July 22, 2021

Mini Motorways review - a city builder that balances precision and beauty

Of all the imaginary people games ask me to care about, I think I care the most about the imaginary people who live in Mini Motorways' ghost homes. The terminology is mine, but if you played this game on Apple Arcade or have even the lightest of acquaintances with an enthusiast, you may know what I'm talking about.

Mini Motorways asks you to create a city purely by focusing on its roads. Roads connect big buildings, which I'll call businesses, where people presumably work or buy stuff, with little buildings, or homes, where people presumably live. The businesses demand people and the homes supply them and they both pop up all over the place, conveniently and inconveniently as you play. You have no say over this part. Instead, you build the roads that allow people to drive back and forth. Everything is colour-coded, so red businesses only want people who live in red homes. You score points for fulfilling demand. When businesses have too much unmet demand for too long, it means that your city has not worked very well and it's game over. Fine. So there are businesses and homes. But what about ghost homes?

Here is an early tip - one that feels illicit, practically shameful. Look at that relationship: all the demand in the businesses, all the supply in the homes. Guess what it means? It means these things are not equal; you do not have to connect every home that pops up if you want to keep the businesses happy. Because you only have a finite amount of road at any time, it may make sense to leave homes unconnected, to save your road for a time when you really need it. So these sad, unconnected homes I call ghost homes. They are in the city but they are not of the city. They are taking up space in the city, but they are not plugged into its rhythms and its circulation. What would it be like to live in a ghost home? Maybe it would be wonderful and freeing. Maybe it would be claustrophobic and terrifying; if you ran out of contact lens solution, I can imagine there would be problems. Maybe I am reading too much into it, reading too much into two rectangles of colour laid against each other, which the eye cannot help transforming, given the context, into the pitched roof of a modest little house.

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