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‘Minit’ Confounds Gaming in 60-Second Bites

As a 60-second timer counts down in the top-left corner, one of the first characters you’ll encounter in “Minit,” an elderly man by a lighthouse, drip-feeds his dialogue to you with the lackadaisical attitude of a “Skyrim” or “Breath of the Wild” quest-giver. Before he finishes whatever he was saying, the timer hits zero and you die, spawning again at your home, cursed sword in hand. The timer drums up again.

I never went back to that old man before finishing the game, never figured out what he was saying. I had better things to do and, crucially, only a minute to do them. “Minit is a cracked whip in an old-man’s world, and I’m a whippersnapper.

Link, too, is one of the most notorious whippersnappers in all of media, having been memed to death by his seemingly sociopathic approach to other people’s property, privacy, and quest-driven needs. Instead of saving Zelda, for instance, you’ll often find Link throwing chickens at NPCs, or cooking tasty meals, or generally waving his sword around at whatever breaks. However efficient or bloated the latest “The Legend of Zelda” title, Link has always been an adventurer without obvious constraint (save “Majora’s Mask”), free to meander and stumble his way to Ganon’s front door.

“Minit” is a deliberate miniaturization of “The Legend of Zelda,” a tweak on the aged format that fissures out the adventure genre’s basest joys and then takes a sledgehammer to the bloat. The old man in the lighthouse is the last remnant of frivolousness in the transition from Link to “Minit,” a definitive statement that players just don’t have time for this s—. Every other character in the game spits out dialogue faster than the player can tap the “A” button to skip it. But beyond the ludicrous efficiency of the whole adventure, each frame a puzzle and each character a narrative waypoint, “Minit” belongs in a rarer category of game than “it works and I liked it.”

By putting traditional actions and progression under the comical constraint of a 60-second timer on every life, “Minit” arrives at satire, not through the expected route of writing and plot, but through gameplay itself, what might be called a systemic satire. This pint-sized adventure then joins Jonathan Blow’s “Braid” as a game ironically overlapping on the very design tropes that make it enjoyable to play, creating a mechanical and ongoing commentary on itself as the game dive-bombs its way toward conclusion.

Consider reading this article just one minute at a time, restarting at the beginning every 60 seconds or beginning at a new section if you’re able to pass a reading quiz on the previous section in some other 60-second interval. You won’t just be forced to memorize and learn my words, you’ll be exposed to that second layer of construction that only reveals itself once the words themselves are pat. The way they fit together, from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, is slowly revealed every time you walk your eyes through their tangled web. This metacognitive funneling is the basis for rhetorical and aesthetic analysis, yet in “Minit,” it’s not on the second, third, or fourth playthrough that such an analysis comes to the fore. It’s on the first playthrough, by nature of this 60-second timer and exquisitely designed mixture of puzzles, characters, and world, that a player is exposed to the construction of adventure that we’ve become accustomed to through the classics, “The Legend of Zelda” chief among them.

For instance, progression in “Minit” follows a familiar path. For every obstacle there’s an item to acquire or puzzle to solve that breaks that obstacle and moves the player forward. With only 60 seconds to accomplish these interconnected objectives, we see them broken into their individual units, and as a result, we also see the methodology behind the game’s design that stitches them together. Characters aren’t personalities, but entertaining tools that nudge you in the direction of success. Individual areas aren’t scenic detours or happenstance bridges between set pieces, but framed lockboxes that each require a key of sorts to fully understand. And more, you uncover an inherent trust between the player and designer that every goal must always be in reach, physically and temporally, no matter how widespread or diverse the world might initially appear. For “Minit,” the stitches of the quilt are a part of its warmth, as the player stretches them to their limit to work around the 60-second constraint.

From a simpler design perspective, the revealing of what is usually an obfuscated undercurrent to a game’s design was deliciously motivating, and pushed me to accidentally beat the game on initial playthrough in just 90 minutes, with a lot of world left to explore and solve. This frenetic tone is perhaps “Minit’s” greatest achievement, as it’s the result of the developers having simultaneously invented and mastered a structure that influences player pace more deliberately than its forbears and really almost any game. Whereas film directors and editors are given complete control over the peaks and valleys of their project’s structure, game developers must always leave at least a little room to player manipulation, lest they wrest interactivity from the experience. “Minit” comes the closest I’ve ever seen to turning its mere influence over pace into complete control without excising player agency.

Of course, in those times when I simply stopped moving to watch the counter tick down to my next death, determined to recharge for the next go, exasperated and humored by the desperation of my task, I captured for a moment the delusion that I was in control of the game more than the game was in control of me. If “Minit” has a statement to make, it’s this. We may carve out our path to Zelda, or Peach, or something that’s not a princess, but ultimately it’s the constraints, and not the freedoms, of the game that turn us into the adventurer, and in this case, it’s the ever encroaching motivator of time itself that forces us into our most brutally efficient selves. Or it’s a game about a little duck-looking character with a cursed sword, if that’s the way you want to look at it.

Whatever your pleasure, in whatever way you choose to enjoy “Minit” (and there are a surprising many for such a small game), the potential for mechanical, systemic, and thematic extrapolation from the game itself and the many it satirically reflects should earn the game a place in classrooms and homes alike. For the minimalist portrayal of this weird 60-second idea, and with such confidence that it needs only last a couple hours long to deliver its message, “Minit” is a natural teacher for both burgeoning developers and veterans. As satires are wont to do, “Minit” teaches the great strengths of digital adventure just as it teaches the genre’s great weaknesses, working diligently to prove that video games are and always will be learning from themselves and overcoming past mistakes, perhaps just a minute at a time.

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