The two most vital concepts in most video games are learning and dying. Only by learning can you avoid death, and only through death can you learn. It’s a loop that has existed since the earliest days of the medium. By leaning into and toying with that fundamental relationship, indie game Minit achieves something that feels referential and nostalgic and yet unique and exhilarating all at once.
The game, out this week on Steam as well as PS4 and Xbox, was created by developers Jan Willem Nijman, the game design half of two-person indie studio Vlambeer, and Kitty Calis, formerly of Horizon Zero Dawn maker Guerilla Games. Like the classics it takes clear inspiration from, including everything from Zelda to Metroid to Dark Souls, Minit helps players reframe how they think about progress, education, and death in video games by restricting you to a 60-second timer. Every time a single minute has passed in the game, your character perishes. You start over at the beginning of the game, having extracted whatever you could from that single 60-second playthrough, ready to start anew. Some actions, environmental changes, and items retain their permanence, and some do not. Only through trial and error can you make sense of Minit’s world.
Minit is mostly composed of clever and quirky fetch quests, the kind you might find in old-school RPGs and early internet Flash games, and puzzle-solving, all of it compounded by the imposed time limit. (There’s also some light combat.) You start out by finding a sword on a beach — an obvious tip of the hat to Game Boy classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The sword, however, is cursed, resulting in your perpetual death. From there, the game expands in wildly creative fashion, eventually becoming an unlikely hero’s journey to liberate victims of corporate oppression. Along the way, progress is made in economical bite-sized portions, as you’re forced to make crafty decisions about who to talk to, where to go, and which items may be useful to solve certain puzzles.
You get a helping hand here and there — new homes allow you to move your starting point, while certain actions and items will open up shortcuts. There’s also a delightful haunted house full of helpful tip-offering ghosts. But the game’s difficulty, which is low, isn’t about pulling up walls in front of the player that require technical skill or mind-numbing repetition. Rather, Minit leads you along in steady and accessible fashion, rewarding players for reading into a subtle line of dialogue and approaching obtuse obstacles with unique perspectives. For instance, trying to fish out the final guest of a hotel, in order to obtain the pair of flippers next to the rooftop pool, involves listening to the hotel owner’s hint and thinking hard about how it might apply according to the game’s temporal and rule-oriented logic.
Nijman and Calis told me last year, during a demo session of the game held at the E3 expo, that Minit was born from an Adventure Time game jam. The duo, who built the game mostly while traveling the world together, initially tasked themselves with creating a fun and unique constraint to develop under. The time limit idea then spiraled outward into a fuller piece of art, with Nijman and Calis eventually turning to indie publisher Devolver Digital for funding and support. The game also uses amazing and minimalist pixel art courtesy of artist Dominik Johann and has a fantastic retro soundtrack from composer Jukio Kallio.
The whole package, for $9.99, is the kind of indie game you find yourself cherishing every second of — quite literally in the case of Minit. By the time I was done with my first run of the game, which took exactly 106 minutes according to my death counter, I had unearthed only 37 percent of its secrets. Minit rewards multiple playthroughs with more items to find, locations to visit, and puzzles to solve that are not essential to the main storyline. It also has a new game plus mode that adds an interesting twist, and it’s become a surprise speed running hit, with players racing to see who can achieve the fastest completion time. For the classic gaming junkies, there’s a ton of fun little references and fourth-wall breaking, too, giving you even more reason to scour every inch of its world.
Minit is a game that, since I saw the credits roll early this morning, I can’t wait to sink back into. You should, too, if you can spare a minute of your time... or 106.