight to play. We would have preferred it had the game allowed for more creative puzzle-solving rather than offering just a single solution to each puzzle, but that’s the only real nitpick we have here in terms of gameplay. If there’s one other nitpick we have, then it is that the game squanders the opportunity to capitalize on its atmosphere with an engaging story, but this has more to do with the strong art direction than the necessity for one.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Railbound - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

1 Comment

  1. 3rd-strike.com | Station to Station – Review
    November 16, 2023, 00:01

    […] be facing unexpected difficulties in later levels. Overall, the game feels much closer to games like Railbound or Overcrowd than it does to Train Life or Railway Empire. That’s not to say that Station to […]

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