Hello Island Guests, I played another Pokémon Fan game! A Detective one at that! Based on the Hercule Poirot Novel, Murder on the Orient Express I shall have to investigate some thievery shennanigans on my way too of from Goldenrod city! I can’t completely tell which one.. but in this one hour romp I can most certainly tell you I will be investigating a “Theft on the Magnet Train Express”
Going for Gold
Theft on the Magnet Train express is a fun fan rom game that is set in the world of Pokémon Gold and Silver. Using Gen 5 Battle mechanics.. but deliciously old school 8 bit graphics we immediately get something that distinguishes itself from all the other fan games. For the vast majority of fan games and rom hacks out there all use the gameboy advance (Gen III) tilesets and sprite work. So from the get go we get a very unique game. This comes with it’s own strengths.. such as having a great atmosphere, the excitement to see sprites of Generation newer generations get a downgrade to 8 bit and the delightful nostalgia factor. There really are very few games feeling this unique when it comes to the rom hacking scene.It does come with some flaws as well though. This is arguably a non issue for those who do not dabble in Pokémon fangames on a regular basis.. but among all fan games there usually is a consensus on how these games are controlled. z,x and c are your main keys to operate menus and save while a or s activates sprint and either the f-keys or the keys surrounding s are used for registered items.
Theft on the Magnet Train express uses x to cancel actions but spacebar and enter as confirmation buttons. This is quite annoying. It’s very manageable but it feels very unnatural for me. There is this muscle memory and during that entire hour of playing this game it never really grew on me. I managed to pull it off but it never felt as comfortable as z , x , c. Now I could try again for the multiple endings this game has.. as it has 3 of them but this branching path does not come into play until the very last moments, almost making it more feel like an Endscreen difference than a different route. Which isn’t bad ..but it makes back to back replayability low. I will go back to experience the other two endings and find the hidden Pokémon.. I just won’t go back right now.. or anywhere this week! It’s one of those “I have an hour to spare.. let’s give that another shot type of deals’.So while I do commend them for choosing the harder and untrodden path you can sense and feel that the lack of proper assets kind of played a factor into making this game. Going for Gold .. made it a title only worth the silver.
Inspector Pinkie on the Case
In this game you play a woman named Ellen. After a blackout occurs in the magnet train from Goldenrod to Saffron city…. or the other way… Ellen goes out to investigate what is wrong and stumbles upon the best detective in the Pokémon world.. Looker! I love him and his theme has been given a 8bit rendition which made me squee with joy! There is a lot of love for the franchise in here and it shows in the tiny details. He challenges you for a Battle and I discover I have a Shiny Vulpix on my team. I beat the lookers Croagunk.. which I love because it is his signature Pokémon, and he names his deputy researching the strange events on the train. I will have to make way through the dangerous carriages of the train that are invested with trainers , Pokémon and even Team Rockett to solve a mysterious theft.. of something worth over 4 million Poké-Dollar.
Much more than just Pokémon battling you are engaged with solving this mystery! You do this by finding a certain number of items in each carriage.. Looker is such a good detective he exactly can expect how much evidence you can find in each carriage furthering your case. Some people want to battle you and with 30 ultra balls on you.. you also have a chance to start catching your own squad of Pokémon to assist your Vulpix. Some follow the wild grass mechanics but for the special ones.. you will have to go through some effort. What makes this game shine so much is that the story is not told through you to the things you need to do.. but through the things you CAN do. The Evidence you find will not cue the player in on what’s going on.. it all seems random.. but then if you check that other bookcase and find some exposition you suddenly start to piece stuff together. Depending on how well you piece things together you may get an ending for better or worse!
Inspector Pinkie is on the Clock!
Because of how the game is structured it let’s YOU do the work. It drops hints on what is going on, or where to go next but it never holds your hand. That one character that mentioned an item may become relevant three carriages later and you have to go back.. but where was he or she?! The game doesn’t tell you… it just whispers to you.. did you not talk to a person mentioning said item earlier?! The same style is chosen for the battles. Every Pokémon hits hard! You have a Vulpix so it’s defensive stats are not high even though it levels all wild Pokémon by level 10. It brings this new level of strategy to the table, you can easily knock out wild pokémon but trainers can easily knock you out as well. Even the wild Pokémon can! So you are going to have to strategize. Use Will o Wisp to burn and weaken physical attackers, yse Payback when you are being outsped.. go for high damage with flamethrower. You have a lot of options.. but you will also need them. You will need to work for your success.
