Gaming Editor Louis Wright reviews Mini Motorways claiming it to be one of the best recent releases for its simplicity
Sometimes the simplest games are the most effective.
With the overwhelming wealth of Triple-A games available on the market vying for consumer attention the idea of ‘go big or go home’ seems like it should be the golden rule. It is all the more impressive, therefore, that a niche indie puzzle game like Mini Motorways (2019) can be one of the most addicting and high quality time sinks currently on the market. Through a combination of its simple, yet effective gameplay loops, plethora of game modes, and iconic sound and art direction, it creates a game that is borderline impossible to put down.
Roundabout the Gameplay Loop
A unique blend of the city-planning simulation and puzzle genres, Mini Motorways’ core gameplay loop is simple but strong. Based entirely on building roads to connect houses to the colour-coordinated shopping districts to transport the people that are there, it relies on players to manage their available road pieces to place efficient pathways and ensure the shopping districts are never too full. Starting simple with roads that can be made independently of one another, this progressively ramps up as the weeks progress in-game to become complex cityscapes that require planning and forethought to effectively manage.
Effectively creating an infinite amount of content with different seeds producing different city layouts, the gameplay loop proves to be addicting in the best of ways. It is easy to get lost in the repetitive nature of the game for hours on end trying to improve your best score on any given city in the game. Whether it be London, New York, or Rio de Janeiro the challenges provided by the differing geography and terrains allows the same core gameplay to shine through regardless.
Tying this gameplay together is the end of every in-game week. On Sunday, the game will reward you with extra road tiles to expand the city as well as a choice of specialist road pieces. Roundabouts, traffic lights, bridges, tunnels, and the titular mini motorways all provide new ways to make your city more efficient or connect different parts of the map together. Providing this decision to the player makes planning the city all the more important and selecting the right pieces integral to success.
A Crossroad of Game Types
While the gameplay loop of Mini Motorways is simple, it is put to maximum use in the variety of game modes available. Between standard gameplay, challenges, expert and endless mode there is a variety of twists available to keep the repetitive gameplay engaging for long sessions of play.
Challenges see the biggest difference from the core gameplay seen in the ‘classic’ mode. There are a variety of ways each map differentiates itself with the challenges given to make gameplay difficult, easier, or more varied based on the challenge provided. Sometimes road tiles are more expensive to place, sometimes you are given infinite roundabouts, sometimes you cannot destroy trees. These challenges are simple in initial concept but impact the core strategy of the game immensely and in ways that are never redundant.
Expert mode is, as the name suggests, experienced players of the game. This sees any road tiles placed being permanent fixtures in the city, meaning every decision counts. What really sets expert mode apart is the ability to pick any specialist piece at the end of the week, but you are only granted a set number of selections before only road tiles are available. Both of these elements mean strategy is a necessity going into expert mode, leaning into the puzzle aspects of the game and being a tantalising brain teaser.
Endless mode is the most basic of the alternate modes available in the game. Operating the same as classic mode, but with the stipulation that the game cannot end when shopping districts are overcrowded, it provides for a more stress-free spin on the standard gameplay. This mode becomes a great place for practising strategy and trying to perfect city layouts without worrying about a high score.
Graphics on the Access Road
In line with the gameplay loop and the alternate modes, the graphics of Mini Motorways are deceptively simple for the level of quality seen. Building upon its predecessor, Mini Metro (2015) and its London Underground based aesthetic, the game has an iconic minimalistic art direction that conveys all of the important information necessary. Colour coordinating the different houses and shopping districts to each other makes the map easy to read from a distance, and the grid based tiling system for building roads makes connections easy to make.
What makes the simplicity of Mini Motorways’ graphics truly pay off however, is the alternate colour options available. Standard light modes and dark modes are available to not only the user interfaces, but the gameplay as well. This makes the game easy to play in any environment, at any time of day; a simple change that benefits the games pick-up-and-play potential exponentially.
Most pertinent in the colour options though is the colourblind mode available. As Mini Motorways is so heavily reliant on colour coding in its gameplay, accessibility for those with colour blindness is a necessity. By providing an option to adjust the contrast between the different colours used for the houses and shopping districts, it makes it easier to identify between them at a glance for those who would otherwise struggle. While a simple change, this is one much appreciated for the impact it has on those often overlooked.
Noise Pollution is the Best Pollution
Mini Motorways has some of the most effective and pleasing sound design in all of gaming. The simplistic and minimalistic pops, drones, and atmospheric ambiance creates a calming, yet satisfying feedback system that fits the design of the game perfectly. Every action in the game has an associated sound effect that gives weight to whatever the player does and makes every decision all the more impactful.
While not much of a soundtrack is present, what is there is relaxing. This purposeful sound design helps counter the potentially stressful situations the gameplay may result in creating, alleviating the player in even the worst of situations. The effectiveness of this cannot be overlooked in also aiding player concentration, acting as white noise during long gameplay stints that helps build focus on crafting efficient cityscapes.
Mini Motorways is, simply put, a simple game. In every aspect the game presents itself in a minimalistic fashion that forces the player to engage with the game on a level that emphasises its gameplay above all else. It produces an addicting, endless experience, with enough variety to never become boring in its repetitiveness. Mini Motorways is a game that can easily be argued as being one of the best releases in recent years for, not despite, its refreshingly simplistic nature.
Mini Motorways is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and tvOS
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