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Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends

Genre: Educational Developer: Malibu Int. Publisher: THQ Players: 1 Released: 1993

First things first: it is what it is. This isn’t a hidden gem. We all know a kid’s game for the Genesis is going to have limited appeal. I hesitate to really call this an educational game, as it really doesn’t teach kids any discernible science or history behind trains. It’s just a pretty bare-bones set of mini-games for the younger set. But is this just another sad, licensed cash grab or was there some thought put into this project?

The game starts out with a coloring game similar to Color a Dinosaur for the NES. You get a variety of pictures of the different trains to color in, but only a few colors to choose from. It’s about half as intriguing as Microsoft Paint, which is to say, it’s not intriguing at all. It works well enough on a technical level, and might entertain a very young child for a few minutes, but once you’re done, there’s no saving it, so what’s the point, really? Thankfully, that’s not the whole game.

Once you finish wasting time with the digital coloring book, you can view a menu and choose either to go the main game, have a race, or just explore. Exploring just lets you drive the train around the tracks with no objectives or timer, and can hardly be called a mode. In the race mode, you race against a computer controlled opponent. In easy mode, all you have to do is tap to accelerate and you’ll win. Harder modes only force you to switch lanes once or twice to avoid obstacles. Hitting balloons or mud puddles slows you down, while hitting food items gives you bonus points. I’m not sure why the power-ups are things like candy and ice cream, considering trains don’t eat, but who knows? Once you beat a few opponents, you win a gold medal and get a congratulations screen. Woop woop.

The main game takes place on a different set of tracks that cycle around to different train stops. You control one of the characters that you chose from the coloring pages and choo-choo your way around the tracks picking up different sets of cars and bringing them back to the station for Mr. Toppham Hat. It’s simple and easy to pick up for younger ones. The controls are pretty forgiving but switching lanes can sometimes be a bit unresponsive. The objectives are ridiculously easy and eventually start to repeat.

The level is very nicely designed and it’s amusing to just aimlessly wander around in circles for a bit. Unfortunately, there’s only one level, which really goes to show the cheap nature of the game. You keep getting new challenges to complete, but they always take place on the same set of tracks and it gets old really quickly. Adding in a few more levels would have given this game a bit more substance, but as it is, there’s really not much to it. And that’s the game, folks!

The graphics are quite nice. Thomas and all his pals are rendered very well, in all their uncanny-valley glory. The  music is pretty sparse (only seven tracks) but it’s suitably cheery and ambient. There’s a good bit of digitized speech, and it’s pretty hilarious. The quality is better than some Genesis games, but it’s amusing to listen to the computer voice stumbling through sentences. My GPS has a better voice module than this!

Honestly, there’s no reason for anyone over the age of six to play this game, and good luck trying to get a six-year-old to play a game that’s three times as old as they are. Even though it’s well-made, unless you’re a hardcore collector or were a big fan of Thomas as a kid, it’s not going to have much appeal. However, it’s a neat little oddity in the Genesis library and has a lot of charm.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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