Kotaku UK Takes a Minit

By Kotaku on at

By Rich Stanton, Laura Kate Dale and Kim Snaith

This week saw the release of Minit, a diminutive adventure designed to be played in minute-long chunks. Good old Tim Rogers describes Minit as “a Zelda-like where you die every 60 seconds” and that more or less covers it — with the caveat that, though it uses these elements, it’s nothing like a Zelda game. There’s combat, there’s plenty of chatting to NPCs, and even a few dungeons – but you haven’t played anything *quite* like this.

Rich: I suppose we’d better start with a brief overview of how Minit works. It’s a top-down adventure composed of single screens, where you can move in four directions and attack, your character can carry one item at a time, and – yes – every single ‘life’ is limited to 60 seconds, which counts down in the top left corner. When your character dies, they respawn with another 60 seconds at the last bed you slept in.

The structure of Minit is brilliant. I’ve played games before like Half-Minute Hero, which also did a great job constructing a game around the ‘gimmick’ of everything happening super-fast. But in Minit, even though time pressure is a huge factor, it doesn’t feel rushed to me. The first few times you die it’s an oddly disappointing feeling sure, but pretty soon the shackles were off and I was gleefully killing myself whenever I took more than a few seconds to leave the house.

Kim: Definitely. Once I’d discovered that ‘instakill yourself’ button there was no stopping me. Accidentally walked into a wall on my way out of the house? No problem, I’ll just die and start over.

Laura: I think it’s interesting that the game doesn't even tell you about that button, or if it does I missed it. The first few rounds I was intent on making the most of every minute, but once that button popped up I saw it more as one continuous experience rather than as a series of disconnected attempts. It really gave a sense of cohesion to the playthrough, going from full minutes to only as much of the minute as I wanted to use.

Where something like Half Minute Hero felt like a series of disconnected but well-designed encounters, I really have to praise Minit for how it managed that same trick with a whole consistent world. I think the checkpoint houses being technically reachable within the time limit, but taking work to reach, helped keep it feeling consistent. No better reward than finding a new place to start the clock over from.

Rich: I love how it uses the safehouses, they really feel like little oases and, as you prioritise different bits of the world, it’s lovely going back to an old resting place and putting your boots up there again. Minit has a lo-fi visual style that kind of hides how well it’s doing simple things. I’ve played hundreds of top-down games with similar elements to Minit, many of which probably have a more fluid sword attack! Very few of them really grab me, but Minit does an amazing job of making you criss-cross the map focused on a few different small elements every time. Also, while it’s obviously quite a linear game, it does feel like you run into dead ends and then are able to start exploring in a completely distinct direction — and then there’s even another layer of incidental challenges, like taking on the bull you meet fairly early, which will reward you with a permanent health upgrade - but you don’t have to do it if you’re not interested. Hell, it might not even occur to some folk. The screens look very simple but, together, they’re really packed with detail, not all of which is obvious at first.

Kim: …I didn’t know about the bull. I just ran past that beast as fast as my legs could carry me! Yeah, the amount of detail is great. There’s a lot to discover, and the fact that the game allows you (mostly) to approach tasks and challenges in any order you want is pretty liberating. I can imagine you can complete Minit without seeing half of what it has to offer, if you bypass things like the health upgrades you’ll find periodically. Not sure I’d get very far with only two hearts though…

Rich: I’m a Bloodborne pro Kim. I hid in the tight opening on the right of the screen and let it charge at the wall while I bravely poked it with the sword through the gap. LIKE A BOSS!

I think the core of why Minit works so well is that this structure deals with a serious problem that adventure-stroke-explorey games have always had, which is backtracking. You explore one way, there’s nothing there or you can’t do it yet, so you have to trek back. Because Minit is resetting you so often, a screen with four different directions to take is once again an exciting prospect – I shoot off one way, full steam ahead, knowing that whatever happens I can soon try another – without traipsing all the way back. The game is constantly refreshing itself through this, a textbook example of ‘good’ repetition over ‘bad’ repetition.

Laura: One of the things that really grabbed my attention about Minit was how effective it was at structuring itself with both short and long term goals. When you first run out into the world you’re stumbling upon quests needing completion, seeing these tiny isolated and almost disconnected feeling slivers of what’s to be found, and it for maybe five or ten minutes is exploration where problems seem impossible to overcome. Then suddenly you find a cup of coffee, and that lets you move boxes, which creates a shortcut, and suddenly all these new avenues open up.

Minit spends just long enough each time teasing you with challenges that seem impossible, before letting you stumble on a solution and make a bunch of short bursts of progress. That pacing really makes it feel like you’re accomplishing meaningful progress, in an ultimately tiny world.

