Not many games really try to include the aspect of waiting into their experience, even though it affects us all on a daily basis. Since it is a pretty universal part of life, it was a great idea of this team to produce something so original.
The Endless Express really takes you on a journey, literally. This waiting simulator has come to everyone’s attention mostly because of its very dreamy colour spectrum. The game is for free, and it is for a good reason. It’s not actually finished. Sadly the project got a little too big for the small team to handle, and so they have chosen to share what they had created. However, if you are impatient, and don’t like waiting for slightly late trains, this is certainly not a game for you.
My first impressions remained unchanged even after I had finished this very, very brief game. The colours are remarkably vibrant, and the horizons lack a lot of detail as the environment seamlessly blends into one colour, but that’s exactly what makes the game gorgeous and minimalistic. This design was all intentional. The designers have wanted to make it easier for the player to travel through each of the dream-like areas by adding a limited amount of detail, and they have done exactly that. It makes the game straightforward, even though the ending and the story are both so unclear. Of course, if you’re stubborn and curious and do for some reason choose to wander off into the void of solid colour, you will end up being magically teleported back to the train platform where you started.
To expand on that, although the environment is so minimalistic yet gorgeous, there is just so much to it. The simplistic 3D visuals with a lack of textures, and a very minute amount of shading and lighting effects, it is a nice world to explore. The night and day cycles are fairly simple in their design too when combined with similarly styled weather effects. It is a truly immersive world.
To summarise the story of the game, you are a character who simply fell asleep on a train and wakes up in a very different world and attempts to get back home. There is very little to guide this journey, but a very vague map, and a very weird train timetable. There even is a letter on the notice boards apologising to the public who had addressed numerous complaints about it, but it was the cheap college students that have done their best to make that timetable work. To make travelling easier, the timetable is provided on all platforms, though it is not always accurate.
Of course, the difficulty of reading the timetable as well as the maps has been influenced by travelling to a foreign country without knowing its language, as confirmed by Florian Veltman himself. Specifically, he mentioned that in this case, it’d be Japan as the language differs so much from English.
Besides using the timetable, there is another very important mechanic, without which the timetable would be pointless. That mechanic is a wristwatch, which originally operated in real time, but that was eventually changed when people weren’t patient enough to wait for a few minutes and were essentially forced to interact with the environment.
It is quite an intriguing game, with a very normal aspect of real life put together with something fantastical. There are weird creatures, who are presented with very strange thought processes. In a way, they look pretty exotic and are scattered around the areas. It’s a good thing since there is always some time to kill between the trains, interacting with these creatures is always a very original experience.
A variety of influences is clear when it comes to the design of the creatures within the game, some based on some Japanese folklore, and some based on real life. Florian Veltman has said that “the characters are partly inspired by Japanese Yokai”. For those who don’t know what that is, it is a very broad term that refers to monsters, spirits and demons originating from the Japanese folklore. He has also mentioned that the creatures had a whole lot of potential and were meant to be developed a lot further. We can only imagine how intriguing and creative the team would have gotten if the project hadn’t gotten out of hand.
Although, besides the impact of folklore, some references to real life can also be seen. There is an insect that resembles a firefly, except in a gigantic form, think of them as flying flashlights. Those are pretty cute in comparison to the creepy looking hooded creatures that lurk in the mists of the canal world.
In addition to the odd looking creatures, different types of transport are shown in this game too. It’s not just a train, there are cable cars, boats and even a balloon. Each of the forms of transport is made to perfectly suit the environments. The boat, for example, would take you away from a pier at which a train stops, and would take you to a gorgeous woody area with a lot of water. Whilst the balloon was in a very misty looking area that saw no end. The view from the sky was magnificent.
Though The Endless Express is a free game, there is an option to ‘choose your own price’, with which a lot of players chose to give in a variety of donations as they found the game was truly worth it besides being unfinished. I was surprised with how great it was besides it being in this state. Quite frankly, the game matches the saying of “it’s the journey that matters, not the destination”. You can try it yourself via its itch.io page.
Magdalena Kolodziej is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. Be sure to say hi on Twitter @magda_0019.