Minutes is everything a AAA game is not, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. There is no story or introduction animation, the premise is so simple my 73 year old mother managed to complete a level and, as the name implies, each of the sixty levels lasts exactly one minute.
The game has been described as a bullet hell shooter without bullets, but it also has echoes of classic arcade games such as Pac-Man. The task is simple, manoeuvre your transparent circle across the play area, collect the coloured lines by running into them and avoid the black lines. You can expand and decrease the circumference of your circle by clicking the shoulder buttons, the larger the circle is the larger your score will become. The downside being that your circle now takes up more space on the screen so is in greater danger of being hit by the dreaded black lines, take too many hits and the centre of your circle fills with a rotating black square and it is game over.
It all starts off in a rather sedate fashion, but drip feeds in the controls and power ups so that by level 20 things get incredibly frantic, especially when there is only one obvious path through a level. As you progress, you will also be gaining power ups which can be used once per level to slow down time, reduced the number of hits, destroy some of the black lines or provide a shield.
Later levels bring massive beams of energy, both good and bad, and blobs that alternate between a circle of collectable colour and a black square of death, so you have to time your collisions to the millisecond. There are also spinning circles with sticks of coloured goodness and fiendish black, usually a combination of both on the same circle which means you have to be incredibly precise when moving around.
Thankfully, you only need to complete around 50% of each level to you progress, as getting a perfect score on each level is incredibly challenging. Each of the sixty levels plays exactly the same every time you play, so to master the game and get the highest rank of each level you will need to memorise the patterns and weave your way through the danger with pixel perfect precision, making use of the power ups wisely. Of course, if you’re after a unique and varying challenge, the daily challenge mode features randomly generated levels for you to try and master each day.
To say the game is frenzied would be an understatement. Even though the levels are a mere sixty seconds, you get a huge rush of adrenalin from moving your circle through the moving maze of lines, and though the later levels can be very difficult I always felt they were fair and not designed to end my game with a sneak attack. If you fail, you fail because you have been too clumsy with the controls and not thought ahead. Whilst the game only requires you to score one star to progress to the next level I found myself coming back to the earlier levels to try and get the top three star rating. Missing out by just a few points is both frustrating and addictive.
I can see why Red Phantom Games describe the game as a bullet hell shooter without the bullets, as though you cannot fire you have to weave your circle through a chaotic screen of enemies, just as you would do in a bullet strewn shoot ’em up. As I mentioned earlier there are also hints of Pac-Man in Minutes, and you have to learn the best path around the evolving mazes. The easy route is usually obvious, the top scoring harder route will take many hours to master, and some of the trophies will give you nightmares.
The graphics are simple but crisp and clean, which is essential when you are scraping past those dreaded black lines with just a few pixels to spare. The game also has a Cross-Save feature (and is Cross-Buy) which merges your best scores and progress from the PS4 and Vita versions. The PS4 version runs at a silky smooth 1080p and 60fps, whilst the Vita also runs at 60fps but at 960 x 540 on Vita – it’s not the native resolution of 960×544, because two pixels extra at top and bottom might give Vita players “a tiny advantage vs. PS4”, according to Red Phantom Games. That statement shows just how careful you have to be; one pixel in the wrong direction and it is game over.
The final detail to mention is the music, an area where indie games such as TxK and Velocity 2X have managed to excel. Minutes has delivered one of my favourite game soundtracks this year, as each level is accompanied by sixty seconds of thumping, pumping dance music created by Black Bag Music. It fits the game perfectly, the clean cut graphics complementing the hard dance influenced sounds and the pounding bass kick driving the on screen action. When the Quell power up is used to slow down the action, the music also halves in tempo, giving you an audible as well as visual relief from the pulse racing puzzling.
Minutes does exactly what it says on the tin and it does it beautifully, which is quite a feat considering developer Red Phantom Games is actually just one person, Richard Ogden. An essential title for on-the-go gaming on PS Vita, and a damn fine puzzler on PS4.