Even the lengthiest, most sprawling epics live in the mind for their small moments.
The camera-pan down the hilt and blade of the Master Sword in Ocarina of time; Ellie softly petting a giraffe in The Last of Us; that codec frequency on the back of the Metal Gear Solid box. Imagine, then, the potential of Minit, a game made up of little moments, each meted out in sixty-second bursts.
Created by a collective of indie developers (Jan Willem Nijman, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann), the game’s hero, a plucky Pac-Man-esque sprite of beaky mouth, has a minute of life at a time, before dying and waking up back in bed. I can empathise; sometimes, it isn’t even a minute before I feel like expiring and going back to bed.
All the usual action-adventure staples are atomised, think The Legend of Zelda served up by an airline: miniature portion puzzles, single-serving sword fights. For a time, it’s a breezy delight, the quest to purloin that crucial trinket condensed and served up in a demitasse; four or five fruitful runs in a row and you’ll be rattling along. But it isn’t long before the central conceit gnaws at your patience.
The world, in stark black and white, is strangely beautiful, in the way utility can be. The neat alignment of squares creating creatures, the blocky waves blown forth and back on the surface of the sea: it’s like a negative, imprinted on scrunched eyelids. The world is folded and opened up with the use of warp pads and new beds, letting you cover more ground in each new run (the items don’t reset like you do). Exploring gets the pulse up, backed with the chirping of an excellent 8-bit era soundtrack, but then you’re slammed home like the nerve-jangling ding of a carriage return on an old typewriter.
In Hotline Miami, the freedom of furious reincarnation at a button-press felt like boundless power. In Minit, there’s no such sense, merely the irritation of a forced departure. It isn’t that death ceases to have dominion here; it’s that it ceases to be death. It’s just an intrusive warp to an inconvenient elsewhere, dicing up what might be a worthy adventure into small chunks.
Then again, it might not be so worthy. With each trinket you find, you begin to feel as if there’s a hole in your bucket. Each time you wake up, it feels like a fresh verse in that infernal nursery rhyme, one quest item begetting the next. There are a few popped kernels that make excellent use of the central idea. A lonesome figure, staring out to sea, takes so long to speak, letter by letter, that your seconds trickle away with a scintilla of tension. At another, a dungeon has you walking switchback paths that eat into your time, clueing you into a sly solution.
But these moments are rare, and all those dull minutes of not-quites and aimless wondering form a dust of particulates, fruitful runs few and far between the bland. As I was playing, I became aware of something unpleasant setting in, a familiar feeling: those character-limited moods spent scrolling through a Twitter feed, looking for satiation and coming back with scraps. It’s a game of agitated flitting. There’s an interesting idea in Minit, but it ends up a tiring, forgettable roundelay.