Gaming - Mini Metro

Mini Metro

The Defective Inspector investigates some of the IGF Indie Award nominees. Here is his Case File for Mini Metro from Dinosaur Polo Club ...

Mini Metro is a game which has been nominated for not only 1 but 4 awards making it the highest nominated game in all of the IGF Indie Awards. So I think it’s time that I see what all the fuss is about and to do that I am going to rip the game into its 4 categories; Excellence in Visual Art, Excellence in Design, Excellence in Audio and The Seumas McNally Grand Prize. Let’s get to it shall we?

Metro Map

Excellence in Visual Art

Cleverly this game has given us a format most people are familiar with, a modern railway map. If you’re from London you will have become accustomed to the multi-coloured spaghetti play-dough massacre that is the underground. So taking that iconic piece of sodomy and turning into art was a brave move. Surprisingly the people of Dinosaur Polo Club (One of my favourite company names I might add) have taken the challenge and have somehow made it something I enjoy seeing. Keeping to a minimalist format and daring to keep things bold and colourful has allowed the game to shine through and keep the concept in mind. The game IS a challenge to make an interconnecting rail system in a growing city, thus to keep to the initial design is absolutely perfect. By going to a new level of cheeky simplicity it takes you back to a pre-school age as the square ‘people’ need to go to the ‘square’ station. It almost sounds insulting but the truth is failing to achieve that goal on the odd occasion caused me to throw a tantrum and demand animal crackers, such a shame when I realised I’m a full overgrown adult on a new year’s resolution diet… What I find incredibly interesting is something as straight forward as this, from a visual perspective, would have been ripped apart by a harsh critic for “taking the easy road”, but I never felt annoyed or disappointed. Ultimately the creators made it clear they were going for the Harry Beck effect and it succeeded while also being alluring. My eyes felt satisfied when a new shape grew out of nothing and become elated when the colourful lines connected them, it was a strangely therapeutic experience. Even when things become a bit chaotic the gentle droplet of water shockwave pond effect calms me… Slightly.

Point being the game’s deceptively simple but highly enjoyable visual art is unquestionably worthy of the nomination.

New York subway

Excellence in Design

Before I went back to school I used to work at a famous national bank, they prided themselves on being lean, efficient and customer focused. Of course being a national bank almost assured failure in every regard. But if I was there today I would find myself recommending Mini Metro as the true model of design sleekness. The tutorial of the game is possibly the most direct and intuitive I’ve ever played, I knew what I needed to do simply by being shown an icon and letting my natural instinct take over. While playing the actual game I could toy and play only to be stopped by the foreboding symbol and somehow I never felt restricted, like it was reminding me of a logic axiom rather than holding me back. Apart from the player experience this game has an understated but intelligent AI built into it. Obviously we are not talking FPS AI or RTS AI but instead the AI of the rectangular carriage that knows when to pick up a passenger and when not to, to evaluate and calculate the best course of action without me having to input a complex level of instructions and criteria taking me into a level of inner game coding I never wanted to be involved in. Nope, instead this game does so much for you, your job is focused on connecting the railway system and keeping it going not to punch in visual basic or C++. The difficulty from map to map is relatable and progressive despite the fact London is considered the ‘starting area’. Better still the stations created and the operations are randomised, but with difficulty in mind. I always felt challenged but rarely overwhelmed.

It is an exceptional skill to balance gameplay in such a manner and frankly I am impressed. I’ll be getting in touch with the ol’ bank soon. They need guys like these on their payroll.

London tube

Excellence in Audio

Unlike the visual counterpart of this game there is a much more subtle but no less powerful audio presence. Once again taking the literal standard of ‘less is more’ the game’s backing music is a mixture of dulcet tones reverberating through the sub-woofer of my PC. When everything is running smoothly it’s like an audible digital pond with ebbs and flows. When new stations are introduced it seems to merge with the soundtrack but make enough of an impression that you notice them alongside the changing visual environment. What I also found impressive was my lack of awareness of the soundtrack, but my longing for it when I muted the speakers. There is a skill in the entertainment business to do something like that, it’s a testament to the cleverness of the creators. The only time this sea of tranquillity is broken is when stations begin to overcrowd and the tempo begins to increase while a tiny bouncing pieces of geometry give off tiny exclamations, like a disgruntled mouse or gently awoken cat. If it wasn’t for the fact their noises are the heralds of failure I’d let it continue much more as it almost seems playful. Cleverly though it is a matter of numbers, if more places are falling into chaos it creates more audio chaos and thus you are in control of your own metropolitan therapy.

I’m no expert in audio but I love it none the less.

Game over

Seumas McNally Grand Prize

There isn’t much more I could add to this without repeating myself because it really does touch on every element of what makes a game great. The reason for such a broad scale of nominations is because the game excels in so many places thus the Seumas McNally Grand Prize is a natural progression. The gameplay is a solid and addictive, the visuals are bold and brave, the audio is gentle but complimentary ultimately making a very good well rounded but also unique game. When looking at Mini Metro I felt it could go into the portable medium. So I check online to see it has and BAM! It seems that is happening this year, so once again the team knows what’s best for this game! I won’t be brave enough to say it deserves the award, I’ve not play the other games yet, but it’s an unyielding contender and Dinosaur Polo Club should be very proud of making such a beautiful game.

Images from dinopoloclub.com