'Mini Motorways' Is a Beautiful Game About the Futility of Roadbuilding

Become an architect of an infrastructure, and your own hubris.
August 5, 2021, 1:00pm
A map with a dense web of roads looping over a landscape.
'Mini Motorways' screenshots courtesy of Dinosaur Polo Club

As the centerpiece of its act, Mini Motorways crafts the same cruel illusion as its predecessor, Mini Metro. It fools everyone into thinking that, this time, they really can diligently map out a transport network that will expand and that will thrive, rather than inevitably collapse into yet another congealed and congested mess. It also offers the same curious reward, that being a peculiar pleasure in the frantic management of an ever more impossible task. In the end, it is the journey that matters more than the destination, because the destination is always failure. But it is so much fun getting there.

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Week by video game week, a minute metropolis gradually grows across the screen, buildings popping into existence at random. Composed only of colour-coded commuter homes and their corresponding destinations, it’s the player’s job to weave these together with a web of roads, embellished by traffic lights, bridges and motorways, more of which are awarded every seven days. All this starts off as easy as drawing a line between two points, but becomes predictably complicated as more locations and more shades of colour spring into being.

Initially, there’s the gentle joy of watching half a dozen petite vehicles cruise down empty streets, whirl majestically around their first roundabout and slot smoothly into all the right parking spaces. Drivers can do no wrong, so as long as you trace out suitable routes for them to take, they’ll dutifully drive as speedily and as efficiently as possible. Soon, this traffic evolves into an engrossing, multicoloured spectacle akin to a circus parade, or even a May Day military march. It’s such a shame that all this has to be tempered by the limits of geography and available infrastructure.

While Mini Metro restricted the number of lines and trains, Mini Motorways rations its roads, forcing players to limit the routes they build and to quite literally cut corners. Roads can be torn up and re-laid with ease, but the asphalt inventory doesn’t replenish until deleted routes are free of cars, something that becomes ever more unlikely as the game gets busier. All too soon, the cute suburbs of the early game have become a languid Lilliputian latticework of misaligned roads, stagnant traffic and gridlock. A route that seemed like a good idea ten minutes ago is now an unmitigated disaster, there aren’t enough bridges to span the river and a new destination has appeared at the opposite side of the map to every single one of the commuters who need to get there.

In spite of all this, even as underserved destinations time out and end the game, it remains a curiously pretty disaster. While it’s not always easy for a transport czar to deduce quite where they’re going wrong, nor work out the best way to streamline their ever-bloating network, Mini Motorways is blessed with the same beautiful simplicity as Mini Metro. It never demands anything more than a gentle click and drag, and even in its messiest moments its traffic jams are still as charmingly colourful as spilled candy. Occasionally a new commuter home will appear that is impossible to connect to anything, a house doomed to be a dead end, but these irritations are rare. While the random nature of each level's development also means some may be much more forgiving than others, players are still by and large the architects of their own hubris.

And it’s still such a cute, colourful, tiny hubris that they’ll sketch out for themselves. The sort that continues to demand just one more try, especially when the astronomical totals already appearing on the daily and weekly trial scoreboards mean there must be some new trick to learn. Mini Motorways is another miniature masterpiece that captivates and challenges in equal measure, a game made equally of tiny charms and tiny calamities.