Bottom Line: A solid puzzler with a lot of depth (and two free trial versions) if you've got a train fan in your house. Also, my son on the spectrum was fixated with it for quite a while so special needs parents should take a look.
In Puffer's Train Challenge, children solve train-track puzzles in order to complete tracks to get their train from point A to point B.
There are two game modes. In Zen Mode the player has to complete each track in as few moves as possible with a reward of 1-3 stars for each screen based on how quickly it was completed. In Star Mode, the player must complete each puzzle in less than a given maximum number of moves. There are some basic visual instructions screens included, but they don't really explain how to play or the game modes very well. Definitely start with Zen mode first as Star Mode is much more difficult.
The gameplay is trickier than it sounds as each movement of each piece of track left, right, up or down, regardless of how many spaces, counts as one move. Move the track two left and four down, that's two moves, and the track pieces can only move in those directions, not diagonally or any other way. Also, tracks cannot be moved over other tracks.
When each puzzle is complete there is a short animation with a train going across the completed track and the player proceeds to the next level. There are 69 levels in all, which is great depth for a 99-cent app.
Putting the tracks together gets more and more difficult and obstacles like mountains and rivers must be built around, tunneled through (via dynamite) or bridged over. There are also cows that must be bumped off the track!
Players must complete tasks such as racing Casey Jones and completing levels with all three stars to unlock more levels. The developer has worked a lot of details into what is a fairly simply game including the images, names and locations of a number of real railroad tracks. The app is also Game Center connected and has a forum: www.shellydata.com/puffertrainforum.
I like Puffer and think older kids or adults that are fans of trains will definitely enjoy it, but I'm not sure the app will appeal to a larger audience. It takes a lot of more or less monotonous work to get through the levels...not unlike, I suppose, building a real railroad. The energy (music, sounds, etc.) that is there is good, but it just repeats the same every level.
I tested it with Ethan (7) he was interested, but got tired of dragging and dropping fairly quickly in Zen Mode and struggled with Star Mode after a few levels. Ryan (10, ASD) was far more interested. Often, there is something entrancing for a child with autism to create order from chaos.
Like my two kids, I think this is the kind of app that some kids will love and some will play for just a few minutes before losing interest. Definitely take a look as there are two free versions (including a holiday one) to try before you buy.
If you would like to purchase Puffer's Train Challenge please support Smart Apps for Kids by using the links provided. The cost is the same but Smart Apps gets a small percentage. Thanks for your support!
This review was written by Ron Engel, who knows a lot of people are obsessed with trains because of the move The Station Agent. Shelly Data Doodles is an advertiser at smartappsforkids.com.