Mobile games tend to get a bad rap. This reputation is well earned, considering the large amounts of low effort shovel-ware and pay-to-win fiascos that populate app stores. But there are some gems buried within the mobile games wasteland. My goal is to highlight one great mobile game each month, this month its Mini Metro.
Essentially, Mini Metro is a game of connect the dots. Taking on the role of a city planner, you draw lines on the map that represent rail lines. These lines connect stations, represented by shapes like squares, circles, triangles, and more. Each map starts with 3 shapes, but over time accumulates more. At each station, you will see smaller versions of these shapes in the upper right. These are passengers, their shape indicating what destination they want to reach. As trains go by stations they pick up and drop off passengers. If a station ever becomes too full, a dark circle begins to encircle that station. If the passenger backup isn’t dealt with and the circle surrounds the station, the game ends. Your goal is to last as long as possible, scoring a point for each passenger who arrives at their destination.
This basic gameplay is complicated by management of resource. You start with only 3 rail lines and 3 trains. Every map has a different set up for rivers and lakes. For your lines to cross over water you need utilize your limited supply of bridges or tunnels (functionally the same, just depends on the city you’re currently playing). There is a timer that runs throughout the game, counting days of the week. Each Sunday, you receive a new train, as well a choice between 2 other random upgrades. These could be an additional line, a carriage (which doubles the number of passengers a single train can carry), more bridges/tunnels, or an interchange (attached to a station, increases the maximum capacity). These random upgrades can be stressful if you require a specific upgrade, but do not receive it that week. To help from feeling too overwhelmed you can adjust the speed of the game, and also pause the action to adjust lines.
The game features a light tutorial. It introduces you to the basics of the gameplay, but not much else. At first this made the game feel very arcane. I just connected dots without much thought put into how I was connecting them. Over time I started to notice the patterns. While each map initially starts with a single square, another won’t spawn for quite a while. Circles, on the other hand, appear very frequently. Triangles appear less often than circles, but much more often than squares. I began to think of circles as representing residential areas, triangles as retail, and squares as dense government/business* areas. Unique shapes such as crosses and diamonds appear as well. To me these are landmarks, like stadiums or monuments. With knowledge of each symbols relative rarity, strategies began to form. Early game, it’s important that each line connects to that original square. This lead to spiderweb like rail systems where everything branched off that initial square. With more play new strategies formed, connections became less arbitrary and actions became more deliberate.
*In my head, I called them “capitals”, which doesn’t make sense. Now I think “downtown”
What initially drew me to this game is it’s visuals. The graphics are very simple, just colored lines and shapes. So while it may not look like a train system, it does look like a metro map . Metro maps have a weird, simple, utilitarian beauty to them. Variety of colors, bold symbols, parallel lines, intersecting lines, slanted text, contrasting with the natural shapes from bodies of water. I find them fascinating to look at. Mini Metro lets you craft your own. You get not just the satisfaction of solving the puzzle, but also the basic joy of watching something grow. My favorite feature is exporting a sped up gif of your network’s growth. Even without understanding the underlying mechanics, these animations look cool.
Mini Metro is a great chillout game. Just like with the visuals, it has a very minimalist take on sound. Menu music is simple ambient electronic. Once the game starts the soundtrack stops. Instead are light ambient noises: chugging of the trains, a light pop when a passenger appears at a station, gentle tones when a passenger reaches their destination. Early pacing makes these ambient noises, but as the pace picks up the noises combine into music.
The touch screen controls get a little clunky as the screen gets cluttered. You can pinch to zoom in and out for finer control, but it’s not perfect. I imagine that the PC version’s mouse controls help alleviate this problem, but I can’t be sure. Other than controls, the different versions appear to be nearly identical. Although, the developers did mention that the PC version may get a map creator in the future. One last note to consider: the mobile version costs half as much as the PC version. I still recommend the mobile because its simplicity works well with the portability of phones.
To wrap up: Mini Metro is a minimalist, relaxing, portable, puzzler that’s fun for short or long sessions. Mechanics and controls are well suited to a touch screen interface. Simple mechanics lead to deeper than expected interactions. If you’re looking for a unique puzzle game for mobile devices, check out Mini Metro.
Have you played this game? Let me know what you think about it in the comments.