Traffic Lights…They are either the bane of your existence when you’re running late, or you find yourself thanking the universe that you just went through all consecutive green lights to make it across town. Traffic lights control our travel in so many respects so clearly there would have to be a game about them! Urban Flow on Nintendo Switch is precisely this game from publisher Baltoro Games, known best for bringing mobile-centric/casual games onto Nintendo’s platform. Will controlling traffic lights bring order to a bustling metropolitan in your hands, or will you find this game as frustrating as a long red light?
Urban Flow is a game where you control traffic lights within cities to manage the flow of angsty drivers sitting within their vehicles. The concept, while unique, has a pretty heavy presence already on mobile phone/tablet platforms with games such as Tiny Cars, Traffix, and quite a few others of varying degree. The premise starts off fairly simple with this title, in that you just need to simply cycle red light or green light and keep traffic moving. The gameplay mechanic is just as equally basic in that you can either use the Touch Screen, or controller buttons to change the lights. And that’s it, swapping two colors is all you’ll be charged with doing, but within minutes you’ll learn that it’s far more complex than this.
Your first level will ease you into the chaos with just two traffic lights. Cars will stack up if you hold a red light, and if you hold it for too long, drivers in this game will just get too upset and run the red light, barreling out into oncoming traffic with no regard! Thankfully there’s a meter that pops up when they start becoming impatient, so you’ve got a hot second to react and manage, but this still remains a key impact point in this game that you’ll have to learn to prepare for.
By the third level Urban Flow throws you into the deep end of managing lights and you’ll find the challenge quickly ramps up. In several of the mobile traffic light management games that I have played in my time, progression was rather slow and gradual, however here you’ll be tackling some tricky situations within your first hour of game time. With a total offering of 50 campaign levels, things were getting quite wild for me just a mere 20 levels in; with tanks rolling around, dense fog to wipe off my ‘screen’ and much more. This is where Urban Flow starts to really shine and stand out from the crowd. Layering new challenges onto your experience, you’ll have a lot more to contend with that just flipping light switches. When a tank shows up ignoring all traffic laws, and you’ve got 3 traffic lights with backed up impatient drivers, and wait…a commuter train is barreling through…oh and you have to deal with a stacked set of cars that need to merge onto a highway…yes…this game becomes total chaos and a delight to play.
So how does one lose in this game? Well, that’s quite straightforward. Crashing cars is your fail state. You’re allowed to crash once or twice depending on where you’re at in the campaign, and after that you’ll fail the level and need to restart. It certainly isn’t hard to mismanage situations and before you know it you’ve got a line of backed up cars and accidents soon after.
I really liked the Star Rating system that is tied directly to game progression. As more cars safely clear the game area you’ll see a ticker count up toward a one star ranking. Achieving various goals that the course has outlined for you will result in more stars, all the way up to the third tier. Because the game ramps up in difficulty so quickly, it’s nice that you can pass the level with only one star under your belt, but the more ambitious can strive for more. There’s a lot of challenge and skill to be mastered here if that’s what you so desire!
If the difficulty is too much to handle alone, you can always elect to play this game in Party Mode with up to 4 players total. The game scales the challenge a bit further to accommodate new players, but it makes this game even more chaotic when you’re trying to negotiate congested traffic with other players. I wasn’t a huge fan of playing this multiplayer as I wanted to retain the control myself, but I could see it being fun for others and I’m sure yelling matches will erupt quite often.
In terms of meta rewards or unlockables, there is a gallery with items tied to the stars you’ve collected throughout the game, but it’s inconsequential to your actual gameplay. This is an area I would have loved to have seen more care given to. More meaningful rewards like new vehicles or skins, custom stoplights, and other cool perks would have made nabbing 3 stars per level more worthwhile.
There is also an Endless Mode that is score-based, which is fun to play on a whim as well, giving it a more arcade feel. Finally, the game is visually quite nice and certainly a step or three above many of the mobile traffic light games out there. The visuals are clean and cartoony with a nice aesthetic style to them. Cars have a bold outline on them, and my only complaint is that everything that moves in the game feels more like an overlay to a background than a truly integrated and lively city. For example, the traffic lights themselves don’t actually change, which in a game about changing traffic lights, is a big misstep. Regardless, the game still looks slick on the platform and I had no readability problems even when all of the vehicles were bustling about.
Urban Flow takes a fairly familiar style of game with traffic light management, and drops it onto the Nintendo Switch marketplace with decent visuals, addictive and challenging gameplay, with only a handful of quirks that might bother some players. For me, managing traffic was chaotic and intense, but I sure did feel joy when I snagged a 3-star rating in the levels that I did!
Urban Flow Review
- Graphics - 6/106/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 7.5/107.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 6/106/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Urban Flow is a challenging stoplight/traffic management game that utilizes the Switch platform nicely. You can tackle the campaign levels solo which was my preference, or sync up 3 other players and turn the game into a sort of ‘party’ style game. There’s a lot of layered challenges this game will offer over it’s 100 levels, but the difficulty curve may turn some players off before they get to see everything that is offered. For $14.99 you’re getting a polished experience, but there are plenty of free or very cheap games in this genre on mobile platforms as well that may satisfy your traffic light switching urges.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.