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Mini Motorways and Mini Metro: as different as cars and trains

Heavy Reyner.

It makes sense that Apple Arcade's Mini Motorways asks different things of me than Mini Metro, because cars are very different from trains. Still, it took me a while to understand quite how I had to approach things, and it took even longer to let all my Mini Metro instincts fall silent.

Mini Metro is a game about making underground systems, creating various coloured lines that link together stations marked by a variety of shapes. The point, I think, is to encourage diversity. You want a line that can take any traveller to its intended station, which means a line that covers all the shapes for all the different shapes of traveller. It's wonderfully positive in this regard: it sees cities as places where diversity is a strength, and there's a certain understanding that if you're using public transport you're not going to go directly to your destination anyway - everyone is in it together, which means you can all expect to go around the houses.

Cars though! Mini Motorway initially looks kind of similar to Mini Metro. You have stores and you have houses, and you have to lay down roads to connect the stores to the houses. Basically, the stores make requests and people in the houses have to fulfil them, by sending cars out to the stores and then back to the houses. Rather than dividing things up by shapes, the game sorts by colour. Pink houses to pink stores! Orange houses to orange stores.

The instinct at first is to value time of flight and time of arrival - the quickest route between houses and stores. This swiftly leads to a city in which all the houses and all the stores are essentially connected together: a knot of roads in which multicoloured traffic flows everywhere. But cars are more selfish than trains, I eventually learned. And the experience of driving in, say, Los Angeles, is very different to being squished on the tube in London. In Los Angeles you're separated from the world around you. You're watching a movie across the cinerama screen of your windshield. You step out of the car slightly unprepared for human interaction, as if you're emerging from a long sleep. And you try to keep contact with others to a minimum.

So the weird truth is that, at my level of skill anyway, which is not terribly high, Mini Motorways is the inverse of Mini Metro. It's about separating lines rather than creating diversity. Pink and orange cars using the same roads makes the chances of a jam much more likely. So I connect oranges with oranges, pinks with pinks, blues with blues, and I try to never mingle them. This sense of selfishness goes deep. Scandalously for the Mini Metro player, you don't even need to connect all the houses that pop up, because you only really need to worry about the stores. This is a city where the big bullies get their way, and their way, in general, means getting to keep to themselves and ignore their slightly different neighbors.

There is judgement in this, I think - there has to be. But Mini Motorways is never an explicitly satirical game. What I love most about it is that as my cities grow I can't help but see internal organs cropping up everywhere. Oh man, I've made three lungs and a tangle of intestines.

I only play on Los Angeles, because it feels like the right thing to do. And in honour of the spirit of Los Angeles, I only occasionally play the game the right way, these days. I only infrequently keep my colours separate and my roads clean. When I think of LA I think of the melting pot of Pico, and that tangle of highways looped and bowed in spaghetti junctions. I want to honour the reality of LA, and it's a glorious, complicated reality.

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About the Author
Christian Donlan avatar

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.