Review: Minit (Switch)

A daring and enjoyable experiment in game design.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/22/2018 13:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Delightful, stark visuals; 60 second time limit makes for a taut and challenging experience; clever writing and puzzles
Poison Mushroom for...
Some puzzle solutions are overly obtuse; lack of environmental variance in some areas makes navigation trickier than it should be

One of the great things about the indie development scene is the insane amount of innovation and variety coming from that corner of the video game industry. As Ollie Barber of Forbes observed a couple of years ago, all the technological advancements that come along with each console generation bring with them higher production costs for developers. The games look prettier and are more complex than they were thirty years ago, but the tradeoffs for them to be made are development teams comprised of dozens of people and bushels of cash. Thus, today’s AAA projects tend to be more concerned with obtaining a positive return on investment versus delivering fresh, new takes on game design.

Thankfully, indie developers tend not to play by these rules. They don’t have the financial capital nor big name publishers backing them when setting out to make their games, so the product, more than anything else, has to stand out by virtue of its ingenuity, creativity, and capacity for fun. Minit is one of those games. Developed by four people, Minit turns the clock back to systems like Vectrex with its simple, black and white graphics. The gameplay itself, though, is more reminiscent of overhead adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda, with rudimentary directional hack-and-slash combat and puzzle solving. That might not seem particularly innovative at first glance, but the name Minit is a phonetic play on its central mechanic/hook: sixty second intervals of playtime.

That might sound crazy for a title that’s heavily influenced by old-school adventure games, where it takes a lot of time to scour the overworld, but the execution here is what makes it work. Minit might parcel out its secrets in increments of a minute, but therein lies its brilliance. Rather than meander around aimlessly, the limitation of sixty seconds of roaming forces players to approach exploration unlike they have in other games. Movement itself becomes a precious commodity. Dally too long in one location and suddenly an objective becomes impossible to complete. Careful observation of the environment is needed to obtain goals and reach the end. There’s no map, no time extensions— it’s a hardcore exercise in concentration and memorization.

If this still doesn’t make any sense, allow me to break it down a bit more. Minit starts off with the main character (a nameless hero with a duckbill, which is how I will refer to him from here on out!) discovering a cursed sword on a beach. Duckbill’s goal then becomes to try and lift the curse, but he dies and is subsequently resurrected every minute by the sword, making it pretty tough to get far enough to resolve his dilemma. At first, Duckbill revives within his house every time he dies. As the player advances and explores more of the game world, however, safe houses pop up that become new resurrection points.

These additional checkpoints allow Duckbill to venture further and further out, eventually even becoming fast travel/warp locations later in the game. Duckbill’s actions also carry over with each respawn, so any progress made in a “previous” life allows him to proceed further in the “next” one (how karmic). It all combines into an ingenuous way of sticking to the strict time cycle without having to pad Minit out with more seconds or some other cop out. As noted above, there’s no map, but thankfully the design team kept the overworld small enough that this isn’t a problem (mostly— see below). Plus, the frequency with which players will be revisiting areas of the game means it’s easy to memorize where to go. Developing a maximum economy of movement is a critical element of Minit. Discovering how to get from A to B before Duckbill dies is a puzzle unto itself, and finding ways to overcome what seems like an insurmountable distance within the time limit is immensely satisfying.

Minit has a very, very retro visual style. The entire game is presented in stark black and white with minimalistic pixel art. It’s a wildly charming look, particularly as it pertains to the oddball, cartoony characters there are to interact with. I found it all downright beautiful, honestly— it’s a gorgeous artistic accomplishment. Still, as much as I love the direction the design team went with for Minit’s graphics, I can’t say that it’s entirely successful from a functionality standpoint. The main problem lies with the game world: there are some areas that aren’t visually distinct enough, which makes getting around harder than it should be. This is most problematic in the desert area, where the sea of sand can sometimes bleed from one spot to the next. Obviously, a map would go a long way towards rectifying this issue, but the nature of Minit’s challenge would be ruined by one’s presence. I can appreciate what the designers were going for here, but the end result stumbles slightly.

What isn’t a problem is Minit’s witty writing. There’s not a ton of dialogue, but what’s there is immensely clever and usually also serves to help advance the plot and provide the player with some concept of where to go next. One of my absolute favorite moments came very early on in the game. One of the characters started to drone about seemingly worthless information. I was tempted to just walk away, but I quickly realized that Minit was intentionally testing my patience. The character prattled on for almost the full minute of Duckbill’s lifespan, but it was necessary to uncover the secret that I wouldn’t have been able to learn otherwise. Most of the puzzles are clever like this, but I did find that the solutions for one or two of them were somewhat obtuse. I get that trial-and-error is part of the workings here, but that can quickly turn into tedium if there’s a lack of clarity thrown into the mix.

Virtually everything in Minit serves a purpose, as the game’s quirky time limit necessitates a lean, focused experience. There’s only meat and no fat on these bones, so to speak. It’s key to pay attention to every detail and read every line in order to make the most of Duckbill’s time. Now, some of you might be wondering how a game like Minit can possibly sustain player interest before its gimmick wears thin, but thankfully that problem never comes up. Minit only takes a few hours to beat. Some might bemoan the short play time, but I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all standard for how long a game should be. If Minit were any longer it would likely overstay its welcome. I feel like it’s the perfect length and applaud the design team’s restraint.

Another complaint that could be levied at Minit is that its core gameplay (fighting, puzzles, etc.) skews too basic. The counter to that point would be that there’s only so much that can be done within such a small window of time, which almost demands that the gameplay can’t get too complicated without breaking the sixty second restriction. Maybe I’m wrong. If anyone would know I’d argue that it’s the people who made Minit. If that’s the case, hopefully they’ll clue me in with a sequel, because I absolutely adored this game and want more. It’s a bold, unique title that does so much within its sparse confines. Experimental games like Minit deserve to be embraced by fans and I hope that those of you reading this will soon count yourselves among those who give it a download.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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