Mini Metro is a game that made me wonder why on earth human beings concentrate themselves in cities and then travel hither and thither in those cities all day and night. It made me want to shout, “Why don’t you stay home for a change, people?! Telecommute! Drink some tea and stare out a window!” It also made me marvel that a game about transportation could end up being a heck of a good game.
But let’s start with the basics: Mini Metro is a subway-simulation game in which you connect lines (representing subway routes) to transport shapes (representing humans) using other shapes (representing trains).
First, you should know that the developer, Dinosaur Polo Club, did a beautiful job designing Mini Metro’s look, feel, and sound. (I got a chance to interview the founders of Dinosaur Polo Club at PAX Prime. They’re twin brothers Robert and Peter Curry from New Zealand. They started working on Mini Metro in 2002.)
From its uncluttered backgrounds to its bright colors to its minimalist maps and music, the game presents an ordered, clean aesthetic that draws you in. (The aesthetic is based on that of the real-world designer of London’s iconic subway maps, Harry Beck.)
At first, the gameplay seems simplistic. You draw lines from one point (station) to another. Soon trains start running on the lines and people begin appearing at stations. Trains pick up the people and deposit them at other stations. More stations appear for you to connect to the network, more trains are doled out by the game, and more and more (and more) people show up to be transported. Bridges and tunnels are also supplied periodically, along with more trains, bigger trains, and new lines. You have to decide where to place your trains, lines, upgraded stations, bridges, and tunnels to keep the system moving.
And still the people keep showing up to be transported around the city.
Before long you’re praying for more capacity as some stations begin to accumulate a glut of passengers. That’s when it gets frantic and a little desperate. You know it’s only a matter of time until you won’t be able to keep up with the load, but you really want to help your people get where they’re going.
All the while, “procedural audio” is playing—music-like sounds designed by Disasterpeace that are generated by the moves you make in the game, and by the game itself as trains move along tracks and new stations appear. It’s mesmerizing.
Several gameplay modes are available. The one I played the most was Normal. The first five maps are unlocked, but after that you have to unlock the series of city maps by getting a certain score in the previous map in the series. (Your score is the number of people you’re able to move before the whole system breaks down.) There are maps for London, Paris, New York City, Berlin, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Osaka, Saint Petersburg, Montreal, Sao Paulo, Cairo, and Auckland. The growth of the system is different with each playthrough, so you can’t really create a strategy and stick to it. If you get too stressed out, you can play Endless mode, wherein your system never fails. Extreme mode is “the ultimate challenge.”
The developers have thoughtfully included a colorblind mode. There’s also a night mode with a black background.
There’s a daily challenge, too, with leaderboards. The first one I tried I managed to barely struggle into the bottom 15%. But on my second daily challenge, I did quite a bit better and made it into the bottom 40%.
And that’s probably the best thing about Mini Metro. It does what great games do: it makes you want to try again and get better.
Mini Metro is available for $9.99 on Steam now. According to the website, “Mini Metro will come to iOS, Android, and other platforms in late 2015 / 2016.”