It has been a long road getting from there to here. It has been a long time but my time is finally near and I can feel the change in the wind right now, nothing’s in my way…actually this road is starting to feel too long… time is running out…there is way too much traffic… all the lights are red… a new business just spawned… I am out of road tiles..
Genre: Strategy, Puzzle
Developer: Dinosaur Polo Club
Publisher: Dinosaur Polo Club
Release date: 20 July, 2021
While I am still a fan of epic length RPGs and other massive time sink games sometimes I do not have time to chase save points or embark on an epic quest. That is where casual games shine for me. I originally picked up Mini Motorways because I wanted something I could use for short play sessions and I assumed I would be able to review it fairly quickly. I was correct that I was in position to review it quickly, but I am not ashamed to admit that I spent far more time playing it than I anticipated… I also went ahead and bought the predecessor Mini Metro for my phone so I can play it on the go… which I have also sunk way more time into than I am willing to admit. I think I would like it better on the PC than my phone due to my finger being less precise than a mouse pointer, so odds are one day I will pick up Mini Metro on PC too.
Mini Motorways is a casual simulation strategy game with the simple premise of getting different coloured cars from houses to businesses and back again. In theory this is simple, just connect the two with a road and sit back and watch. However, it quickly descends into chaos as more colours of businesses randomly spawn in places where you may or may not have actually wanted them to go. Typically, it is okay if you have plenty of space but as the map starts getting cramped, segregated or well-thought-out roadways became of fond memory and you must start fighting gridlock. Sometimes the game can be quite cruel too. I saw a way to fix my current traffic situation by moving some roads around and placing a roundabout, however, when I cleared the spot to drop the roundabout in, an entirely new business spawned into the spot and it was yet another different colour from the ones currently using the highway. It left me no choice but to leave it connected to the road it spawned on and route traffic to it. Unfortunately, the houses that spawned for it were almost on the exact opposite end of the map, behind a river and a mountain. So, I needed a tunnel and either a bridge or motorway to get it over the river and to where the houses were. Unfortunately, I had no tunnels left, so I had to use an existing one, which of course further increased the traffic congestion on that road. Since that road was already connected by a bridge to the area I wanted to go, I figured it would do for now. Unfortunately, it quickly became fully gridlocked and the businesses on that side of the mountain started getting angry and timing out. Due to the mountain, I could not just drop a motorway bypass, so I was pretty much out of luck until a house that was the correct colour mercifully dropped near the business and it kept it going… for about five seconds more because a business somewhere that I had not even noticed had spawned, was not connected to anything, and timed out.
There are a number of maps to choose from, and despite looking fairly similar, they do offer different challenges. There are also weekly and daily challenges that modify the rules a little by changing which upgrades you get or the likelihood of a business being upgraded. Upgrades are interesting here, every seven in-game days you get to select one out of two upgrades. It feels somewhat random which upgrades it offers and sometimes neither of them is all that useful to you right now, but a little forward thinking will help you pick out one you may want to stock up on. Road tiles are always useful, and typically come either as a large pack on their own or bundled in some quantity with an upgrade. Bridges are useful for crossing water, tunnels for going through mountains, motorways for bypassing large areas, roundabouts to reduce congestion at intersections, and traffic lights which in theory help control the flow of traffic but in practice seem to just make vehicles honk more.
Businesses come in two main types and two subtypes. The two main types are square and round. The square businesses do not really need that many houses supporting it to keep going, whereas the round ones do need more. Businesses can also spawn as a single business or a double lot business. The double lot businesses are tricky to deal with because they typically force you to desegregate your roadways due to having businesses of two different colours on the lot. Once you start mixing traffic, road congestion is sure to follow.
Putting It All Together
If you are careful and use the roundabouts, motorways and other upgrades effectively in conjunction with road placements, bypasses and being mindful of intersections in general, you will do well enough at this game. I will admit that I have not managed to beat 2000 points on every map yet, but I have managed it on a few of them. The leaderboards show people who have somehow earned massively high scores that make me feel rather insecure in my ability to logically place roadways and direct traffic. However, I do get better each time I try…at least I tell myself that, sometimes I lose quickly still. It really does come down to random chance at times how well you will do, but that is perfectly okay for this type of game. Speaking of random chance, the Daily Challenges can sometimes be quite unfair. There was a daily challenge where bridges were banned. There was a river on the map. The match started with a business spawning and a house spawning, as it always does. Then the second coloured business spawned, which is fine, but its houses were on the other side of the river. Due to it being early game, motorways had yet to be offered in the upgrades, and without bridges being available there was no way for me to connect the business to the houses. More houses spawned to mock me on the wrong side of the river. With the business going critical, the week ended, and no motorway was offered. That was game over shortly thereafter. Technically, you can cheat a bit to avoid things spawning in inopportune places by placing roads there, as the map expands over time you will eventually find yourself missing your chance.
Graphics are quite simple, and that works very well for it. Shading is used to give the illusion that you are looking at something that is not just two dimensional. Houses appear in various colours, and that is really their only distinguishable feature. Business come in the same colours as houses, but offer two shapes, round and square. Backgrounds are mostly plain with a little patches of colour that indicate forests including a few tree dots, water is simple blue sections cutting through the map, and mountains are craggily darker areas of the map. If you are colour blind, there is a mode that helps make the colours more distinguishable if the current palate is not working for you. There is also a dark mode that changes the white background black and highlights things a little differently. Personally, I usually prefer dark mode due to being easier on the eyes, although it was a hard choice here. Each of the maps had its own colour profile that was kind of lost a bit in dark mode.
The music and sound effects are also simple here. From the gentle ticking of the clock to the honking of impatient vehicles, there are plenty of ambient sounds. The sound effects help trigger you to know something has appeared or there is a week change or other things may need your attention. The pressure starts to build as the timers run out, with the sound effects getting more intense letting you know you are about to lose if you don’t do something right now.
Controls and User Interface
Another place where the game is quite well done and simple. You click and drag to place roads, you right click and drag to remove roads (or you can use a toggle if you prefer). Upgrades get clicked on and dragged to where you want to put them. There are no complicated menus to deal with and the inventory is clearly indicated at the bottom of the screen. Everything in this game can be done with just a two button mouse, although hitting the space bar to stop time and think is very handy and faster than clicking on the clock. You also have the ability to speed up time if the regular slow pace is too tedious for you. If you want the mid-to-end game to be more stressful and frantic, you can even fast forward then, although you will be at higher risk of losing if you do. There is no obvious save feature, but you can resume your current session if you need to later, however, if you start a new one rather than resuming the old one, your old save will be lost.
So, should you pick up Mini Motorways? If you played Mini Metro, it is a similar game, however different enough to make it worth playing too. If you want a nice relaxing game that you can pick up and play for a little while, then this is definitely one to consider. Deceptively simple looking, it quickly turns into a chaotic mess and somewhat stressful experience as you try your best to ensure those businesses do not fail. Oddly enough if even a single business in your city fails, the entire city shuts down, so there are no second chances… plus you have to feel sorry for all the people and other businesses who moved to your now defunct city. The fact I was willing to go out and buy Mini Metro for my phone after playing Mini Motorways for a week should prove to you just how much I enjoyed this title. It is definitely one I am going to Save.