Germany can be a strange place sometimes. A country where the police arrest you for crossing an empty street, where bacon only seems to come in the streaky (read: rubbish) variety, and the populace take their water fizzy over still, there may not be that much distance between us, but it can feel like a world away at times. After all, only in Germany could something like the Wuppertal Suspension Railway exist (even if it does technically have its origins over here). After all, when faced with building a railway through a city, where else would someone decide it'd be great to have your trains dangling from the track rather than driving on top of it?
Innovative, and more than a little bit terrifying to watch, yet alone ride, the Wuppertal Suspension Railway is a kind of inverted monorail that runs through the city of Wuppertal in north west Germany (here's a link to the official site, if you're interested). Originally opened in 1901, the railway is still going strong today, carrying some 82,000 passengers a year through the city - and this Wii U simulation lets you get behind the controls of the tram itself.
Easily one of the most unusual Wii U games available for download, Suspension Railroad Simulator kind of drops you in at the deep end. Starting you in an office, where the things around you let you set up your game (flip over the calendar to change the month, check the filing cabinet for your save games, and, er, open the coffee pot to turn missions on or off), there's nary a tutorial or a hint of where you need to go, and what you should do next. In fact, perhaps disappointingly, there's no information or footage of the railway in real life, should you not be familiar with the route. Luckily, though, the manual is pretty comprehensive, and covers all the bases you need to get going - and everything else you need, you can pick up as you go along through observation alone.
Once you've managed to find your way out of the office, you'll be plonked behind the controls of your very own train. An overlay pops up in an attempt to tell you what does what out of the controls ahead of you, but helpfully, most of the labels have been cut off, so all you have is a load of arrows, and nothing telling you what things do. Another weird thing is that there's nothing in the way of in game help that pops up - if you sit there at a green light, nothing will prompt you that you need to do this or that to start driving - instead, it'll just assume you've decided you need a time out.
Luckily, making the train move isn't all that tricky once you've got the know how. After pressing X to start your engine (or flipping the red switch), you push the right stick forwards to release the brake, and the left stick forwards to give it some power. Et voila (or should that be "und") - you're off, through the glamorous city of Wuppertal.
Well, we say glamorous, perhaps "desolate" or "apocalyptic" would be more appropriate. Having never been there in life, we can't comment about how accurate the portrayal is here, but like the Stepford wives, there's something not quite right about Wuppertal. Despite driving above the roads, you'll never see another car, yet alone another human being wandering the streets, while the city itself seems to be surrounded either by random crops of trees, or blissful nothingness. And when you pull into a station, the mystery gets deeper. Caught in a time warp of its own, Wuppertal is a land where fashion is limited to a few changes of t-shirt, almost everyone is an identical twin or triplet, and where seemingly heelies are still in fashion.
Played from a first person view, you have a few different options for how to best take control of, and admire your train. When you're stationary, pressing B will let you walk down the interior of your train, which can be useful for opening doors when they jam, but sadly you don't get to check anyone's tickets, or really do anything of use. Pressing L will give you a chase cam view of your train, soaring through the sky above the narrow streets of Wuppertal, while clicking the right stick while you're inside will activate the free look mode, which lets you interact with the controls by poking them on the touch screen, but stops you interacting with them with the buttons. Which can be a bit awkward when you come into a station, only to wonder why your train isn't stopping, despite your wrestling with the R stick.
And it's fun enough, for a while. It's interesting to see where the Wuppertal route goes, and driving the train is a challenge in itself to begin with (especially stopping in the right places), but there's not really very much to do beyond that. It seems a bit strange, for example, that you're not actually following a time-table - nothing pops up telling you how many seconds you've got to get to the next stop, and you aren't penalised for being "late", or causing delays by just sitting around admiring the view, which would add a lot more depth. In fact, it can feel quite unfair at times - while you will get told off by "control" if you run a red light, or fail to slow down through a maintenance zone, you'll see other (computer controlled) trains blitzing straight through stations without even bothering to slow down, yet alone let their passengers off, without even the slightest of warnings.
Still - there is fun to be had here, mostly from driving like a complete twat. With full controls over the doors and controls of the train, you can make things rather awkward for the poor old (lazy) citizens of Wuppertal. We're not sure what it is, but along with making everyone look eerily similar, something in the water seems to make the people here move incredibly slowly. Turn up at the station, open the doors, and the folks will spend a good few seconds just standing there and staring at you slack jawed before they decide to move. And while shutting the doors on people as punishment for making you wait is fun, slamming them shut in their face is even better. Sometimes family groups will have multi-second gaps in between them even thinking about boarding, yet alone getting on the train - and so endless fun can be had by being an awkward cuss. Pull in, let the people off, wait for people to think about boarding, and wait, and wait, and wait - oh, they're coming, quick, shut the doors and foot down. Soz guys.
Overall, it's hard to really know what to give Suspension Railroad Simulator. It's a game that certainly has its problems, especially in the visual department, with buildings sometimes randomly partially disappearing - or appearing as you turn a corner - and there isn't exactly much in the way of depth. But, at £5.99, it's a fairly budget price tag to carry, and for less than the price of a family day ticket, you can take control of the suspension railway for yourself. If you can put up with the dodgy graphics, this could be worth the entry fee for the novelty value alone.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U