April 9, 2018 // 5 p.m.
Developer: JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): PC (Windows, MacOS, Linux), PS4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PC
Time isn't often your enemy in video games. Often, your princess will wait in another castle for you to work through the puzzles to reach her. The final boss is happy to chill for 100 hours while you grind to max level, and your nemesis companion will politely avoid asking you why it took you two hours to meander your way to them after they issued a stern-faced commandment in a cutscene that you only had five minutes before they kill your wife/best friend/partner one day from retirement.
In video games, time has long been on your side.
That all changes with Minit, a game where every 60 seconds brings death. It's all the fault of this cursed sword you pick up from the beach, meaning you'll never live more than a minute without death's embrace from the second you pick it up. This is Minit's core loop, and while it's a nice idea, it does limit what the game is capable of. It might look similar on the surface to a 2D adventure game like Zelda, but Minit is actually an open-world puzzler, with your character trying to suss out the next conundrum and make progress before the minute rolls around and punches your ticket, sending you back to the latest respawn point.
There is some progress that persists: Find a coffee and you'll be able to push blocks; find some woodcutting gloves and you'll be able to fell trees. These abilities carry across the death/life barrier, and they open up the ability to solve new puzzles or carve shortcuts through the map with each successive life. One person, rescued from the desert, asks you to fix his boat. Several lives later you'll fix his boat and he'll take you to another island with a new respawn point. Solve puzzles here, and you'll have access to a teleporter to help you bounce between locations faster. Minit's upgrades and new abilities all give you the ability to shave seconds from journeys, letting you carve an extra chunk out of your minute before death.
Minit is a game about letting go. Death is an inevitability here, and the only option is short bursts of activity against the telltale tick of the clock. This causes spikes of adrenaline as the player clatters around, trying to accomplish something, anything, before the next death.
However, when you look past the conceit of dying every 60 seconds, the game has very little substance to it. Puzzling here is often working out how to achieve what you need to achieve within the set time frame, rather than the difficulty. This also means that when you lose it's often because you were a couple of seconds away from the solution when your time ran out or because you've mashed the suicide button after reaching a puzzle with only 10 seconds left and you didn't want to waste your time.
Because death is so frequent and unavoidable, it becomes somewhat arbitrary. The game has no real stakes, so these deaths grate quickly, an obstacle that requires you to re-run what you were doing, but to do it faster. When the game appears in speed-running festival Awesome Games Done Quick it'll do well, but as a first-time player it's like playing a cut-rate Zelda by time trial. It's still got enough charm to be worth your time, but it's hard not to think of games that do it better, especially when it comes to the puzzles.
Some of these puzzles work really well; others struggle to make an impact, so constrained are they by the game's concept that even the biggest problem has to be solvable in 40 seconds. It means that Minit is inconsistent in quality, which is frustrating. For every puzzle that requires some lateral thinking or activity, many more just require the relevant ability - to toss a sword, or see in a dark area - while there are others that require you to do nothing more than go and get something and return it in a set amount of time.
For the time-poor, Minit is an attractive proposition: You can complete it in an hour if you're smarter than this reviewer, it's charming, and the art is sublime. However, for those wanting a deeper game experience, Minit is shallow and patchy. I enjoyed it and, played over the weekend in short bursts while moving house, Minit was amusing enough, if not a little flat.
However, the experience is like a Viscount biscuit, the mint and milk chocolate biscuit that served as sustenance for the entirety of my move. It's mostly delicious, but the reality still disappoints compared to what the concept suggests, and it will leave you feeling hollow and wanting something more substantial.
Minit is a fascinating experiment, and if you need a lesson in letting go, Minit can provide it. However, I'm not sure if it succeeds in turning its core concept into a particularly good game, and despite my own enjoyment, I'm hesitant to recommend it here. For most, interest in this game, like your characters life, will be gone in 60 seconds.