I love idle time wasters, especially if they’re fun and simple puzzle games. Mini Motorways is game that has been kicking around Apple Arcade for the last couple of years, and now that it’s making its way to Steam, I finally took a shot at being a city planner in the crisp visualized little puzzler—and it really scratches that casual puzzle itch.
In Mini Motorways, your job is to make sure the people can get to work, and back home—and vice versa. You start off with one road, and adjust based on where new buildings pop up. It takes a combination of good planning and luck to keep your cities moving—but eventually, traffic will overwhelm even the best planners. There are a few tools you have at your disposal to help with the flow of traffic, like traffic lights, traffic circles, and the handy motorway that can connect two ends of your city using an express route that can be placed over buildings and other roads. But you don’t always have access to the different types of parts you might need, including bridges—since there’s a fair bit of randomness involved.
Each week you’re allotted a number of road tiles, and if you’re lucky, a traffic light/circle tile or bridge. At first, traffic is easy to manage. But as the weeks go on, the view slowly zooms out—almost imperceptibly—until you’re given more land, but also more and more buildings to connect via roadways. If you don’t make the connections, or if the roads aren’t efficient enough, your commuters will not make the trip in time and you will fail. Failure is inevitable as your building area gets larger. You either won’t have enough road tiles to keep up with it—or worse, there will be so many work places that those driving from their homes are stuck in miserable congestion. If you plan well, it’s easier to manage—but you can’t plan for which pieces you’re given at the end of the week, forcing you to compromise or improvise often. There are some quirks to the game that can help with this that the game doesn’t advertise, however.
Mini Motorways has a lot of little unspoken quirks to help making motorways easier when you figure them out, but it can be a little annoying for the uninitiated. For instance, houses spawn with their driveways facing an arbitrary direction, which I worked my roads around when I first started playing. Soon, however, I realized that I could change which direction their driveway was facing by changing the location of the nearby roadway. This is just one example. The gameplay is pretty fast, however—at least compared to other building and management games, but it makes for good bite-sized chunks of gameplay, which can be expected from a game that was once a mobile game. Even with the fast action, Mini Motorways can feel a bit slow, especially in the beginning. When your motorways get ever more complicated, even the smallest mistake can cascade to a point where it’s impossible to recover.
An obviously minimalist game, Mini Motorways has a crisp art style and a finely tuned user interface with a few differences from its mobile counterpart. As a once-mobile game there were a few porting pains—when playing with a mouse, drawing lengths of road in a straight line can be weirdly difficult, but it’s easy to erase and undo sections with no penalty. You can play Mini Motorways with a controller, but it feels a little less precise—but easily manageable. One complaint I had that wasn’t a porting issue is its communication with the player. Sometimes I would miss a building appearing because I’d be distracted fixing a different part of the roadway. There’s a pop-in sound, but no other visual indicator. Same for when a building is critical, and you’re about to fail—sometimes there’s just so much going on, the indicator isn’t obvious enough.
As simple as Mini Motorways might appear, it has some deviously complicated mechanics. It’s like chess—easy to learn, but with a high skill ceiling. I really enjoyed my time with it, and might come back to check out its daily challenges, or try to beat my high score on a previously finished city. Mini Motorways is a great idle time waster.
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