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Just a minit

In Minit, we’re a little 8-bit blob on a wander along the beach, which takes a turn when they unearth a magical sword; which reduces their lifespan to sixty seconds… Now forced to live life for one minute before everything resets and they have to start again, McBlob must unravel the secret of the sword and figure out how to let go of thing. It’s not until you only have one minute to live that you notice how short ‘just a minute’ is.

Back in the 1980’s, super-producer Don Simpson coined the idea of “high concept” movies - a film that could be understood from its poster. It existed before Don, Jaws being the prime example, but Minit feels a lot like High Concept. There’s nothing more to it than trying to get stuff done in a minute before dying. Coupled with the fact it looks like an 80s video game and we’re in the danger zone, Don could have produced this with Tony Scott directing and Andrew McCarthy as McBlob.

Just like the good old days, we navigate around a static screen which changes if we pass the edges. Filled with objects, puzzles, threats and clues to where we need to get to, we charge about with one pixelated eye on the timer. You might need an object to get out of the screen you didn’t find previously, be blocked by something or someone, or just have no idea what the hell you’re doing. And the whole time the clock is ticking down.

As soon as you get a sense of where to go, find something to explore, spot something to investigate, the counter is at zero and it’s back to the start. It should be infuriating, but it focuses you more than any boss battle. Sometimes you sacrifice a life just to discover what you can, like a recon mission. Then, go the other way, and so on until you realise ‘ahh, there’s fire blocking that, but three screens down there was a watering can...’

Another element is certain things you collect, action, or do stays when the next life starts, allowing you to slowly build an inventory and progress toward the ending, rather than eventually giving up. Also, certain screens will unlock new spots for you to be reincarnated in, saving precious seconds getting across the screens. It seems so simple and gimmicky at first, but then you realise how clever and considered it is, how the devs anticipated everything, kept it boiling at fifty-nine seconds. (actually, it’s set at a par time of 40 seconds per run, which is the New Game Plus mode limit. I haven’t time for that).

You can tell the dev team had a whale of a time with this. An early character we meet is a Tortoise, who of course takes about a minute to explain a critical bit of info, so when you find him it’s too late and you have to sacrifice the next run racing to him to learn what you need for the next go. It’s brilliant how a game made to look like the 80s that only lasts one minute is this complex. It’s like a Spectrum game based on Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat.

What’s even more mind-blowing is this has RPG elements. It’s non-linear, you pick up what seem like side missions, there’s little plots and quests you have to go on to progress. Yet it’s got that beautiful, illogical puzzle-solving of yesteryear, like gardening gloves cut down trees but the sword doesn’t.

When locked into a minute of time, my natural inclination was to race as far as I could, but eventually discovered I needed to pace myself and ignore the countdown or the distractions and focus on one thing. I’d be in one life and know I wasn’t going to make it, so already thinking two, even three lives ahead, planning to sacrifice to reach something for the next go while trying to keep all the clues, unsolved puzzles, clues and characters in mind.

Minit is available on iOS/Android and the perfect commute waster. It’s such a clever, compelling little game but mostly I loved it for reminding me of the Sabre-Wulf days, of the early GameBoy experiences. There’s dozens of ironic, retro, 8-bit throwback games out there nowadays, but this really feels like something I would have wasted hours playing as a kid on my Vic-20. Back when dying meant starting again from scratch. Here though, dying just scratches the surface.