Review: Minit

Minit condenses everything you know and love about the early top-down Zelda quests into a delightfully diminutive, cleverly constructed adventure that’s consumed and digested in bite-sized loops of 60 seconds, for an experience that feels old-fashioned and familiar yet still manages to spark your curiosity and spring surprises on you at every turn.

Playing as some sort of pixelated duck-person-thing, your quest begins like any other, waking up in a quaint countryside home shared with a pet dog. Without a given purpose, you venture out into the Hyrule-esque overworld and eventually stumble upon a sword that inflicts a curse causing death and rebirth every 60 seconds. Puzzles solved, items obtained, and pathways opened within a given loop carry over to the next minute-long life, but not before you’re respawned at the last checkpoint house visited. This creates a persistent sense of urgency that keeps you engaged and always moving forward. At the same time, the game has a good-natured way of taunting you in those instances when an “Aha!” light bulb flashes in your mind but the clock strikes zero right when you are on the cusp of completing a puzzle, figuring out how to reach the next area, or have the next item or treasure chest nearly within grasp.

On a given day, you might pick up a new tool or key, encounter one of the many weird NPCs, or uncover the path to the next location, die, and then attack the next day using the object or information obtained on the previous life. On paper the whole setup sounds like it could easily turn into a mess of backtracking and die-and-retry tedium, but the way everything flows together clicks into proper balance pretty much the whole way through. The developers did a great job of balancing the map in terms of calculating distances and solution times to always be feasible within the 60-second construct, so that you’re always in this sweet spot of having enough seconds on the clock to accomplish the next objective while still feeling under the gun to make every moment count. New checkpoint locations, shortcuts, and warp portals open up as you progress, and factor into the strategic planning for how you approach each run.

In addition to setting a brisk speedrunners pace, the timer element is used as a means to facilitate time advancement and puzzle progression within the world. For example using the watering can to water a plant, which then grows over multiple loops until reaching full bloom, or passing time for an NPC to build a necessary mode of transportation. A suicide button lets you end the current life on command, to advance time to the next day or use as a quick travel respawn to jump back to the last checkpoint.

The only time the clock becomes somewhat burdensome is if you happen to get seriously stumped on a puzzle, at which point the ever-present countdown can make it feel like you don’t have enough of a chance to properly scour the target area without burning through a handful or so lives. Going through the motions of having to hoof it back to the area you’re stuck on again and again and again can nag at your patience just a bit. That constant pressure is what ultimately makes the game such a joy, though, as it forces you to play efficiently while simultaneously paying attention to every little detail.

In proper Zelda-like fashion, a growing inventory of tools is used to overcome the many conundrums the game throws at you. A cup of coffee provides the caffeine energy boost needed to push boxes. Gardening gloves let you chop down tree stump barriers. Flippers allow you to swim over bodies of water. The flashlight grants visibility in pitch black underground dungeons. Fast shoes increase run speed so you can dash through mazes or reach farther distances that, within the time constraints, weren’t previously reachable at normal run speed.

The puzzles are straightforward, but even the simplest of tasks can be stupefying until you grasp the game’s rules. Slapping yourself on the forehead for missing obvious environmental cues becomes a common occurrence. Early on you’ll need to find and kill five crabs, crawling around in different places across multiple screens, and then dash back to an NPC to get an item. Later you’ll be tasked with tracking down a group of NPCs to open up the pool area of the hotel, each one hiding away somewhere or requiring some form of aid before deciding to return. For example, one sneaky guy hangs out in a group of trees, jumping from one to the next as you approach to nab him. Hmmm… Perhaps there’s something that can be done to reduce his options for escape?

Controlling the game is as simple as using directional keys or an analog stick to move around, tapping the attack button to swipe the sword, or after obtaining the necessary item, holding attack before release to charge-throw the sword, in a similar capacity to Link’s trusty boomerang. Various critters populate the world, mostly as obstacles to snatch away a heart from your life bar as you rush by, with most moments of combat used as just another method of puzzle solving. However, there is a proper end boss battle, but I’ll refrain from venturing any further into potential spoiler territory.

What I love most about the game is how light it is on explanation and guidance. There is a vague sequence of items and puzzles that must be followed in a certain order, but progression never feels rigidly linear or overly restrictive. Hidden areas and clever secrets abound in a game world that screams out for you to push every wall, smack everything in sight with the sword, listen closely to every NPC, and pay attention to every signpost. Secrets become all the more fun to discover with the help of clue-giving NPC ghosts that can be spawned by solving a certain haunted house puzzle. This in-game hint system is optional, but the cryptic nature of the clues gives small nuggets of information to get the brain juices flowing without making the solutions obvious, while also adding another layer of charm to the game world. The game’s creators mastered the art of hiding things in ways that are clever and often perplexing, any frustration that happens to set in ultimately eclipsed by an even greater sense of accomplishment. It’s the type of game that rewards players who grew up on 80s game design with a warm sensation of going home again.

Despite its title, Minit in its entirety takes far longer to complete than a measly 60 seconds, and there’s substantial replay depth to draw you back in multiple times over. The game’s collection of minute-long days add up to an adventure lasting on average somewhere between one and two hours on the first pass. My initial run took 93 minutes while only achieving a total completion percentage of 63%. Beating the default normal mode unlocks a New Game+ second run option, what is essentially a hardcore mode which reduces the timer from a minute to only 40 seconds, caps the health bar to a single heart (extra heart containers just break on acquisition), and reconfigures some of the puzzle layouts, enemy placements, and game rules (like the way cacti suddenly become insta-kill deathtraps!) so that the journey is that much more arduous.

A third mode, which removes the timer altogether and introduces a different playable character, can be unlocked by finding all items, coins, and hearts before beating the end boss. After savoring the novelty of the countdown clock on the initial runs, returning in a more relaxed free play setting is a fun alternative. Collectively, all three runs, plus earning 110% game completion and 100% achievements, took me about eight hours. Not shabby at all for a game that at first seems so fleeting and unassuming.

As someone who cut his gaming teeth on early Legend of Zelda and still prefers Link in two dimensions rather than three, I fully expected Minit to woo me with its black-and-white 8-bit motif and vintage gameplay and level design. It did that, no doubt. However, what I really got was an experience that turned out to be something so much more than a pure nostalgia grab. Minit is something greater than that. Something magical. Something truly special. A tiny adventure full of discovery and playfulness, built around a time constraint gimmick that somehow doesn’t feel gimmicky at all.

BuyIt

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also on PS4 and Xbox One
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom
Release Date: 4/3/2018
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Steam key for Minit was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Devolver Digital.

Buy From: Steam, itch.io, GOG.com, PlayStation Store, or Xbox Game Store for $9.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!