Sometimes a game comes by at the perfect time; a balm for an aching soul. Mini Motorways symbolises a remedy for hard times, as I continue to try and make sense of the challenges facing Australia amidst a growing health crisis. The follow-up title to Mini Metro is the gently challenging yet paradoxically serene game of traffic management, with the OG title being a veteran of the mobile game charts I’ve frequently seen yet not played. This will now be something I seek to rectify right after this review, but for now I must sing the praises of the latest effort from New Zealand developer Dinosaur Polo Club.
A game of Mini Motorways starts you in a geographically abstract location supposedly representing cities around the world such as Moscow, Los Angeles, and nine others. A coloured square and a larger square of the same colour mark the humble first nodes of your network. These coloured shapes are abstracted representations of two nodes that must be connected on a network, with the matching pairs of shapes assumedly being the home and work locations of cohorts. The game provides no clear context to the consequences of our little seedling of a logistics empire, except that we are the omniscient god that must connect the arteries of a motorway courtesy of a weekly allotment of roads.
Our small industrial civilization begins to develop on the banks of the stunning LA river
As time passes over the course of the week, which players can also toggle between paused and accelerated states, different coloured pairs of squares begin to appear. These new locations may then be connected to the existing network in a manner that conserves the limited road tiles, while also accounting for congestion and optimal routes. At the end of the week, the game gives a choice of two resource options to prepare for the following week. These always consist of at least some road tiles and a choice of congestion-busting aids such as roundabouts, traffic lights, bridges and even express motorways bypasses that provide a streamlined freeway between two distant points of the map.
Considering my frazzled lockdown state, I call this piece ‘Mind Map’
If this sounds like a lot, rest assured that this process is abstracted to such a point of absurd simplicity that it has shockingly wide audience appeal. So abstract that when I first played it, I immediately shrugged it off as a prettied-up tech demo demonstrating something as seemingly mundane as simulating procedurally-generated network nodes that need routing. But it is the most minor of details that give such a bland sales pitch the soul it needs. This is achieved courtesy of the gentle colour palettes, and entrancing soundtrack, and the satisfying bustle of little cars travelling to anonymous destinations that demand around-the-clock check-ins. As the road network grows to the point of sprawling, cars may struggle to reach their destination in a timely fashion, resulting in pins representing demand appearing above the assumed workplaces. If too many pins appear above location, a timer ticks down to indicate to the player that it’s time to crack knuckles and provide a bit of the old Ferguson congestion-busting (a joke for the Tassie readers. love a tow-truck in a gridlock).
The colour contrasts in this game are deeply satisfying
The most minor criticisms I can level at this splendid distraction regard the emotional void I’m left with when a level ends and some control quirks. Drawing roads with an Xbox One controller is unwieldy and won’t provide the same satisfaction as a precise input alternative. Although reviewed on PC, this review would wholeheartedly suggest playing this on Apple Arcade, sight unseen.
This isn’t a game with extraordinary staying power, and after you’ve had a crack at all 11 locations, there’s not an enticing enough reason to return outside of needing a peaceful shifter while playing on the loo. There are daily and weekly challenges to fill in time. Unlike the main city stages, these are not introducing new reasons to play. A draw of the stages like Manila is having to optimise for bridges over canals. Likewise, mountainous cities will require tunnels. Further, the only bittersweet satisfaction of clearing a stage with a good score is the promise of a new city unlock. This reward diminishes quickly with initial playthroughs taking roughly 3-5 hours, with Mini Motorways only promising a low-effort mental and fiscal investment from the player.
The most committed I’ll ever to be urban planning
While the colourful, simplistic visuals and abstract design may not convince some players of the immediate challenge and reward that lies underneath this simplicity, there is certainly a space in every digital library for a title such as this. There should be no implicit joy in seeing cars simulate the lifeless daily grind, and indeed I initially languished at this first impression. After some initial sound woes, I was able to finally hear the game with headphones and the experience found its soul. Mini Motorways comes alive as a complete sensory experience, tactical and bubbly against a deeply meditative soundscape. It’s best played when trying to escape the chaos of life, for when you need to manage the congestion in your brain space. One can only wonder at the hidden message Dinosaur Poly Club is leaving with us when our efforts often end in a congestion meltdown and failure.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Dinosaur Polo Club
- Dinosaur Polo Club
- PC / Apple Arcade
- July 21, 2021