It was a handful of years ago that I first discovered Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro among the variety of offerings at IndieCade Festival here in Los Angeles. The premise was simple: manage a city’s public transit system via an interface that looks like an incredibly stripped-down version of Google Maps.
The game starts with nothing but three train stations, each represented by a different shape (circle, square, and triangle at first). By drawing a line from one train station to another, you connect the two via train track, which can then be continued on to connect other stations. At a core level, the game plays itself, as passengers appear at stations (shaped like the type of station they want to go to), and your trains run on their own, picking up riders so long as they still have room to spare.
Mini Metro’s gameplay comes from its management aspect, as you’ve got to juggle your limited number of train lines available, extra engines, passenger cars, tunnels, and other resources to keep everything running smooth. Every second that you play, the map slowly yet continually zooms out, making the potential play area grow larger and larger. The bigger it gets, the more stations pop up on the map, and the more congestion you have to deal with. If passengers have to wait for too long at a particular station, then it’s game over.
According to my Steam account, I first started playing Mini Metro back in October 2014 when the game was still in early development—and I’ve played it consistently since. If you look at it simply on a level of content and “accomplishment,” the game might last you an hour or so. That’s not the kind of experience Mini Metro is meant to be, however. Instead, it harkens back to the glory days of arcades, where you’d put in a quarter, see how long you could last, then start all over again. Almost four years later, the gameplay is still as fun to me as it ever was, because the core ideas and difficulty curve are just so wonderfully balanced. It’s not that there aren’t things to achieve here—you’ll need to unlock most of the maps, you can work hard to beat your old high scores, and there’s a daily challenge that pits you against the world—but Mini Metro never has to be about that. In fact, much like the original Pac-Man Championship Edition, I could probably stay completely satisfied only ever playing the game’s first map.
So why review a game that already came out so long ago? Because it’s now just made its first console debut via the Nintendo Switch. At this point I have four devices that I can all play the game on, but, you know, there’s something nice about having it on a proper handheld (and console). I was curious but concerned about the potential of such a port, and the news is mostly good. This is everything we’ve come to expect from Mini Metro at this point, without the need to toss in any unwanted gimmicks or alterations to make it more appealing in the wrong ways. Well, actually, there is one new feature that could potentially be called a gimmick: the ability for up to four players to work together on the same map at once. I admittedly didn’t try this option beyond some basic testing, and it really isn’t anything I personally want from my Mini Metro experience. That said—I do see some amazing potential from the mode when it comes to making friends and family want to kill one another once teamwork starts breaking down. It’s really strange that the option forces you to use individual Joy-Cons vertically instead of horizontally, though.
There is a “but” to all of that sadly, and it’s exactly what I was worried about: the controls. I first played Mini Metro on my old MacBook Pro, and using either the trackpad or a mouse, connecting stations, dragging train lines to redirect their path, moving trains from one track to another, and everything else I needed to do felt incredibly easy to accomplish. I remember Dinosaur Polo Club being worried about how all of that would translate to touch screens, but playing on my iPad Mini everything works equally great—and I say that as someone who utterly detests smartphone gaming due to touch controls.
Mini Metro on Switch offers three ways to play—either with the standard controls, using the touch screen, or via the Joy-Con’s gyro sensors—but none of them are able to completely capture the proper experience. Touch, unfortunately, is hampered by Nintendo’s decision to cover the Switch’s screen with plastic instead of glass, which just does not feel anywhere near as smooth when you’ve got to do a lot of sliding of your finger. Using the analog stick and buttons offers a satisfying level of precision, but with so many little pieces that can be moved or repositioned, the game needs to offer you a lot of points for your cursor to lock on to. Hopping across all of those steps between your current position and where you want to be can slow you down in times when you desperately need to fix something ASAP, making me wish there was an option—say, the right analog stick—that would just be linear movement without snapping to any of the game’s elements. You can get that kind of quick movement with the game’s final control scheme, where physically moving a Joy-Con directly moves the on-screen cursor. I’ve just never been a fan of gyro controls, so that option didn’t really gel with me. If you are a fan, though, maybe it’ll work for you. (That control scheme, by the way, can be hard to find if you don’t know it’s there. Take the Joy-Cons off of the base unit, and then click in the analog stick to turn on the gyro support.)
I’d say the controls in Mini Metro are about 90-percent of what they need to be, and at the end of the day, that’s really good enough. There’s nothing Dinosaur Polo Club or Radial Games (the studio handling the this port) can really do about the Switch on a physical level, but I do hope that maybe we’ll get a few more options to expand the potential of traditional controls. Even if we don’t, Mini Metro remains a fantastic experience for those who can appreciate these kinds of simple-yet-addictive games, and it’s an easy recommendation if you’re looking for something new for your Switch—just don’t expect it to be a replacement for the other copies of the game you may already own.
|Publisher: Radial Games • Developer: Dinosaur Polo Club, Radial Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.20.2018|
Mini Metro was a surprise hit for me when I first played it on computers four years ago, and I was really excited to finally see the game hit a proper console. While the controls aren’t quite as good as I was hoping they’d be, the game itself still remains enjoyable and engrossing, offering a more-than-worthwhile experience for anyone who hasn’t played Mini Metro on other platforms.
|The Good||A very simple concept that grows into a deeply satisfying experience that you can enjoy for days, months, or even years.|
|The Bad||No matter which of the control schemes you’re using, interacting with the game never feel as “right” as you wish it did.|
|The Ugly||How frustrated a design perfectionist like me can get once my train lines start descending into function over form. All my meticulous planning has been ruined!|
|Mini Metro is available on Nintendo Switch, Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. Primary version reviewed was for Switch. Review code was provided by Radial Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|