I never understood trainspotting. I know it was a hugely popular past time for children in the first half of the 20th century but to me driving a train would always be more fun that sticking a number in a book. So that’s what I did, not with a train set though; I used my computer.
Many happy hours were spent playing Southern Belle on the Spectrum, a personal favourite was to try the London to Brighton speed runs. If you turned the realism down to the lowest setting so speed limits were ignored then it was perfectly possible to scream through the second the last station, jam on the emergency brakes and stop inches from the buffers in Brighton….although it usually resulted in a horrific accident.
This was the extent of my train driving career until I discovered the Densha de Go! games from Taito. These Japanese only releases are the polar opposite of my Southern Belle experiences as they make you do things right – not just right but damn near perfect; very much imitating the way real trains are run in Japan.
“Wait” I hear you cry, how can a train driving game possibly be fun? Well dear reader, it’s a very good question and to be honest I can’t really explain it. There is something about having to drive to an exact timetable whilst being really precise that reminds me of playing a schmup. You have to be perfect, if you are not you will fail. Anyone who has played Ikaruga or Radient Silvergun will know exactly what I mean.
Since 1997, Densha de Go! has been released across a huge range of platforms since the original launch on the PS1. It’s possible to play versions of the game on the N64, Neogeo Pocket, Wonderswan and PSP as well as nearly all of the PlayStation consoles. Oh and did I also mention that there were also Densha de Go! arcade games in Japan? Not something you are going to see at the end of the pier in the U.K.
For the ultimate is geekiness you can buy a dedicated controller which replicates the real train driving experience. These controllers can also command a high premium, the PS2 Shinkansen version being the ultimate version as it incorporated digital speed displays, foot-peddles and pretty accurately layout that mimics the real thing.
Unsurprisingly Densha de Go! was vastly popular in Japan and still is to this day. Even though it hasn’t really had a great deal love from Square Enix (who acquired Taito in 2010) in recent years it still commands some shockingly high prices. The spin-off Railfan series even more so, the prices on some of those games is genuinely shocking. Go have a look if you don’t believe me.
The good news for fans of the series is that to celebrate the 20th anniversary new games were released on iOS, though sadly they are only on the Japanese App Store. There is also a brand new arcade game which has to be seen to be believed, a three screen monster which incorporates touch screens along with chunky mechanical controls.
I mentioned the Railfan games earlier, they were from the same developer as Densha de Go! but differed greatly in how they presented the game to the player. Where Densha de Go! used highly detailed computer generated graphics, Railfan went down a much more visually realistic route and used actual footage filmed from the front on a train. This made these games look amazing, especially the Taiwan High Speed Rail game which was the only game of the entire Densha de Go! / Railfan series to have been released in English outside Japan. The sense of speed is genuinely impressive, especially when you barrel through tunnels at close to 300 km/h.
So are these games are worth picking up? If you want to try something a bit different then yes.. All but one release are Japanese only but it is not that hard to pickup what you need to do but beware of the high prices of the later games. The first two games on the PS1 are probably the best bet as they can be found for typically £10 or under in the usual places online.
Now, if you excuse me I have a departure from Taipei in a few minutes and I can’t be late.