Mini Motorways PC Review – The Way We (Stop Traffic) Jam
Traffic jams. No one likes it. But what if you have the power to improve traffic flow that no existing public works department can have access to?
Mini Motorways is the follow-up to Dinosaur Polo Club’s puzzler Mini Metro. Instead of building an ever-changing network of subway lines, you build a network of roads for a city instead.
Mini Motorways has been out on Apple devices via Apple Arcade but now it is coming to more platforms.
For those that missed out on the original release, or was waiting for the PC and Switch release: good news. Mini Motorways is just as excellent as you would expect.
A lot of Mini Motorways is inspired by Mini Metro, and this holds true to its presentation style. It is extremely minimalist, or in modern parlance: very clean.
Instead of looking like subway maps, the interface is now more influenced by, appropriately enough, Apple Maps. The default map themes have bright contrast between the roads and background colour. The buttons and a few other elements of the interface squish and skeuomorph in a satisfying way like it’s an app. It’s so satisfying to see and to click buttons.
There is a night mode for those that prefer darker colours, or turn the map to look like a map app.
The roads tangle and intersect nicely. Though it only looks the nicest when you strictly use 45 or 90 degree turns. Curvier roads can look a bit wonky.
The soundtrack is not something I consider musical, but just like Mini Metro it’s more of an ambience to set the mood. The underlying soundtrack is subtle, but the beeps and bops of you drawing roads as well as the engine brrs and honking horns from cars give the dynamic music more colour and texture as each game progresses.
It’s not something I listen to on its own, but as part of the experience, the droning sounds do become soothing and relaxing. Until you messed up and it’s honking time all day every day forming a cacophony of distress. Either way, the dynamic soundtrack complements the game exceptionally well.
Mini Motorways is essentially Mini Metro but cars. But here’s a quick overview of what you do in this puzzler.
You have cars from houses that want to drive to a building, to and fro. And they are colour-coded, red houses only go to red buildings, for example. Once arrived, the cars then head back home.
Connect roads from houses to buildings is your job. And you better make sure the cars reach their destination buildings in time. If you start developing a backlog of cars not arriving on time, a timer kicks in and that’s game over when it runs out. But should more cars arrive at the destination, it will extend the ticking timer, and will eventually go away once you can get a steady flow of cars to the building again.
There is also an abstracted portrayal of time. Survive at the end of the week and you get to pick a random choice of upgrades you can use to make the city roads better. And every week, connecting the city’s new houses and buildings will only get ever harder.
The concept of Mini Motorways may be familiar but the task of connecting the dots is a bit different, mechanics-wise. Instead of having an infinite length of railways to connect your stations like in Mini Metro, in Mini Motorways you draw roads on the map, and you have a finite number of tiles to work with.
Roads are resources you need to manage similar to the many upgrades you can put in the city like traffic lights, bridges, tunnels and the namesake motorways (or highways for those like us that use British nomenclature). There are also roundabouts, new with the PC release, and will be available on all other platforms as well in a free update.
Different maps provide different themes and challenges. One map may just have you build roads for a mountainside town and making use of tunnels. There are maps with plenty of rivers you need to take account of. To list a few.
Knowing which upgrade to prioritise is crucial. You don’t want to not have a spare bridge in your pocket when building in a riverside city. The map slowly expands to reveal more tiles that houses and buildings can spawn. Including the other side of the river. Which would be a problem when you don’t have a spare bridge. And even more so when you can’t afford to take back an existing bridge that you’ve plopped on the map. And if the end of the week doesn’t offer you bridges, then that’s that game done.
Unlike the actual public works department, you have the ability to cleanly remove and move roads to new locations at your beck and call. Including motorways. See a building with a backlog of cars not arriving? Move a motorway so more cars of that building colour can get a direct path. Then move the exit to another building that requires the same attention. So long as no cars are on the road and not pathed to use them, you can delete and place them elsewhere.
You have no control of where new buildings and homes will spawn over time (sort of, more on that later), but you can rotate the houses in place to get them to connect to your road network.
Mini Motorways isn’t a proper sim game – the RNG always take away full control on how you want to build the road network. That said, there are elements where actual knowledge of how to manage traffic flow do apply. The hours I spent in Mini Motorways lead me to discover that the concept of road hierarchy definitely helps in improving traffic flow. Like ensuring your main arterial roads are not directly connected to houses.
As for the houses, forming a cul-de-sac work so, so well in the long run. It may be a bane for public transport enthusiasts, but planning cities like it’s the USA where cars reign supreme does work wonders in this game.
You can also emulate actual horrible roads and see how bad it is in practice in the game. What do you know, it really is a bad idea of putting consecutive junctions with traffic lights so close to each other. And having only one artery road that all cars have to go to get across most of the town is definitely a traffic jam in the making.
