Justin Towell casts his eye over Dinosaur Polo Club’s Nintendo Switch port of road building strategy game Mini Motorways.
If you’ve ever sat in a traffic jam, certain you could have done a better job of designing the traffic system, here’s your chance. All you have to do is connect coloured buildings to their corresponding destinations by laying roads, traffic lights and roundabouts.
You get more road segments every week (which is a few minutes in reality), along with some special tiles like bridges, tunnels, or motorways. But, of course, what starts off as very simple soon becomes stressful as your initially solid infrastructure buckles under the strain of countless tiny cars.
You play by holding A and moving the cursor to lay road, or hold B and do the same to delete it. There are three game speeds from static to fast, so at any time you can intentionally freeze the action and redraw every road if you see fit, though you will need to wait for any car to finish its journey before deleted tiles become available again.
You can also move entire motorways in an instant, though it’s not the sort of game where you move a motorway to one location for a few seconds and then somewhere else. It’s about coherent structure and it’s very satisfying when everything’s running smoothly and you can take a breather for a moment.
The Switch’s touch screen is available to use if you prefer, but neither interface feels as easy to work as it should. The analogue stick also feels clumsy and there’s no option to use the d-pad buttons, either, which is a pity because it really needs digital input. Touch controls get fiddly especially as the ever-zooming out camera makes everything smaller the longer you survive.
The game also sometimes seems to glitch and switch the controls to ‘toggle’ while playing with the buttons with no way to untoggle it, until you tap the screen which somehow fixes it. All these control issues are the greatest barrier to enjoyment, without question.
Structure-wise, it’s a neat and tidy game. After a clear tutorial, you simply progress through various world cities, hitting a set score to move on, and unlocking extra challenges for a city if you score 1,000+ journeys in its main game.
There’s also a daily and a weekly challenge map to try, as long as you’re connected to the internet – and some people are posting mega scores, so there’s definitely longevity if you want to get good enough to join them.
While some maps have more water or mountains than others and the bonus challenges can vary the special components you get, the game is essentially just one experience over and over again. It is, however, a very addictive one, and it’s very more-ish.
However, it is frankly a very strange thing to show your impressionable mind for hours on end, with cars moving like ants around your spaghetti bowl of highways and intersections.
If you ever suffer from the ‘Tetris Effect’ phenomenon where you see game images when you close your eyes, this one will definitely be revisiting you, maybe even a whole day later.
The music is a little odd, with unsettling drones interspersed with beeps and boops. Not really music, then, though it does fit the mood of the game. Coupled with the visuals, it’s a very trance-like experience, but I doubt there will be a soundtrack vinyl available any time soon.
If there’s one genre rarely associated with cars, it’s the puzzler. But this is a very nice little puzzle game that highlights the problems of an ever-expanding, car-focused society alarmingly well.
The city isn’t sustainable, no matter how hard you try, and your city will fail eventually, which just makes you want to start again and do it better. Despite the few frustrating flaws, the game design is strong, and I do prefer Mini Motorways over its very similar predecessor, Mini Metro (which the same thing but with railways).
|Developer||Dinosaur Polo Club|
|Release date||11th May 2022|
|Available platforms||PC, macOS, Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch|
|Version tested||Nintendo Switch|
|Best played with||Joy-Con and Pro Controller|