Kim: I did get frustrated more than once at coming across dead ends, and felt like I’d waste several of my minutes repeating myself, checking the same areas to make sure I’d not missed anything. But like Laura says, it constantly teases you with new challenges. A maze that takes longer than a minute to get through? Oh, you’ll need to come back to that later with faster shoes. Some trees blocking a path? Bet there’s a way to chop them down later. For me, it felt a lot like a test of my memory — remembering which areas I’d already been to, where future pathways led, where I’d need to return to.

Obviously, though, I kept forgetting so spent a fair amount of time just trying to find areas I’d already found. D’oh.

Rich: So the ‘Zelda-like’ tag… I’m always suspicious of Zelda comparisons, simply because it’s one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot. There are quite a few surface layers to Minit that are clearly inspired by the old top-down Zeldas, but what I was most delighted by is that the larger structure seems to take a lot from the brilliant trading game in Link’s Awakening. If you’ve never played that one, essentially over the course of the game Link has one item that can be traded for another many times – it’s a super fun part of that adventure and eventually you land up with some great tools because of it. Obviously Minit is using this vibe in a different way, because it’s so quickfire, but what I really enjoy is how it depends on your memory of meeting these odd little characters. It seems that every few screens there’s a dinky little person/thing of interest, and many of them you’ll meet long before you can really interact with or help them. So you’re building up this armoury by taking items around, trying to remember who needs what, and it really helps you begin to build a mental map of this world.

Laura: The Zelda comparison is easy to make, I know I’ve made it when talking about this game to people. I think the reason it’s so easy to make is that structurally, it’s a top down child-with-a-sword game where you progress by finding new items that allow you to either reach new areas, or progress more efficiently via shortcuts, in ways that open up the world. Minit is clearly its own very unique thing, but at its core it is playing with the structure of something like a Zelda game. It’s condensing down the time between items, it’s reducing dungeons to puzzles that can be completed in under a minute — but that core is clearly Zelda.

It kind of just distills down what makes Zelda games interesting, and gives a highly concentrated dose, knowing that because it's played in such short batches, the chances you’ll remember where something is down the line are drastically increased.

Kim: It’s hard not to see the Link’s Awakening link (heh), and the visuals certainly help that too. It’s unusual to see 8-bit monochrome games on our modern consoles, so Minit certainly sticks out in that regard. My first thought was, “oh, it’s like a Game Boy game!”, and even after five minutes playing Minit, it’s very clear where the game’s inspirations have come from. Without the twist of adding in the one-minute life mechanic, it’d feel very much like a cheap Zelda rip-off, but it’s astonishing how something so basic can completely change how you perceive a game.

Laura: One thing I really do think is a bit of a shame, is that Minit isn’t available on a handheld of some kind. I know that gets thrown around a lot recently, the whole “why is X not on Switch?” concept, but Minit’s fast paced pick up and put down gameplay does feel a little hampered by being on a machine you have to set time aside to boot up and use as your primary focus. Minit is the kind of game I would love to be able to whip out and play two or three rounds of when on the bus.

Rich: It’s insane Minit isn’t on Switch yet. I think one important aspect of it having these very familiar elements and going for that Game Boy visual style is that the game’s gimmick allows the designers to put together a very stripped-back take on that genre. We’ve all mentioned different aspects of this - how it eliminates backtracking, the long and short term goals, remembering where you’ve been - but to me this all adds up to a game that is something of a period piece, but free of that period’s rules. I guess I’d better explain what I mean, though really what it comes down to is removing the filler. Old games, and yes even the classic 2D Zeldas, were masterful at re-using their assets and environments to squeeze as much as possible out of them. In Minit this pressure doesn’t exist so much, there are a tonne of bespoke assets and no meaningful memory or performance constraints.

For me, this approach brings to mind Undertale. There’s the shallow level where they’ve both chosen this minimalist monochrome art style, but also the interesting ways they use it to establish and upset expectations. I don’t think Minit’s quite as anarchic as Undertale gets with it, but it’s a very knowing game - I always feel like the little people in it are babbling directly at me, rather than the character.

Laura: Totally agreed, it is reminiscent of old games, while being a game that couldn’t possibly have been made any time but today. It’s very much a 2018 low spec game, rather than an older game people are just finding, in terms of time, humour and awareness of contemporary classics. It’s not ignoring modern advancements just to fit an arbitrary retro feel.

Ultimately, Minit is easy to write off as doing things we have already seen done elsewhere before, but doing so overlooks what makes it special. It’s a fast paced, contemporary game that manages to divide up a full adventure in such a way speed runners are finishing it in under 25 minutes, but that will take most players far longer to explore. It’s creative, well-paced, and feels like something really special.

Kim: Exactly. Not much is truly original anymore, and while a lot of what Minit does we’ve seen done before, it manages to add a new twist. It’d be unfair to slap it in a simple Zelda clone category, because it’s much more. Minit might not be a lot to look at, but there’s something rather special hiding under its unassuming exterior.