Unlike Mini Metro, you can slightly game the system so that the buildings spawns are somewhat in your favour. Just lay down empty roads and bridges/tunnels ahead of time. They still can spawn at weird spots, but at least you can exercise some control in where you can let the buildings spawn.
Once you get the hang of it, you will start to figure out and formulate sound and consistent strategies to optimise traffic flow. The traffic AI is very predictable, which you can utilise to your advantage. As such, when judging it as a puzzle game, Mini Motorways is good.
Mini Motorways is relaxing as it is tense, and each game transitions between the two extremes exponentially. The first few minutes (week 1 and 2) are calming, slow and can put you to sleep with the sweet lullabies of its soundtrack. You will be asking when will the game is gonna hit the gas.
By week 9 or 10, the game ramps up into top gear. Houses and buildings can’t stop spawning. You will likely not have enough road tiles. Cars are honking non-stop and there are many houses and buildings blinking for your attention (and some that don’t and appeared without you realising).
You never realise when the game is hitting top speed, and now you realise there are no brake pedals when the game pace hits the gas. You just cannot keep up. The sound effects and music ramp up in franticness and all you can do to salvage your inevitable traffic mess is to give up.
And then start all over again.
Mini Motorways has 11 maps, 2 new ones for the PC release (Dubai and Mexico City, coming also to all platforms for free) all based on real locations (but not to scale).
Like its predecessor, Mini Motorways does a great job in representing the various continents of the world. We have world-famous cities like Los Angeles and Tokyo, and then we have more niche but refreshing picks like Dar Es Salaam (the business capital of Tanzania) and Manilla, Philippines.
A game of Mini Motorways, as it is right now, is always a finite session, which makes it an easy to pick up game. Fittingly enough, it’s a game that you would totally have time to play a full session of when you’re in a backseat of a car stuck in a traffic jam.
Outside of improving your high scores, there’s also daily and weekly challenges. You still play the same pool of maps, but they have different challenges that differ from the default version. There’s a global leaderboard for the dailies and weeklies too to see how you stack up against other players.
Mini Motorways’ PC and Switch release comes with the addition of roundabouts (which is also available on Apple devices via a free update) as well as said new maps.
There’s also a built-in gif maker that records the cars as they drive to the city. The gifs are mesmerising captures of a city in motion, which look really darn neat. You should have seen some in this review right here.
There’s definitely room for more content. Many of the modes added in Mini Metro post-launch like Endless Mode or a Map Editor isn’t here. But hey, at least for now you can map hypnotising gifs of cars driving in the city.
I am a huge fan of Mini Metro, way back before it was available as a commercial product and was just a demo of sorts. It’s really cool to see them continue to keep making cool puzzlers like this.
I love/hate Mini Motorways just as much as I did with Mini Metro. The random spawns infuriate me greatly at many times, but when things go right and I figure out a good solution it’s such an immense feeling of satisfaction as a result.
You have no idea how many times I see a random building spawn in an awful location, so awful it requires a major rework of the road network to avoid it being a potential traffic mess. But you can argue that’s the appeal of having it random- making sure you think on your feet and adapt.
It’s the push and pull of these two extreme feelings that keep me coming back. And I’m happy to report that Mini Motorways does exactly the same.
If a nitpick is to be had, is that I find it hard to spend a long continuous session in one sitting. It’s the case of a new game will start back at snail speed. After the adrenaline rush of the previous game at its chaotic peak, starting another fresh game is momentum-killing. And maybe it’s by design- I do keep coming back to start new games but with breaks between each playthrough instead.
And also, Mini Motorways provided a very gentle and welcoming onboarding process. During the tutorial, each mechanic of the game is introduced with ample time for players to get a grasp of it.
Even the accessibility options are also introduced this way. At the very moment where the tutorial starts to add more than two colours for players to distinguish, the game asks if you need colourblind options. That’s an excellent touch and I have a feeling folks that require accessibility options like that will greatly appreciate it.
Mini Motorways is a deceptively simple puzzler. Its clean looks and very thoughtful onboarding tutorial will get you hooked. But there are moments where you will hate the RNG not being in your favour.
However, there is fundamentally a sound logic that it operates in which you can figure out how to make an efficient road network. The reward for sorting out traffic jams is a mesmerising display of dazzling moving dots in sync under the symphony of various beeps and bops. As satisfying of a reward as any good puzzler should have.
Mini Motorways’ simple premise is executed almost perfectly. You might not sink in hours upon hours in one sitting, but it’s the game you will gladly boot up again over and over.
Review based on PC version. Review copy provided by the publisher