capsule review

Subway Scramble

If you liked playing with toy trains as a kid (or even as an adult) and you’re looking for a fast-paced and cleverly designed action puzzle game that taps into that skill, PlayFirst’s Subway Scramble is a good match.

In Subway Scramble, you’re tasked with getting subway riders to their destinations by getting them on board subway cars and making sure the cars are routed to the right station. You control the direction of the cars, whether or not they stop at particular stations (using switch lights), and, in cases of more complex track arrangements, how the tracks are switched.

Along the way, subway riders are waiting on the platforms, three deep. Their colors are matched to the colors of their destination platform—yellow riders need to get to yellow platforms; green to green and so on. When they occupy a car, the car’s windows turn the color of the destination platform. It’s only until you unload the riders at their destination that you can accept additional riders.

In order to get the trains to their destination, you’ll need to switch tracks to let them through. Switches appear wherever tracks intersect, and can turn the tracks into closed loops, into interconnected loops, or into bypasses that will help hurry a train along.

Stop lights exist at each station, telling the train to stop here. If you have three cars filled with blue passengers, there’s no need to stop on the yellow platform, so you can switch that lamp from red to green to turn it into an express.

You’re dinged for crashes—either subway cars crashing into each other or hitting switches that are switched the wrong way. They cars will stop in place until you figure out what the problem is and fix it.

The game has a total of more than 40 levels spread out over five different worldwide locations—New York, London, Paris, Moscow, and Seoul. You can unlock new locations by playing through the game’s Around the World settings—getting subway cars to their locations in a timely and safe manner will yield tokens, which you can use to visit new locations.

Subway Scramble also features a Rush Hour gameplay mode, which is simply a “beat the clock” version of the game in which you have to get a certain number of passengers to their location within a specific period of time. Each level features new, more complex track layouts and challenges.

You can also “power up” your subway cars, making them operate quicker with an extra dose of electricity denoted by a flashing lightning symbol that appears on tracks, which you run over to get. You can grab extra points using point markers; you also get bonuses for running over rats that get on the subway tracks, too.

Subway Scramble has a suitably urban, jazzy soundtrack and a clever look-and-feel that’s modeled after real subway maps, rife with white space and sans serif fonts.

The game’s options are very minimal—only controlling sound and music volume—and it runs in full-screen mode only. It also has the unfortunate habit of resizing windows that I’ve left open in other applications when I run it.

Subway Scramble will track high scores and can track multiple players; it also does automatic saves between levels, so you can play at your convenience—even on the subway.

System requirements are fairly mild, though perhaps a bit steep for a casual game—a G4/850MHz processor or faster. It’s a PowerPC-binary only, but should run acceptably on Intel-based systems.

Available through download from Playfirst’s Web site, Subway Scramble lets you play for an hour before requiring you to register.

The bottom line

Subway Scramble offers a bit of train-routing fun mixed with the pleasure of fast-paced puzzle gaming. Make sure to check it out.

Crazy train : The Rush Hour gameplay mode in Subway Scramble is a “beat the clock” version in which you need to get passengers from Point A to Point B within a specified amount of time.
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