Minimalism and Collage in Minit
Looped time has been present within video games since their inception, with game over screens and new game plus mechanics acting as disjunctive events that allow for the gamespace to be reset. Most recently this has been experimented with through the use of cyclical death in games like Into the Breach or the Soulsborne series; or through the building, fractured narratives of titles such as Undertale or Nier: Automata. In each of these instances, cycles are presented to the player primarily as a mark of either their own progress or failure—but how would these kinds of experiences differ if the loop was more structurally enforced? How would a game work if it was designed with every element framed around this one uncontrollable core loop?
Released earlier this year, Minit is a 2D top-down adventure game that seeks to address these questions by placing the player within a sixty second countdown where they must attempt to do as much as possible before the clock hits zero—at which point they die and respawn at one the game’s few checkpoints. As mentioned above, this concept of a looping time is obviously not unique to Minit, but also functions more broadly as a trope for much of science fiction and fantasy media in general. There are numerous films where the protagonist is stuck in a time loop with only minimal ability to carry forward knowledge or action between cycles. The Edge of Tomorrow is relatively recent example of this, but the idea is most famously attributed to 80s comedy film Groundhog Day.
To anyone experienced with video game history, this trope should be doubly familiar as it is the narrative equivalent of a new game plus mechanic. The player completes their journey and gets to start the next one with new information or abilities that will hopefully make their subsequent playthrough that much more easy or interesting. Although new game plus is relatively common mechanic that has been used to great effect within From Software’s recent games or older time-themed classics like Chrono Trigger, there are other lineages that Minit seems to be drawing from that many critics have referenced within their responses.
As the title is meant to convey, Minit is a game that is designed to be played one minute at a time. Within the game’s fiction your character finds a cursed sword early on that causes you to die once every minute and wake up back in the bed of the most recent house you visited. The key to this mechanic that prevents it from simply being a frustrating case of futility, is that if you manage to complete a task or acquire a new object you will be able to carry forward these minor changes into your subsequent loop. Slowly as you explore Minit’s pixelated, black and white world you will find ever more efficient and exciting ways with which to extend your minute long journeys.
This slow, looping sense of explorative progression, in combination with the game’s 2D topdown aesthetics have prompted many to interpret Minit through the lens of the Legend of Zelda series. In a video for Kotaku, Tim Rogers connects the game’s steady process of exploration and acquisition to some of the design sensibilities found in the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. Besides the obvious homage found in Minit’s hearts-for-health interface and the pixel grid swordplay, Rogers also links the two games through the sheer wealth of secrets that both contain.
On the Idle Thumbs podcast, co-host and game designer Jake Rodkin picks up on Rogers’ connection between Minit and early 2D Zelda games, but goes on to also point out another title from the long-running game series that the game was also directly influenced by. Minit may be closer aesthetically to the original NES game, but systemically the time-loop mechanic places it in much stronger relation to the often debated dark horse of the Zelda franchise: Majora’s Mask. As will be familiar to many readers, Majora’s Mask traps its players within a repeating three day cycle just before a cosmic apocalypse that causes the loop to reset. Rodkin explains that just like with Minit, in each of these three days players could attempt to complete as many side quests as possible and in the process collect various weapons and magical items that would carry forward after the end of the world and into the next loop. Unsurprisingly given the game’s titular mechanic, Minit’s versions of this kinds of quests are relatively simple affairs, however once you find ways to circumvent the established time constraint you begin to see that it is within this rhythmic approach to puzzle design where Minit shows it is attempting to craft more than a just a nostalgic homage to the Zelda franchise.
Many recent indie games that have been created in reference to the original Legend of Zelda have focused on the game’s notoriously intense difficulty. Hyper Light Drifter and The Binding of Isaac are two examples of this more action-oriented approach, each filling their respective screens with enemies and traps that quickly kill you should you falter for even the slightest second. Although Minit does include a top-down, sword-based combat system that may visually resemble these other games, the fact that any task is designed so that it can be completed under a minute ensures that sustained combat is never really prioritized. Most enemies can be easily ran past and what few you have to defeat to make progress are relatively easy to dispatch with a simple swipe of the sword. What quickly becomes clear is that instead of a means to kill your enemies the sword is more frequently useful as a tool to clear new paths for further exploration.
Like Rodkin and Rogers, Youtube game critic Joseph Anderson identifies the various ways that Minit connects itself to the Zelda series and also acknowledges how the game deviates from this source material through a more minimal approach to combat. Rodkin defines this as an intersection with the history of the adventure game genre and Anderson does this as well, however he sees this deviation from the Zelda template as a hindrance rather than a positive quality. Although through its looping mechanic he is able to establish tangible connections to successful examples such as Dark Souls and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, ultimately Anderson qualifies Minit as a failure due to what he sees as its shallow scope and simplistic design. As was mentioned above, the combat and puzzles within Minit were all designed to be able to dealt with in the span of sixty seconds. Anderson may see this as a flaw because it also means that neither are terribly complicated, but this perspective ignores how this minimalism serves to emphasize the many of game’s other innovative qualities.
Rogers. Rodkin, and Anderson all have slightly differing opinions, but one thing that unites all three of their interpretations is the way that each heavily relies on references to other games to help them define Minit. Bennett Foddy—designer of the popular game Getting Over It—describes this cocktail-style method of categorisation as one that has become quite cliche within games writing, however in an article he recently wrote on his blog that’s not fun, he is able to find value in this very same technique. While trying to explain his interest in the horror puzzle game Infernium, Foddy references seemingly disparate games such as Pac-Man, Myst, and Dark Souls before going on to state that: “I’m not just describing the characteristics of the game—it lifts these elements exactly from the source material, more like a cultural collage than a normal literate game…But aside from all of that, these disparate borrowed elements are blended very skillfully into an actual compelling, sizeable videogame.” Through its top down perspective and looping time Minit may be obviously lifting elements from entries from the Zelda series, but it also blends these with the stark black and white aesthetic of another game, Downwell, the iconic character design of the Tamagotchi brand, the humorous and often obtuse puzzles of the adventure game genre, as well as an innumerable amount of other reference points that are both historic and contemporary. What is clever about this, and allows Minit to function as especially seamless version of the collage game design that Foddy observes, is that this is all delivered in a package that is uniformly minimalist in its aesthetics, systems, and scope. The combined effect of these qualities creates a charmingly scaled game in which the player not only finds new ways to explore its cute, pixelated world, but with each passing minute is also able to uncover and identify deliberately recontextualized elements appropriated from past games.
With each successive loop Minit prompts its player to consider what other seemingly standardized game mechanics would benefit from this same kind of microscopic lens. What other elements could be rearranged to potentially produce such an interesting, yet minimal collage of video game history?