Loco Mogul is a new casually-oriented sim game from ApeZone. Accurately described as a cross between Oasis and Railroad Tycoon, your job is to survey uncharted territory, build a railway connecting towns, then run a train from station to station, picking up and delivering shipment carts as efficiently as possible. It's an ambitious combination of genres that plays both like a strategy game and a resource management title, complete with rail-themed music and visuals.
Each stage is broken into a 100-square 10x10 grid which is, at first, hidden from view. Your first task is to survey land by clicking blocks and looking for settlements. Finding towns is a bit like playing Minesweeper, as you'll slowly uncover numbers indicating adjacent squares where the people demand rail service. Surveying costs money, however, so keep an eye on your cash and don't waste it on sightseeing.
Once you've found a few towns you can begin to lay track connecting them together. The path you carve is entirely up to you, but because the second round of each level relies on efficiency, keep things simple and build shortcuts as often as you can afford to. Each settlement must also be serviced by a station which can be placed on top of any existing piece of track.
With stations placed and the railroad connecting your settlements, its time to start the real work. Clicking "Run Train" starts the time management portion of Loco Mogul. Each station is assigned a letter as are floating shipments atop each station. If a shipment has "E" below it, for example, that cart needs to be delivered to rail station E. You earn cash for each successful delivery, so maximizing profit is a careful strategy of minimalism. Take your time, however, as the only limitation to this portion of the game is miles traveled by your train.
After the level is complete you're given the chance to visit the bank and either purchase train upgrades or buy out investors. Subsequent stages also feature obstacles like hills or trees, both of which cost money to eliminate, forcing you to re-think just how important that remote hill settlement is for your business.
Analysis: Simple, original and engaging, Loco Mogul is everything a casual game should be. It's easy to pick up and play in short spurts, but you can just as easily whittle away an entire afternoon surveying land and driving carts around the map. It's a unique experience that manages to present a good challenge without frustrating even the most casual of players.
A lot of great extras are introduced as you play Loco Mogul, such as new terrains, bridge building, and helpers who you can discover while surveying. Unfortunately most of these are dispensed early in the game, leaving little incentive to play through later levels. In the end, the game comes off feeling a bit light. Replay value is still fairly strong, however, thanks to randomly generated maps.
It's great to see a game combine so many genres into one finely-tuned product. Switching between Minesweeper, tycoon and time management styles keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and you enjoy every minute of Loco Mogul as if you were a little kid playing with a toy train.