At the start of the year I checked out Mini Metro. Well, we’re back at it again with Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Motorways. You like trains, right? Well… do you also love cars and traffic? Well… I don’t. Shit sucks. But that’s what this game is about! Mini Motorways is the 2021 follow-up, where you construct roadways instead of train lines.
Houses and big commercial buildings pop up around the map. Each colored house has a car that will drive off to pick someone up from a building of the same color and make a return trip. Cars will not pick up anyone else until they get dropped off. Cars will initially have an easy drive, but urban sprawl sets out over time, adding way more buildings and way more cars to the road. For whatever reason, the entire city will be shut down if too many people are waiting around at one place for too long instead of considering public transportation So, at its core, it’s like the first game where you have to make an efficient transportation system to keep people from getting mad.
However, Mini Motorways has a lot more moving parts. One part of the shift between Mini Metro and Mini Motorways is that it’s more of a game of resources. While you could line stations together freely in Mini Metro, pieces of road are an actual resource to worry about here. You’re given an allowance of road tiles every week, so you have to make efficient use of those unless you want to risk need piling up while you wait for Sunday – and this is something that will happen a lot as you reach, like, the 600s. Do simple things like use diagonal paths and connect multiple houses to the same piece of road. You know, do the government thing of cutting corners of infrastructure.
Alongside the weekly gifts of road, there’s other upgrades. There’s tunnels and bridges that let you create paths through inaccessible territories, but that’s boring. No, what’s important are the roundabouts and traffic lights. The game is a cutesy rendition of a road network, yes, but it also simulates the problems of traffic on top of that, because all those cars zipping around on those roads act like, well, actual cars. They’ll drive down whatever ideal path their GPS is probably saying, regardless of how busy that path actually is, and stuff will pile up. If your roads pile up, the commuters will pile up, and that ain’t good.
So, you not only have to create good paths, but to make sure that the paths don’t lead to congestion – but since cities are a special kind of hell, that will be inevitable. Try to segregate houses into separate areas instead of having them connect directly into a designated “main road” so that returning cars don’t block flow too much. Place traffic lights at the entrances of destinations if there’s heavy traffic in front of it or at small intersections to efficiently direct flow. If you have the space, a good roundabout at an intersection will hopefully free up traffic. In some cases, longer paths may actually be more ideal than shorter ones, if only to provide more breathing room.
Mini Metro was much more abstract in that you didn’t have to worry much about logistics, but Mini Motorways is such a closer representation of a transportation system that you pretty much have to have a city planner mindset to get through.
There’s also one more upgrade, the mighty titular motorway, which creates a distinct road that goes over most terrain and can stretch as far as possible as long as it’s not over a mountain. It’s a handy way of segregating bits of traffic, though it’s also always a risky pick as an upgrade because you get less road tiles if you pick it. The motorways also kinda have an unintended risk in that it’s kinda hard to see and edit terrain underneath them; I kinda wish that there was some kinda feature that lets you change layers to look at.
For a more general criticism, while the game is generally pretty fair, there’s a degree of luck that could create frustrating situations. This was also true for Mini Metro, but since there was less moving parts with that game, it was less noticeable. Buildings and destinations could spawn in inconvenient places, like, across a river while you have no bridges. You can hope tol get a bridge or a motorway on Sunday, but it’s possible that neither of those will show up as offerings. Upgrade problems wasn’t as much of an issue before because there were less possible upgrades on offer, but with the bigger list of tools to play with, you may just not get what you need when you need it. Wellington? That place is hell and is the last level for a reason.
(Also, quick aside, but I refuse to accept Los Angeles as the easiest level. That’s a lie. LA was hell on the very few occasions I was there.)
Overall though? I hate traffic in real life, but it adds a nice layer of depth to Mini Motorways that definitely takes it above its predecessor for me. Besides giving a realistic challenge to it… there’s something visually nice about seeing a traffic pile-up thin out when you successfully redirect it. It feels good.
And I really do like the visuals. While the general art style still sticks toward minimalism, the added details of different colored cars bustling all over the place creates a better sense of liveliness than Mini Metro did. The city maps are also partially differentiated by different map colors, though I mainly missed out on that since I preferred playing in Night Mode because of my schedule.
On the topic of visuals, the game also has a color-blind mode, because differentiating between the colors is Kinda Important in this game. I can’t say how effective it is myself, but I think it’s a good and important addition to this game.
Mini Motorways also offers challenges if you do good enough in a level or if you’re doing a daily/weekly. The challenges adds some difficulty modifier, like making it so that straight roads take up double the tiles, forcing you to make some zig-zaggy roads, or making the background tree details indestructible objects to force you to build around them. Though, there’s also some more fun modifiers that work in your favor, like doubling the amount of upgrades you get every week. I think these modifiers change the game enough to make it more engaging, and it personally makes the daily something I’m more likely to engage with.
Mini Motorways was one of the first games that I played this year. Had I played it last year, I would honestly consider it one of my games of that year, because I’ve just been on a tear with it. I’m hardly an expert – in fact, I’m kinda cringing at obvious mistakes I made in some of my screenshots – but it’s one of those games that’s easy enough to get into that it invites mastery.