The game never gets insanely hard but you are not used to having a pokemon with 0 IV and EV investments at level 35.. so the game feels weird. You need to work for success. From beginning to end you need to keep your head screwed on straight. There aren’t a bunch of healing items you can buy.. you are stuck on a train you will have to do with whatever you find. Burn your resources too much and you might get a bad end. I ended up catching a Sneasel for my team which I named Tracy and a Skiploom which I named Nancy.. which later evolved into Jumpluff. Tracy would use Hone claws to boosts it’s attacks and use Beat Down to strike down hard while Nancy would use sleep powder, mega drain and leech seed to stall my opponents to their doom! Vulpix would inflict burns and deal big damage with Flamethrower and Extra Sensory! I also had a Lickitung named Sherlick but he was just there to power up Tracy’s beatdown! I would have loved to use him.. but I could not make him useful enough other than giving me more leech seed stalls and bigger Beat Downs! All of it felt more “designed” and “clever” than my average Pokemon teams! So I like that here you really have to put in work.
Riding the Rails
While I do not mind putting in the work .. the game at times can feel a bit to chore like. That is mostly due to it being set in a train. You find enough evidence to unlock the next set of carriages go back.. talk to Looker.. and now you can access the next part. There is a road block so you need to go back.. grab an item.. make progress again, find the evidence, go back to Looker and so forth. It is all due to the fact that you are only on a train. It makes for a great setting for a mystery but too many of your events are contained in these new rooms. I would have loved it if old rooms now would trigger new events as well.. maybe there is something going on in the engine room, perhaps some earlier passengers are getting rowdy and you have to pacify them with a battle. Give us a reason to go back to these locations other than to just fetch an item. Looker is doing his own investigation while you do yours, have him get into trouble, have him instigate an event instead of you it would help the world feel more alive. Other Pokémon games do this as well. In fact even in Gold and Silver .. other characters than you “further’ the plot and you stumble upon it. This game lacks that element and as a result.. it feels a bit “colour by numbers”.
The mystery is also not THAT nicely paced. About during the middle part of the adventure you will have all the clues you need to figure out what is actually going on and while that might actually be by design I think it could have been paced a bit better. Let that one bookcase stand in a carriage near the end not near the middle. Maybe I am too trained into these type of stories that I figured out what was going on..but I think most of you would get it right away as well. A good thing about that though is how it is all very much discoverable with in game resources.. you do not need to know lore about Carkoal or about the Magnet train from Gold to understand what is happening here. It is a satisfying plot that does feel like it can be lifted from an actual Pokemon game.. thus not being overly dark.. it feels like it can be a part of the world. Some fun characters are created both in the present and the past of Pokémon so while the ride is very enjoyable it arrives at the second to last station early. Being early can be amazing..but since it’s not the station you need to disembark from you don’t get the benefits.. you know the train will just sit there and wait arriving at the end as scheduled. You can appreciate the environment a bit more.. but in the end it’s a bit of a moot advantage.
The Usual Suspects
To properly find out how this Pokémon detective game did we need to check how it functioned as a Pokémon Game, as a Mystery and as a game in general. Let’s start with the latter because that is where it scores the highest. For the hour that this game is long it is nice to see a non- hand holding game that lets you explore some rooms, uncover evidence but also sleuth for the REAL story yourself.. as you will notice inconsistencies. I really love that part of this fan game and I think this is my favourite short fan game all together. As a Pokémon game however this game falls short. It is great that they use the gen II tileset but Pokémon it plays into my nostalgia so hard and the music in 8 bit is FANTASTIC! I LOVED LOVED LOVED.. that.. yet it also comes with some hefty downsides. The Pokémon count is REALLY low! They had to make a lot of old looking sprites and while they do look amazing I would have wished for at least a few more.. Pokémon in it’s very concept is something of abundance… and while I do get that what I want makes no sense on a train I just don’t think the setting and core concept are that great of partners.
As a mystery it offers a very satisfying story and the way the mystery unfolds before you , I have rarely seen done better. Usually we all get all the important clues highlighted and here the important stuff is in the subtext! I adore that! We are just given a bit too much stuff to uncover that subtext. Some dialogue is a bit to on the nose. There are several characters that are aware of a situation that really tell you how everything works. It would have been more satisfying to encounter them closer to the end.. or have them experience the same confusion everyone in the train is experiencing.. enough to make you feel “hey something isn’t right here.. we got two conflicting stories here” At least it made me feel SUPER DUPER smart for figuring it out so fast! So that is nice.. but I loved this little romp so much that I wished I ended up just a bit more surprised.. and that’s what makes me grade this game with a medium high score. It is still one of the better short games out there.. when it comes to Pokémon.. yet it also misses some crucial elements.. it hyped itself up in the beginning.. just to let it weaken in the mid-section! it is passable by all accounts.. and it looked like it was going to knock it out of the park.. but the landing rough! I would love to see them tackle another short detective game in the same vein in a bit more open setting. That way it is easier to miss clues, put in more pokemon and get that extra diversity! A nice demo for a hopefully bright future! Please make another Looker game soon guys!