Indie Puzzle Review Strategy

Mini Motorways – Review | Road Puzzles On The Go

Starting from the Apple Arcade in September 2019, Mini Motorways has since traveled across platforms to PC (Windows, macOS) in July 2021 and later made its way to Nintendo Switch in May 2022. Hop onto the transportation planner’s seat in this indie strategy simulation game by Dinosaur Polo Club and command various road networks around the globe!

With an ESRB rating of Everyone, Mini Motorways has no notable content warnings. For the Switch version (release-10-patch-2) reviewed, there are a number of accessibility options offered under the game settings. Players may choose between Day and Night Modes, toggle the controller vibration tactile feedback on/off, select if they want to use single button press or a press and hold for drawing and deleting roads, change the controller cursor sensitivity, enable or disable the menu transition motions, or activate the Cplorblind Mode and customize their own set of six colors for the buildings. The game comes in 14 languages as well.

Roads Wrapped Around Your Mind

There is just one goal in Mini Motorways: design routes to connect the commuters to their corresponding destinations so that everyone can be kept constantly on the move for as long as your roads can hold them. No matter which of the 14 cities or 28 additional challenges you choose, the puzzle always starts out simple with one house and one destination of the same color located within a small, zoomed-in area of the 2D aerial map. Once a viable route is established, commuters will leave their house in a car to pick up pins at a linked destination, indicating their successful trips there. However, all commuters can only pick up pins from destinations that have the same color as their houses in this color-dependent puzzle game.

As the in-game clock ticks on, moving through the days of a week, more houses and destinations of the same or new colors will pop up randomly on any unoccupied space on the map. It is your task to ensure every destination can be reached by the houses of their corresponding color, no matter how far they may be apart across the road, river, or mountain. At the end of each week, unless restricted by a specific challenge’s conditions, you may choose from two random sets of rewards comprising various resources (i.e. road tiles, traffic lights, roundabouts, motorways, bridges, and tunnels) for your coming week’s road building needs. If any one destination has not been visited in a timely manner for its accumulated pins to be picked up before they overflow, your city will shut down, resulting in a game over.

Like an engine that is just warming up, the beginning of every puzzle starts up relatively slow — even the maximum 2x speed feels slow for several city maps where I could spend my entire first in-game week simply watching two cars zooming to and fro along the same road — but gradually speeds up as the city becomes more and more populated. Without fail, every new destination appearing on the map demands a little more of my attention and soon, I find myself having to pause the clock every now and then to observe the map and think about how best to connect the roads. Do I spend most of my current supply of road tiles right away to build an exclusive pathway for a destination that showed up on Monday, or do I save them for new destinations that may appear later in the week? Do I remove a current bridge and link it to a new destination opposite the river bank, or do I try my luck and hold out until Sunday, all the while praying to the heavens that one of the random rewards will include the much-needed bridge or motorway? There are plenty of things to consider, from the resources you have at your disposal to the distinct terrains for a particular city and general limitations such as no multi-way bridges. Your solution for each map is going to be different every time. Less of a puzzle with fixed answers but more of a real-time strategy game, Mini Motorways skilfully combines problem-solving with ever-dynamic game conditions to create highly focused and addictive sessions.

Mini Motorways - Beijing

Roads Bridged between Strategy and RNG

Randomness is integral to Mini Motorways’ game mechanics. Even so, it has been rare to get a game over due to extreme bad luck that forced me to leave a destination deserted for long enough, especially in the beginning weeks. More often than not, the game provides players with enough alternative approaches to a single map, so their playthrough is unlikely to be thwarted just by say, a certain week’s reward not having something they wanted. Of course, the players’ original plans are likely to be foiled but as long as they can — in fact, they must — be flexible, there is usually another way around, even if it involves some temporary but risky trade-offs to make. And while the city will ultimately shut down regardless of how great one’s planning is, it tends to shut down early due to a series of non-ideal decisions rather than non-ideal luck.

On quite a few occasions, I got my cities into precarious states because I did not notice the new destinations landing on an already packed map. Every time a new destination or house pops up on the map, there will be a brief notification sound. Sometimes, I register the audio cue but take a while to locate where the new building is on the paused map. Other times, I was so engrossed with my eyes locked on a certain part of the map, the inconspicuous audio cue totally blended in with the other traffic sound effects and escaped me. There are times when I only noticed the new destinations when I saw their group of accumulated pins, which stood out because the rest did not have as many pins. Even the visual cue Mini Motorways has for highlighting an unconnected destination does not quite catch my eyes either, especially if I was looking at the entire map, zoomed out. While both the audio and visual cues used are certainly gentle enough to not cause alarm or discomfort, they are also easily drowned out when the map gets visually and aurally busy with all the various colored buildings and moving vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no tactile feedback for the times when new buildings show up, though I doubt it would have helped me much anyway unless we can customize when the vibrations are triggered. Currently, even drawing or deleting a road tile makes the controllers vibrate, so I would likely get so much tactile feedback that I automatically tune them out in the end.

