I really dig the idea of the PICO-8: a lightweight cross-platform “fantasy console” for sharing little games programmed in LUA. I bought my own PICO-8 so I could play Celeste with a gamepad. I’ve been busy making my own game, so I haven’t really sunk my time into it, but I can see the PICO-8 already has a fairly active community of fans and developers that I look forward to joining.
PICO-8 games tend to be very small, which makes them perfect subjects for my critique while I’m crunching on other things. At the end of a particularly frustrating day, I decided to fire up Endless Train and give it a whirl.
Your purpose here is obtuse, at first. Scenery flashes past the windows until your train arrives at a station and you disembark. You stroll to the right, or maybe the left, and start to take in the sights. A cityscape stretches out forever, or a forest, a beach, mountains. You take a look at your passport; it’s been stamped just once.
You start to get bored, and turn back the way you came. The train is right where you left it—no timetable and no other passengers to guide it. You board again, riding once more past fleeting sights while handles on the ceiling sway back and forth. The carriage jolts from time to time.
You pace around. You play with the up arrow key, and suddenly you’ve grabbed a handle to hold yourself steady. It stops swaying with the rest. How cute. Who thought to code this subtle, tiny piece of polish?
The music seemed annoying at first, but you begin to find it calm and uplifting. Day collapses into night, then back again, and still you march. Your wandering is quite meaningless, but you feel a weird enjoyment from it. You check your passport. It holds a stamp for every place you’ve visited. You smile.
The game is delightfully pointless. Admittedly it plays a little too close to boredom with its simplicity, but it looks, sounds, and feels pleasant. I’m surprised with the level of polish to be found in it. You can play the virtual cartridge for free in your browser.