Version tested: Retro
Every so often an idea pops up which is both ingenious and dazzlingly simple. The concept of a romper-suited agent being pursued along a train by knife-throwing baddies with only a bizarrely shaped bird for protection might not seem all that straightforward, but after a couple of minutes it all slides amusingly into place.
Starting atop a runaway loco, the extravagantly haired hero must flee the ominous Redmen (or knock them from the express by grabbing a flapping piece of ornithology and flinging it in their direction), leap between carriages and duck beneath deadly archways. It's a scenario lifted directly from an adrenaline-pumping action flick, and doesn't disappoint in the thrills department. At the halfway mark, the game continues inside the train and forces the player to learn a whole new set of dodging skills.
The title's secret weapon is its scrupulous sense of fair play. Any time the plucky protagonist bites the rails, it's entirely down to you. There's absolutely no-one else to blame. The game pulls no cheap tricks, never cheats you and maintains a rigorously stable structure throughout. Success stems from pattern recognition, expert (but not unreasonable) timing and quick thinking. Naturally enough, repeated failures fuel a considerable amount of frustration, but this only feeds a burning desire to improve. Betterment of the self isn't just a noble venture - it ensures you'll keep playing. Perhaps indefinitely.
Colourful, chunky graphics add to the experience considerably, rendering the speeding ITA train in glorious Speccyvision; and whilst the sound is somewhat rudimentary, the low rumble of a tumbling body interacting with a section of track is still rather unsettling. Original, slightly maddening, but always absolutely charming, Stop the Express is even more exciting than hiding in the toilets from the ticket collector.
9 / 10