State of the Game: Mini Motorways – untangling the world’s cities

State of the Game: Mini Motorways - untangling the world's cities

My daughter recently started playing Mini Motorways. It’s delicious stuff, and it makes me see her again. It’s fun to get off and see her positioned in front of the television, stiff and serious, frowning at a seemingly intractable junction or off-ramp, before throwing herself at the solution, her mind disappearing into the emerging cityscape at the gradually.

Mini Motorways Publisher: Dinosaur Polo Club Developer: Dinosaur Polo Club Platform: iOS (Apple Arcade), PC and Switch Launch: 2019 Monetization: Included with Apple Arcade subscription, or £7.19 on Steam, £11.99 on Switch.

This is how Mini Motorways plays out. This is a city-building puzzler that may also be one of the most aesthetically pleasing games ever made: flat colors and pleasing abstractions of the modern world, its concrete and metal, its curtain walls and its internal combustion. You play by connecting businesses of a certain color to houses of the same color, without causing traffic jams or grunts, as houses and businesses of different colors also begin to appear. But really? Really, you play with a frown. The studious frown: a dense seminar with a new professor, a long but intriguing sentence whose meaning must be disentangled. A tile here. A road there. Frown. Roundabout? Junction?

Come to think of it, that’s exactly the frown that chess masters make, delicate chin poised on delicate fist as they study a refined landscape of total information. But when I play chess, I can take my time with my terrible moves. Mini-highways require frowning. Every second you spend on one problem only means the next problem is getting worse elsewhere. Traffic jams propagate through the body of your city like a horrible kind of peristalsis. Your miseries line up here, and turn in on themselves. Except they’re not really miserable at all: they’re energizing! Transformer!

The Mini Motorways trailer.

And returning to Mini Motorways for State of the Game – not that I’m ever, really, away from Mini Motorways for very long – I see that the game itself has also transformed. The game my daughter is worried about now isn’t quite the same game I first played on Apple Arcade when Apple Arcade was new. Little things. Incremental things. Very Mini Highways.

There are platform changes – you can play on PC and Switch now, which means you can draw paths with one button and delete with another instead of switching between edit and non-edit modes. But also, as the game moves from device to device, its developers add things to the whole package. Mini Motorways is growing, as slowly and steadily as one of its own doomed towns. (It’s not the only one, by the way – the same team is still updating its previous game, Mini Metro.)

Look at this game. What a beauty.

Let me explain all of this to you. The arrival on Steam brought new cities – Dubai and Mexico City – as well as roundabouts, which after more than a year I’m still mastering, still peering into their swirling depths in the hope of figuring out how to make the most of them. best party. Then the developers added their hometown, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa, “the coolest little capital in the world.”

Then each map has its own specific challenge modes. Jeepers. These challenge modes take a game about building a city and impose electrifying restrictions. Los Angeles with only one freeway? This should not be allowed. Beijing, where diagonal roads suddenly eat up twice as many tiles? Mexico City with unlimited tunnels, but no other upgrades beyond road tiles? Who created this monster? It’s fiendish stuff – and it fits right in with daily and weekly challenges. Wonderful evil stuff.

Quiet – for now.

Finally, we’ve added lighthouses to night mode, alongside the new cities of Warsaw in Poland and the Thai city of Chiang Mai, which with its old town moat is one of the toughest cities in the market. , a puzzle requiring bridges in and of itself.

And that’s really the thing. This gap – I’ve tried a lot of different ways to deal with it, deal with how it puts a perfect square of water on the map, a square that’s going to take at least four bridges to take care of, if I don’t not pay attention. Chiang Mai: The map never changes, but the game is constantly evolving without adding anything. Yes, because businesses and houses appear in different places each time you play a map, but also because the more I play, the more I frown at a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how mini-highways work. , which really means how cities work. , what allows them to thrive and what drives them where.

The rollout of a true highway is something to savor – and worry about.

After a while, it becomes clear that Mini Motorways isn’t about cars at all, it’s about communities within cities and how their needs and ambitions are balanced. I don’t feel like I’m strangling the world deeper into the Anthropocene with every slab of concrete I lay down, so much as trying to find a more elegant way for city dwellers to get out of it.

That is to say: it enters your brain, this game. And it opens up the world a little – perhaps several worlds. And so, one day, I hope, I will look out the window of an airplane and see below a landscape that I know intimately. Not because I visited and saw the galleries and wandered the markets, but because I once found where to put these roundabouts.

This piece is part of our State of the Game series, where we check out some of the biggest running service games to see how they fare. You can find many more pieces like this in our Game State Hub.

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