Pacing is essential for narrative driven games. Move the story forward too fast and you quickly lose your audience, drowning them in rapid fire events that aren’t given enough time to have the impact that they need. Moving too slow risks giving too much time to the wrong moments, highlighting the worst parts and making the key beats of the story feel far less impactful. Unfortunately Minute of Islands falls into the later category, it’s ponderous and lackadaisical pace only serving to highlight the distinct lack of any real game elements to keep you engaged for the long run. It’s a right shame given the care and attention paid to the visuals and sound track, both of which can’t uplift the game’s slow pace and middling narrative.
You are Mo, a skilled tinkerer, living with her family on a pastoral archipelago, once inhabited by an ancient race of inscrutable giants. Their otherworldly but vital machines, festering in the underbellies of the islands themselves, must be kept going or an almost forgotten threat will swallow all. You have been bestowed with the Omni-switch, both a symbol and a functional device, enabling you to keep the giants and their machines going even as the deadly spores threaten to kill everything around you. You were, of course, the only choice as you are the only one who can be bothered to do the work that no one else will. But that comes at a cost and is it really something that you should be paying?
Minute is what Flash games of yesteryear aspired to look like when they’re all grown up. The same stylistic elements are there, low use of textures, heavy outlining and stiff animations, but they’re all done to such a high degree that it feels like a new art form all to itself. That’s not to say that all of the tricks that Unity has to offer haven’t been used here as there’s certainly some more modern lighting and physics effects at play here. Thinking about it a bit more it definitely felt like a more detailed version of Scribblenauts, ditching the kitschy aesthetic for a more realistic, post-apocalyptic one. The backing soundtrack is also well done, certainly reflecting the on-screen themes well and playing into the game’s key moments as well as it could.
Whilst all the trappings of a puzzle/platformer/exploration title are present in Minute they’re all so basic that it’d be far more apt to call this a walking simulator. To be sure there are puzzles to be solved, although all of them are quite simple in nature and their solutions will be spoon fed to you. There is platforming but failure has no real consequences apart from needing to do it again and none of the platforming sections are particularly challenging, requiring no specific timing or execution sequence to get past. Finally the exploration is, to be frank, not rewarding at all as the “memories” you collect only give you a little snippet of story which doesn’t do much to build the world out and collecting all of them on an island doesn’t appear to net any benefit at all. You can then guess that, in summary, Minute is a fairly basic experience which would usually mean that they want you to focus more on the story itself.
Which is a fine decision to make but Minute makes the all too tragic mistake of letting the game get in the way of telling its story. It seems that every interaction, cutscene or event seemingly takes 2 to 10 times as long as it should, stretching out every single one of the game’s moments inexplicably, preventing you doing anything while it plays out. There’s long sections where you’re riding in a boat where nothing seems to be happening and you start to question whether or not you’re meant to be doing something. The game does have indications when a cutscene is playing but not always, leaving you in this kind of limbo wondering if the game is stuck or if you’ve missed a cue. I honestly cannot think of a reason to keep those things in beyond stretching out the play time, something I think most of us that would play a game like this stopped really caring about years ago.
Even the game’s simplistic mechanics are in need of some additional polish as the core platforming is really finicky given that there’s not much to it. Worse still are the interactions with the various puzzle elements which always seem a bit off, not least of which is due to the trouble you’ll have in differentiating which parts are on your plane and which ones are in front of or behind you. The devs obviously knew that this was a bit of problem given the game’s flat aesthetic but it still needs more polish to make it enjoyable.
I’ve forgiven similar sins for games that make a truly impactful narrative but for Minute I just can’t see it. The slow, pondering pace coupled with the lack of proper world building made the whole thing feel pretty rudderless. I think the main reason is a lack of an overall why to the story. Sure you’re given the current problem that’s to be addressed, but apart from “doing the stuff that needs to be done” the protagonist doesn’t display any traits that are particularly relatable. I’m honestly not sure what other reviewers are seeing here as many say that the story deals with deep themes. Other than Mo’s God complex ensuring that she’s continually pissing everyone else off around her I can’t really think of any part of the story that resonated with me.
Minute of Islands feels like one of those games that should’ve been a slam dunk for a gamer like me: beautifully drawn, great soundtrack and, apparently a deep story to tell. However it has suffered the fate that many indie developers have fell to before it: letting the core game get in the way of telling that story. The result is a slow paced, fractured and ultimately hollow story experience that just left me wondering what everyone else was seeing. Perhaps there’s some cultural touch points I’m not seeing or perhaps that missing thread with the main protagonist is to blame, I’m not sure, but for me Minute of Islands will go down as one of this year’s swing and misses.
Minute of Islands is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Xbox One right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2.3 hours playtime and 23% of the achievements unlocked.