Thomas the Tank Engine

The Video Game

LOOK OUT: Inappropriateness! Just in case a parent, child or child's guardian arrived here via search engine. Just to be safe, you know. GO HOME TO MOMMY


I have a lot of guilty pleasures. One of many would be politics. To be blunt, I don't give a hoot about how the government is run, why the paramilitaries of Northern Ireland keep arguing and blowing each other up without much progress, and what causes tax increases. Perhaps I will once I stop living in a dozy dream world of toys, video games, cartoons and talking about myself a lot, but for the time being the only politics I care about are the old ones. You know, the ones where the government were in total power and not afraid to abuse it, not caring about a little thing called "good image," allowing the big cheeses to simply strip the working man down to living in a house with six other families while they smoked relish and cocaine like castle-living kings. That's interesting politics! But if you were to actually discuss modern politics with me, I wouldn't really be able to say much more than "I don't pay much attention to it," as my experience with it mostly boils down to reading The Pain. And unless I were a candidate, why should I care about elections?


blah blah blah!!

It's one of those intros. Don't say you're unfamiliar with them. You can skip this and nothing of worth will be missed!

Another of those guilty pleasures would be educational video games. And unlike fighting games, I have no adequate reason to enjoy them. Fighting games I am positively horrendous at; I hate the ludicrous inputs necessary for a simple fireball (if the fighter's trained in the art for years why isn't it a single button hurrrrr), I'm not a big fan of how any video related to them at all has self-proclaimed experts coming in and saying they should've played better, and for me it just boils down to using the person whose normal moves work the best. But I can appreciate them for their art, their music, and their complexity.

I can't say that about edutainment.


So, Thomas the Tank Engine. I love that show. Well, loved, back when it was relatively decent and had Ringo Starr doing the narration and wasn't just a ploy to advertise toys in a way that somehow feels more blatant than Transformers. Probably because that show has explosions.

For those not in the know, Thomas and his other locomotive chums went on their own escapades, whether it was Thomas and Percy seeing a ghost train (in an episode that actually was mildly terrifying) or James being stung by bees (somehow) or Gordon being walled into a tunnel because he refused to get his paint job ruined by rain. Often times an episode would end with asking what happened afterwards, before answering "but that's a tale for another time," which meant none of them got answered. It was good, harmless fun and kept me entertained before I demanded intense action and edge-of-the-seat amusement from the television, though "harmless fun" in the sense of not scarring me for life. Political correctness got the Fat Controller renamed Sir Topham Hatt, which is understandable but just doesn't pack as much punch.


Like all good children's characters, Thomas got an edutainment title for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and through means best untold, I actually own it. I can't exactly measure how much entertainment I derived from it, but it's at least worth talking about just for the reading segments.


Once you start up the game, you have a very jolly looking Thomas rolling towards you in a demonstration of Mode7 graphics, and I always seem to recall being mildly concerned by it. Sort of like I was with the cover to Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out. The two are looking straight out, you see, so you could walk all over the room and they'd be looking at you. Same thing with Thomas here, except his eyes are thoughtfully aiming down so it's not like he's intentionally trying to run into you. Just accidentally. On purpose.

Following that, you're asked a very personal question that if asked in a wacky sitcom of a hopeless love-finder would probably get him smacked, along with some "wah, wah, waaaaah" music. But don't be fooled, it's a difficulty select! 4 or younger, as should be expected by modern stereotypes, renders the game (if it can even be called that!) one hell of a cakewalk, while 8 or older may actually slightly require a bit of very minor 0.1% brain power input to completing the challenges!

Enough about this crazy-long intro, let's get to the goddamned game.


It's one of those mini-game collections. So ahead of its time!! Yeah, time for a list-down.


Start Thomas

This gets the titular blue engine chuggin' away and automatically selecting the game he runs into, so it's not much of a game and more of the idiot's way to select things.


The Sliding Puzzle

An image from an episode of the television show is horizontally distorted, and with the accompaniment of really annoying music, you must slide them back into place! It's pretty crap.

It should also be made aware that when you complete a challenge, this very loud and very over exaggerated celebration tune plays.


Setting the Switches

Oh snap! Some fool has tampered with the tracks so they all lead in the wrong direction! Using the hand of God to correct them, you've got to take Thomas back to the train station in one piece. Not that there's anything actually threatening him, y'know.

Quite unforgivably, the Fat Controller calls Thomas a "really useful engine" when he makes it back safely, even though he's the one who needed help. What a git.


The Jigsaw Puzzle

Uh huh.


It sure is a jigsaw puzzle.

Amusingly, if you put a piece in the wrong place, it actually flashes where to you where it should go. Just in case the faded backdrop wasn't enough.


Let's race Bertie

A race with Thomas' faithful bus companion Bertie, which is not done via totally radical Mode7 shell-throwing means, but by mere button mashing. Optionally, you can toot your whistle. The game doesn't provide a terrific fanfare for the winner, merely ending with "great race [winner]" as they drive off-screen and you're booted back to the menu without fantastic visual verification of who's truly superior. You can sit still on the spot for thirty seconds and the game will still declare "nice race Bertie." Thomas apparently isn't fussy with how well his friendly competitions go.


Fixing the Tracks

It's like Setting the Switches, except SOMEONE PILFERED THE WHOLE DAMN RAILWAY. Instead of hunting down this son of a bitch and making him bite the curb, Thomas just goes about his regular duties with the omnipresent hand carving the railway for him, taking him to his destinations in the right order and returning to the station. Or that omnipresent being could be a dick and just lead him anywhere he desires. Trains with sentience are really screwed on the whole freedom concept.


Let's race Percy!

For whatever reason the game considers this more exciting than Bertie's race to deserve an exclamation mark.


Let's go with Thomas!

A funtastic reading adventure! Common in edutainment titles once the CD-ROM really got rolling and thus allowing running commentary of what was going on, this fickle SNES game had to settle with individual words being recorded and being strung together to make awkwardly pronounced sentences. This is both horribly frightening and horribly hilarious. Observe!

Just to mix things up, you can toot Thomas' whistle as much as you want, there are silly animations with silly music, and you can select any word as much as you want and hear the narrator pronounce it again and again, which, given the right sentence, could craft a brand new story!

Or not, y'know.

There's also Reading Challenge stories which, sadly, don't have voiceovers and thus require you to read yourself, but fuck that noise. There's a reason why movies are based off books.


Thomas' Quiz

You're presented with an image from one of the stories, and told to answer such blatantly obvious questions as "what colour is Bertie?" and "what is Thomas pulling?" It's all very insulting, and there's no bizarre scenario or talking robot, so there's no redeeming value here at all.


And that is the game in its entirety.

I always wanted to believe that there was a way to head down the path at the bottom left of the game selection screen, providing a slew of new "games" to try and potentially get some real worth out of it, but, well, why would I want to believe such a thing? It's not like the whole concept of the game could be taken much further, unless there was a "stop Thomas before he crashes into a wall thanks to them crazy reckless suicidal carriages" challenge.


So, what all have we learnt from the game?

Reading is great, especially when done with no regard to the natural flow of pronunciation.

Button mashing is the manly way to race.

Computer game jigsaws remove half the fun.

And God will smite anyone who is dickheaded enough to steal a train's railway. Fun times!