So many games are ridiculous timesinks. Epic adventures boasting dozens of hours of content, sidequests that can add far more time on top of that. Take in grinding for levels and equipment and the obligatory multiplayer and most games can easily feel like full time jobs. Minit takes the core ingredients of arcade adventures such as classic Zelda titles and reinvents them through the use of one key gameplay mechanic. In Minit every life only lasts for sixty seconds. However, far from the exercise in frustrating repetition that this mechanic might suggest, what we have is an original and enjoyable indie title.
Much of Minit is shrouded in secrecy. There’s no real backstory, little to no heroic motivation and certainly no lengthy sections of wordy exposition. All of the usual narrative elements are stripped back and only a small but pure core experience remains. Unlike many other games where death is a constant but avoidable threat, in Minit you will die after sixty seconds. There are no ways around this, no extra time to be collected or unlocked and certainly no way to reverse the process. Every death is not in vain, however, as Minit represents the fusion of Zelda and Rogue-lites that you never knew you wanted.
Exploration provides much of the enjoyment in Minit. The constant ticking of time brings an urgency and thrill to each extra screen you unlock and every new item that you collect. The repetition ensures familiarity with the layout and you quickly learn the best route through each screen. Whilst the minute limit suggests a very small gameworld, there are in fact a number of bases that you unlock as you find them. Sleeping in one will set it as your home base and that will be the location from which your next life will continue. The direct result of this is to make the world feel far larger than it is, and it’s a skilful way to get around the obvious limitations of the time limit.
Upon death you are returned to your base, but objects you collect remain in your inventory. This allows you to access other routes and shortcuts between the static screens that make up the world. This flip scrolling gives the whole game a wonderfully retro feel; a mood that is only strengthened by the authentically old school monochrome visuals. Taking its inspiration from 1980s home computers such as the Commodore C64, it’s a far cry from the pseudo retro pixel graphics that are so common in other retro titles. While this minimalist approach will not appeal to all, it suits the stripped back game completely. Music is similarly retro-inspired and features some great chiptunes that work really well in the inevitably short bursts in which you hear them.
Your player character appears to be some kind of warrior duck, and the world of Minit is inhabited by a range of similarly odd characters. It is surprising how much individuality the developers have crammed into each NPC given the simple graphical style. While it cannot be accurately described as a beautiful game, the minimalistic style is remarkably effective and conjures up a kind of nostalgia that many other retro-inspired indies do not manage.
Not everything about Minit is as successful as the visuals though. The innovation provided by the constant ticking of inevitable doom goes a long way to masking the game’s limitations, but it can’t eradicate the feeling of slightness that pervades everything. Minit is, perhaps inevitably, a short game, with a playthrough taking only a couple of hours. Finishing the game unlocks a harder second run with an even stricter time limit and a new game + where items are rearranged, but the core game remains the same throughout these added modes. I found that I was satisfied with the single playthrough and felt little incentive to go through it again. This isn’t to say that such additions are unwelcome, but rather that the balance of the main game was judged well enough that the extra hindrances of less time per life didn’t appeal.
Minit is an experimental game at heart, and in many ways it’s a successful one. The innovation of the time limit adds a whole new dimension to the stripped back Zelda-like gameplay and the death mechanic makes travelling around the world as much of a puzzle as an arcade adventure. While it is a short game, increasing the playtime further would stretch the central mechanic to breaking point. On the one hand it is a game that deserves a great deal of attention for its experimentation with traditional genres and mechanics, but it never quite breaks free of feeling like a prototype. In many ways, this is the curse of the truly original title – breaking new ground brings a complex mix of expectations and frustrations. Minit is certainly worth its play time, but many may feel short changed by its deconstruction of the arcade adventure.
Version tested: PC – Also on PS4 and Xbox One