Mini Motorways — Get In, Loser, We’re Going Driving

The strange thing about being a Midwestern transplant on the East Coast is just how amped Midwesterners get over long car trips…just hopping on the highway, hitting cruise control, and starting towards a far-flung destination. As much as that same can-drive attitude runs through me, too, I’m more of a “local run to Aldi or Target” kind of guy. Stop lights, streets, and roundabouts, feeling more attuned to the other drivers on the road. Both are fine and good for me, gas emissions notwithstanding. But there’s something to be said for rising above all of it and having a birds-eye view, of appreciating the finer aspects of getting from place to place in our explosive liquid dinosaur machines. Luckily for us on the ground, we have Mini Motorways to give us that appreciation.

Mini Motorways, by Dinosaur Polo Club, revolves entirely around creating roads to get cars from their garage to their destination, against a backdrop of several international cities (Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Moscow, to name a few). Players have a limited amount of road tiles and can earn upgrades, like traffic lights or roundabouts, the longer their city remains operational. If traffic gets bad and it takes too long for vehicles to reach their destination, the city shuts down (a bit hyperdramatic, but that’s capitalism, bay-bee!) and the game ends. Players who played DPC’s previous title, Mini Metro (like me), will feel right at home with just a few adjustments. But it is the adjustments, the changes, that help Mini Motorways stand tall and on its own, not simply as a follow-up to Mini Metro.

The mechanics of Mini Motorways are easy to learn and pick up: players construct roads by dragging their clicked-cursor in any direction, linking houses and neighborhoods to larger destinations. They can delete with a right-clicked-cursor, sending road tiles back to their inventory for later use. Otherwise, they can drop helpful management tools, like roundabouts or traffic lights, onto their maps to help make the flow of traffic more efficient.

Aesthetically, Mini Motorways excels at the minimal and simplistic. There are only ever cars of various colors on the road. Simple shapes denote buildings and garages, and roads intersect as highways stretch overhead, but it is all digestible at a glance. Lots of color in one place? Traffic jam. Structures of the same color on opposite sides of the map? Get a freeway to connect them. It bears repeating, as I feel I’ve done elsewhere, but aesthetic is (in my personal opinion) infinitely more effective than graphics. Mini Motorways gives players all the information they need, without overwhelming them, and still looking mad cute the whole time. Stressful, yeah, but cute.

Mini Motorways remains similar to Mini Metro in a number of ways: Mini Motorways is all about connections, efficiency, and adaptation. Getting from point A to point B is one thing, but to do so efficiently is another. As an added level of spite (or challenge, depending on your perspective), Motorways will throw new garages and new structures onto the map at a moment’s notice, tossing a wrench into any city planner’s well-oiled machine. As time goes on, the perspective slowly shifts upward, showing more of the city and making it available to construct with. The simple two-street setup players started with will eventually be dwarfed with crisscrossing intersections and highways, a rainbow of vehicles and destinations. Despite the daunting task, players retain the ability to stop time at any point, and remap their entire cityscape from that pause state. Or they can go at double-speed if they aren’t feeling the crunch. To each their own. But in time, inevitably, traffic will build up, vehicles won’t be able to travel as quickly, and everything grinds to a halt, triggering a game over.

Breaking away from its predecessor, Mini Motorways operates on a grid overlay: players direct exactly where the roads go, where they split off, and at what angle they come, a far cry from Mini Metro’s self-connecting terminals. And while getting from point A to point B is still integral to the scoring, players must also contend with getting back to point A. You don’t just leave your car in the parking lot when you’re done shopping, do you? Road layouts have to accommodate the return trip, too. Plus, the upgrade dynamics are all about increased efficiency, streamlining your paths, not about upgrading cars to minivans or whatnot.

Disasterpeace returns to compose the soundtrack to Mini Motorways, continuing the theme of reactive music he used in Mini Metro. There isn’t a hard and fast “soundtrack” to Mini Motorways, like you might find in…damn near any other video game, honestly. But the reactive & programmed approach is what sets Mini Motorways apart, making it that much more of an individual experience. The droning of cars, the “blip” noises of new destination markers, punctuated with frustrated, yet rhythmic, honking, all of it is dependent on the cityscape players build. Feasibly, no two soundtracks will be identical, because no two cities come out looking exactly the same. Disasterpeace has held a mastery over slow-burn and long buildup tracks in a great many of his compositions, and it shows here, too. Just as the map pulls out to show more of the world, players may not realize that the music has elevated so much with their growing city until their citizens have driven to hundreds of destinations.

Mini Motorways doesn’t set out to tell a story, or to be “beaten” in a traditional sense. It sets out to challenge players, to throw more and more at them until they can’t adapt any further. But still, it is remarkably peaceful, and remarkably intuitive. It’s by no means a true simulation game, nor a true city-builder, but it provides enough of a scaled challenge to keep fans entertained. And, perhaps more importantly, it lets new players merge in more easily than most games would allow. This is a road trip, in more than one sense of the word, that anyone can enjoy.

All images captured in-game.

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Mike Shepard

Just an amateur reminding himself of what he loves. Looking to write about all the things and experiences that make the end of the world worth living in.