Monday, April 16, 2018

REVIEW - Minit

Minit is a cute, sweet little riff on The Legend of Zeda.  Presented in something south of eight bits, it looks like a part-time college student's first attempt but is designed as if professionals had a hand in it – because they did.  Minit is actually the product of devs from Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne, Luftrausers) and Guerrilla Games (Horizon: Zero Dawn).  If you're feeling like a bite-sized, classic-y adventure, Minit was made for you. 

It's like one of the one-off episodes of Adventure Time where Finn (or Jake or Princess Bubblegum or BMO or Marceline) wander off on their own, discover a crazy weird civilization and have an inspired adventure in twenty minutes, and then it's over – though Minit will take you an hour or two to beat. 

Almost an appetizer of a game, it gives you the same exploration/puzzle-solving endorphin hit as any proper adventure game, and it keeps things interesting via a simple hook that the player can immediately intuit the ramifications of - you have one minute to live. 

The first thing you do in Minit is go down to the beach and obtain a cursed sword.  As soon as you've grabbed it, a countdown appears in the upper-left corner of the screen.  Once a minute's up, you fall down dead, and can restart from your house.  Anything you’ve done or accomplished in that minute remains done, but all enemies have respawned and shrubs are back like you’d never cut them down. 

So you start exploring and seeing how far you can go in only a minute.  There's more beach to the east, an area that might bear exploring to the north, a nice little bar on the beach to the west and a senior citizen who speaks very, very slowly in front of the lighthouse.

They want to tell you directions to a treasure hidden somewhere out in the ocean, but they talk so... damn... slow... and take so... damn... long that the minute will run out, and you won't hear where the treasure is before you die.  Upon respawning, you break from the house and run as fast as you can along the beach, down to the lighthouse, where - if you were quick enough! - you can find out where that treasure actually is.  Perhaps, one day, you’ll be able to strike out into that ocean and find it.

And that's it.  That's Minit's inspired addition to the classic formula, and it works.  Every life is a mini-speedrun, but it rarely actually feels like a constraint - sixty seconds feels less like a tether than a guideline for what's possible, and it keeps things simple.  Minit ends up being a bit larger than this would imply - its map is around half the size of Link to the Past's overworld – and it will take an hour or two to beat, on your first attempt.

While central to Minit’s minute plot, the cursed sword is rarely used as a weapon. There are literally only two instances when game requires you to kill something with the sword in order to progress, and it took me some time to come to terms with that.  I’ve been effectively conditioned by games to the point that when I find myself in a two-tone cave full of pixel-art snakes, I’m gonna’ hit those snakes with my sword – and Minit doesn’t suggest it’s a waste of your time.  It doesn’t remind you there’s no XP to be earned here, and no loot drops to thirst for – you just realize that you need to get where you’re goin’ post-haste, and the fastest way through a room of snakes is just to walk from one side to the other.

It’s both intuitive and almost seems to be poking fun at the Gamer Sense we’ve cultivated over so many years.  The fact that these snakes are immobile and don’t hurt you unless you step on them might come across as lazy or unfinished in any other title, but Minit is confident enough in itself and successful enough in its execution that we instead feel certain that this room exists, as it does, for very good reasons that will become clear in good time – and you feel a bit silly for all those needlessly slaughtered snakes.

It’s a teensy little game, and this makes its ten dollar (PS4) price tag a bit unseemly when compared to the volume and quality that amount can get you on any digital storefront, but Minit’s smallness and simplicity, its one-frame attack animation, its two-tone ultra-pixellated presentation, its easygoing exploration and its wonderful, chipper chiptune soundtrack burst with the concentrated flavors we crave.  Exploration, puzzle solving and weird, one-off characters – it’s like a five-dollar cupcake from a humble but artisanal little bakery.

Small and perhaps overpriced, it remains light and delicious, and while you’d have absolutely found a better value buying your cupcakes at Wal-Mart, those mass-produced confections would lack Minit’s je ne sais quoi. It’s small but thoughtful, effective and distinctly sweet.

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