Mini Motorways - Tokyo

Nevertheless, I love how Mini Motorways keeps me on the alert, making me adapt my plans on the fly with every new building added or every random reward set given throughout each 30-minute or so session. And as if the normal mode is not mentally stimulating enough, every city also has up to three additional unique challenges that can be unlocked by completing at least 1000 trips for the corresponding map in normal mode once. Each challenge imposes two to three special conditions for a given map, which range from boons like unlimited bridges to banes like halved road tiles awarded each week. There is a good mix of various conditions that would encourage players to approach the same map in ways usually unexpected under the normal mode, such as not using any tunnels at all on mountainous terrain. I have a love-hate relationship with the mystery weekly upgrades in particular; on one hand, the inability to see and choose the more useful upgrades forces me to manage my resources more stringently but on the other hand, when my bad luck strikes, I can get some really unneeded stuff for weeks in a row. Still, I like that there are conditions reflective of how bustling some places can be through the use of only skyscraper destinations, and others that make you plan with tree conservation at the forefront.

Alas, the more cities I travel to in Mini Motorways, the more homogeneous the maps begin to feel. Although each city has its own vibrant sets of color palettes and unique terrain and layout, they are ultimately superficial differences that do not create significant changes to the overall game experience. There is no compelling reason for me to choose Rio de Janeiro over Wellington when I want to attempt a map where I can build tunnels. In the same vein, if I had played Rio de Janeiro, I wouldn’t feel motivated to play Wellington for a different tunnel-building experience as there is no different experience per se — at least not in the normal mode. Furthermore, the city’s color palettes are in full shine only if you are playing on Day Mode. On top of already feeling homogenous, the cities would even sadly look homogenous when played in Night and Colorblind Modes. Still, I appreciate how the river, hill, and mountain names are written in the script of the specific city’s main language, which helps sprinkle a little of the city’s life and culture onto the otherwise soulless map.

Mini Motorways - Chiang Mai

Roads to the Mountain Peaks

If there is anything that successfully nudged me to retry the same map multiple times, it is the prospect of climbing up the leaderboards whenever I hit a new high score. For a while, it can be fun watching where I stand against other Mini Motorways players, be it in the top 10% or bottom 30%. Besides a Global leaderboard, there is a Friends leaderboard for every map and challenge too. Furthermore, if you are bored with the fixed set of standard challenges, there are daily and weekly challenges to try your hands on. Of these, two challenges are refreshed daily and weekly respectively. The daily challenges are more challenging in the sense that only the score from your first attempt is counted towards the leaderboard.

For those who would like to share their cities’ statistics and layout, Mini Motorways provides a photo mode that can be accessed from either the in-game pause menu at any time or the game over screen at the end of a session. The photo mode allows you to customize the heading and bottom text and the picture border before exporting your current map as a screenshot. It is a neat feature but the contrast between the texts and the background image can be awful sometimes.

Mini Motorways - Los Angeles

Roads at Your Fingertips

If playing Mini Motorways on Switch, using the button or touch controls are both options. Despite my finger always obstructing my view when I try to drag and drop the ends of a motorway, I still prefer using the touch controls as it gave me a better overall experience than the button controls did. First, tapping on the screen to go into road construction mode will automatically zoom in on the map, giving me a clearer view of a specific area that the button controls do not grant. Second, the L and R buttons, which decrease and increase the game speeds, do not cycle through the list. Why press the L button twice to go from 2x speed to pause and then the R button twice to go from pause to 2x speed when I could tap on the pause or 2x icon once to alternate between them? My only complaint with the touch controls is it is easy to accidentally delete or draw new roads when trying to move the camera around.


Featuring a decent number of cities and nice combinations of challenges, Mini Motorways is great when you are craving short bursts of puzzles as dynamic as the road traffic. This strategy simulation game is addicting and a half-an-hour session can easily stretch to a few hours as you attempt to “beat the traffic” and inch closer to yet another high score with “just one more try”. Its soundscape, like the vrooms and ticking of the changing traffic lights, is surprisingly relaxing and adds much intriguing flavor to the sleek minimalistic menu screens. While I do not feel particularly compelled to return to the game regularly for its daily or weekly challenges, my trips to the 14 cities were certainly fun while they lasted.


Platforms: PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, Apple Arcade

If you would like to see more games with Puzzle-elements, you may be interested in our review of Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon.

Many thanks go to Dinosaur Polo Club for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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