Urban Flow review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Baltoro Games
Developer: Baltoro Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: No

Urban Flow is a game about traffic management. You manage the flow of traffic, and make sure streets full of bad drivers don?t wind up filled with collisions.

Now, I could?ve sworn I?d played this exact game somewhere before. In fact, going in I would?ve said with at least 99% certainty that I?d played this exact game before, somewhere, whether as a browser game or a mobile game or something. But, for the life of me, I can?t seem to find the game I?m picturing in my head anywhere online. Which means that either a) my Google skills are seriously failing me, or b) Urban Flow is a surprisingly original game.

If we start from the latter premise, I?d say that it?s probably the mark of a very good casual game when it feels like it?s built around the most basic, most obvious hook in the world, but it doesn?t exist yet. Sure, there are a couple of games by which Urban Flow is very clearly influenced — Flight Control being the most obvious, and there are bits of Conduct Together! and Mini Metro in here too — but, generally speaking, what you?re getting is something that feels…well, not original, necessarily, but still all its own.

In this case, the mechanic is about as straightforward as they come: you have to manage the flow of traffic on a busy street, making sure cars driven by people with apparently zero spatial awareness don?t crash into each other. You have sets of traffic lights scattered around the screen, and you have to flick them between red and green.

It?s simple, but the way it?s done here makes it not only incredibly challenging, but also incredibly stressful. The drivers? having no sense of self-preservation is one of the obstacles, but there are plenty of others. The street layouts frequently feel like they were designed by sadists, with turns coming from all over the place and lights in some truly bizarre locations. Ambulances bearing dying patients are common occurrences, and they have little time to waste sitting at stoplights. Train tracks run right through the middle of intersections and across streets, for some reason, and they stop for no one. I wasn?t far into Urban Flow?s 100 levels before my heart was pounding.

Strangely, despite the tension, it sometimes feels like the game is actually trying to make you feel zen. Not only are you theoretically trying to achieve the ?flow? in Urban Flow and make the cars all zip back and forth in some difficult-to-discern pattern, the music and visuals are actually kind of calming, if you divorce them from the gameplay. Mind you, it?s hard to do that on account of how tense this game gets, but I think that?s where its heart lies.

Whatever the intention is, however, there?s no denying that Urban Flow succeeds at being a highly addictive casual game. I?m still not entirely convinced I haven?t played something exactly like it somewhere before, but even if I did, it probably didn?t pull off traffic management anywhere near as well as this game does.

Baltoro Games provided us with an Urban Flow Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A-