Available On: PC, Mac, Apple Arcade, Switch
Played On: Switch

Managing traffic in a city isn’t my first idea when I think of a relaxing puzzle game. But thanks to a minimalist style and intuitive gameplay, Mini Motorways makes city planning quick and fun. At least until it all comes crumbling down.

Traffic Jams

The goal in Mini Motorways is to ensure drivers can travel from their homes to their destinations by building roads.

Each level starts off slow and easy, with a single destination building, and a house some distance away. I’m given a limited number of road tiles to connect these two buildings, bringing the little car from the house to the building and back again.

More homes and buildings spawn as time progresses, slow at first, then quicker as the days and weeks go by.

Buildings and homes are color-coded; red houses spawn red cars that need to reach red destination buildings. Destination buildings will periodically spawn tiny pins that are collected by drivers when they arrive. Collected pins count as successful routes, with each pin adding to the final score for that level. If too many pins accumulate at a single building without being picked up, however, it’s game over.

At the end of each week I can choose between two rewards that provide more roads and special pieces, such as roundabouts, traffic lights, bridges, and the incredibly helpful motorway.

Each piece is designed to help alleviate traffic as the city gets busier. The motorway connects any two spaces with a superhighway. Strategic placement of these rare road pieces is key to victory, along with careful planning and adaptation as the camera zooms out and my city begins populating with dozens and dozens of homes and cars.

We Built this City

Mini Motorways features 14 different real-world cities that act as different levels. Don’t expect to recognize Los Angeles or Tokyo, however. The art style is heavily abstracted, which works well for the relatively simplistic gameplay. The main difference is the topography. LA and Dar es Salaam have to deal with large bodies of water, while Moscow has a winding river. Getting caught without a bridge upgrade is a nasty surprise.

Scoring at least 1,000 points in a city unlocks challenges. Challenges add new parameters to a level. The Concrete Jungle challenge in Tokyo upgrades all destination buildings to the large skyscrapers, compacts the spawn rate of buildings, and doubles the number of road tiles awarded each week.

For those who love competing on leaderboards, daily and weekly challenges provide interesting challenges right from the beginning.

Challenges add lots of fun replayability, but reaching 1,000 points to unlock them can prove, well, challenging. Often the best strategy is not to use the road pieces when I first get them, but wait until I identify problem areas cropping up in my city. Thankfully any piece, including roads, can be deleted, moved, and adjusted.

I do wish there was a bit more depth, such as different building styles, more road options, or different kinds of vehicles. I don’t want a full city simulator-puzzle game (or do I?), but I do yearn for just a few more tools to play with, as the chaos of the traffic grid grows more and more unmanageable.

The Rating

Mini Motorways is rated E for Everyone.

The Takeaway

Thought it was initially designed with mobile screens in mind, the Switch version of Mini Motorways is a great way to experience one of the best little city puzzle games in the last few years. The new Night Mode turns down the lights and turns on adorable little headlights on the cars, allowing all the colors to pop in a much more pleasing style. The single expanding screen eliminates any camera controls, focusing on building little roads and bridges for my tenacious drivers.

The careful balancing act between maximizing my road efficiency while avoiding bumper-to-bumper bottlenecks makes Mini Motorways a simple but well-designed city puzzler.

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.