Somewhat sad confession: subway maps make me excited. That little piece of paper with candy-coloured lines blooming like veins represents travel and adventure for me. So it’s probably no surprise that Mini Metro has become one of my go-to tablet games.
Mini Metro was developed by the even more endearingly-named Dinosaur Polo Club. These Kiwi devs have made a puzzle strategy game that involves trying to deliver as many passengers as you can efficiently. You’re in charge of drawing the subway layouts and the game handles everything from there.
Each map starts with three “cities” which are represented by different shapes. Passengers appear at the cities and it’s your job to get them to where they need to go. As you progress, more cities and passengers appear, making the line-drawing and redrawing more and more frantic. You’re also awarded a choice from two options at regular intervals. These can be very tasty upgrades like additional tunnels, more lines, or carriages to expand your train capacity.
At first, I was a little worried that the simplicity would put me off. I mean, each game is doomed to failure. The only endgame is when you’ve “died” (i.e. you’ve let a station get overcrowded). But Mini Metro ticks a weird box of being both zen-like and strategic at the same time. And I’m usually in need of being in one of those modes at any given time.
Your success relies on you being able to assess your metro lines and troubleshoot when people aren’t getting to their destinations fast enough. Thankfully, there is a pause button for this which means that you aren’t frantically redrawing lines while your stations fill up.
Conversations in my head while in Mini Metro often go like this:
“Why are these circle people not going away?”
“Argh! Another triangle station!”
“Just one more tunnel…I just need one more tunnel…”
“I thought I fixed that station! Why is it broken again?”
Meanwhile, a calming soundtrack comprising of soft whirrs, beeps and subtle clicks accompanies my frenetic thought processes. It’s a beautifully made game – minimalistic in both audio and visuals but in a way that feels well-designed. The maps take you through iconic cities around the world: London, San Francisco, Singapore, Auckland. I like that the Osaka map gives you the option of placing a Shinkansen – the much-coveted Japanese bullet train. It also seems appropriate that the Melbourne map has trams instead of trains. These little details make it feel like the developers cared enough to give Mini Metro a bit of character.
There are a few different modes too if you tire of the norm. “Endless” allows you to enter a neverending mode where your overcrowded stations don’t spell the end of the game. On the other spectrum, “Extreme” means you can’t redraw your lines so careful forethought becomes essential. And then there’s the Daily challenge which pits you up against a random map and mode to see if you can make it to be one of the top ten players around the world. This is a nice challenge that refreshes…well…daily, because without this, I think Mini Metro might have stopped being exciting for my goal-centric brain a long time ago.
I do wish there were more maps and achievements to unlock. Having said that though, the dev team have recently released “vintage” map versions of London, Paris and New York City. Based on maps drawn up by real draughtsmen in the 1930s-1970s, these maps are as charming as they sound. It’s a great idea and it makes me hopeful that the Dinosaur Polo Club isn’t done with Mini Metro yet.