Skip to main content

Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Mini Motorways' new update means the best game is now even more best

Highway to heck.

Mike Davis has spent decades writing really big books with incredibly brilliant titles - City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear - arguing that Los Angeles, sweet El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles sobre el Río Porciúncula, is a kind of hell on earth. Obviously: hard disagree. But here's the thing. Mini Motorways has just come along with an update and made the same point as Davis with much greater economy.

This should not be too surprising. Economy is always the thing with this game, in which so much of the chaotic city experience emerges as you draw roads between homes and offices. Mini Motorways' new update adds challenges, which might not initially seem like a huge deal - if this was any other game. Each city now has a series of bespoke challenges, which basically juggle two or three conditions that you have to play under. Again, if this was any other game, I wouldn't be too excited. But this is Mini Motorways, and the conditions matter.

How much? I almost wept when I read the first challenge for LA. Highway to Hollywood. Let's take it from the end and work in. Seeing Double: Double the number of traffic lights awarded. A drag, sure, but I can work with that. Rush Hour: All destinations are much busier. Bit of a pain, but I can deal. My Only Motorway: Start with 1 motorway, and no further motorways are offered.

I'm sorry?

One motorway in all of LA, and no more, ever? This should be illegal. Somewhere, Mike Davis is chuckling.

The Mini Motorways teaser trailer.Watch on YouTube

Other challenges - and this is just the LA challenges, remember - are equally devious. Stars in Their Eyes gives you double the weekly choice upgrades, which sounds lovely, but all weekly choices are now a mystery, which is the very opposite of lovely. Gridlock, meanwhile, may be proper survival horror. I quake at the thought of even typing this. Sure, you start Gridlock with three motorways, but diagonal roads require double the number of tiles, and you kick off with 150 road tiles and then that's it. This is LA we're talking about. The city of movement, not monument. Roads are kind of the thing here, man. 150 tiles in total! What are you doing?

It is a testament to this beautiful game that you can tweak the rules and ensure that even reading about it will make me panic. Challenges are, happily, a maddening delight to play. I am resolutely okay at Mini Motorways - enthusiastic rather than talented - but I am struggling to break 500 on Highway to Hollywood, and I can't even bring myself to fire up Gridlock. Every city now has this stuff! It's horrifying, but mainly wonderful - absolutely wonderful.

The Challenge City Update will be live "soon", apparently. That's my holidays sorted! It also brings new achievements, revamped colourblind options, and seasonal photo frames. Nice addition, that. I can make the hideous broken nightmares I create look all festive.