Who knew that directing traffic could be so addicting??
I was drawn to Traffic Mayhem before I'd ever even played it, because it's a game that explores a subject I'd genuinely never seen a game tackle before. Sure games like Super KO Boxing and Galaxy on Fire are great, but they aren't exactly the first time a game has starred a boxer or spaceship captain. In the spirit of DS cult hits Pheonix Wright (become a lawyer!) and Trauma Center (become a surgeon!), Traffic Mayhem allows gamers to become a traffic cop, keeping the roads free of congestion one intersection at a time.
Like most (all?) great mobile titles, the premise and controls are intuitive and instantly accessible. At a four-way stop, the up, down, left, and right buttons (or 2, 4, 6, and 8) correspond with that direction on the road - you have an overhead view of the action. Pressing a button allows traffic from that direction to pass through, and pressing it again stops it. If you're feeling risky you can give two directions green lights at once, keeping your fingers crossed that someone won't make a left turn, or otherwise cause a collision.
As expected, early levels follow a fairly leisurely pace. Traffic never really backs up, and it's easy to keep everything moving and everyone happy. Later on though - oh man. Cars will be backed up all the way off-screen, but you can't let them go because other cars have been sitting so long that they're beginning to honk their horn. I never felt too overwhelmed however, even in the final levels, thanks to the extremely gradual nature the game's difficulty escalation.
Presumably in an attempt to break up the traffic directing, developer Gamevil included some "microgames" (they literally take about 1-2 seconds to complete). You'll occasionally be asked to give a lost driver directions or catch a speeder, by pressing buttons in the proper sequence or correctly timing an individual button press, respectively. I found these activities to be more disruptive to my flow than enjoyable, however. They weren't worth the points they awarded, to boot. Once they became optional I ignored them for the rest of the game.
Another odd decision is the inclusion of a storyline - it's quizzical at its best and downright bizarre and contradictory at its worst. You have a rival traffic cop who's supposedly the "best there is," but later on he's described as "just average?" It's wholly unnecessary. On the other hand, doesn't really hinder the experience, either.
Visually, Traffic Mayhem adopts a cartoony style that gives the game a lot of personality and fits the action well. All the characters have gigantic heads, the slow-moving cars are shaped like turtles, that sort of thing. The charm really does make an impact, though. If the game had gritty, GTA-style intersections I doubt the experience would be as appealing.
It's true that Traffic Mayhem is a bit of a "one note" mobile release, but so are many of the best mobile games released this year. Mobile games don't cost much, and several can fit onto one handset. I'd much rather have a phone loaded with TM and several other great, "simplistic" titles instead of one half-baked release that had a design document too ambitious for its own good.
What's Hot: Getting into a zen-like state of traffic directing.
What's Not: Those damn flow-ruining minigames