It's common to describe videogames in terms of verbs: what will its sticks and buttons and other inputs let you do? In Minit, a new game published by Devolver Digital, only two options exist. You can use the object you're currently holding, and you can die. And if you don't press the die button, it'll happen anyway, no player input required. In fact, in Minit you die at least once— every sixty seconds on the dot. There's a timer.
Death every minute, on the minute, transcends gimmickry in Minit, instead becoming its guiding principle, providing a pared-down version of the old-school swashbuckling adventure. Think The Legend of Zelda, but smaller, goofier, and provided in deft sixty-second bursts. It's one of the cleverest games I've played in ages.
The premise is silly but satisfying. Your hero, a little blob-man rendered in a remarkably cheerful black-and-white that calls to mind ASCII art and old graphic adventure games, picks up a cursed sword. Every minute, that sword will kill your hero and resurrect him at his current place of dwelling. (Right after finding a sword, you also find a stranger who tells you you should go to the sword factory, presumably to lobby for the most necessary refund in the history of people leaving swords lying around.)
There you are, then: a problem, and a quest. What more does a videogame need? Minit makes a compelling argument for the answer being "not much else." With deftly compressed level design and a warm wit, Minit is a minimalist triumph, paring the 2D adventure game down to only its most compelling, most satisfying components.
Minit is a paean to short games that manages to do the impossible, packing all the joy of a thirty-hour adventure into just a couple of hours' worth of even, minute-long bursts.
Games like this typically revolve around a series of locks and keys: solving puzzles and conquering encounters gives you an item or ability, which you can use to then navigate around or remove obstacles in the world that previously stopped you in your tracks. Minit compressed this cycle of reward and exploration into tasks that can be completed in sixty-second chunks, as you explore and master the immediate space around your home before finding a new home, setting a new respawn point, and doing the same in a new location. Each death brings progress; each burst of progress makes death feel, not like a punishment, but like a handy reset button. A fast travel mechanism, even. A friendly reminder to keep moving.
What this means in action is that even a few minutes of Minit feel as satisfying—and as full—as hours of some other games. My first play session of Minit was eleven minutes long, and it felt like playing two hours of a comparable Zelda or Metroid game. Minit, developed by designers Jan Willem Nijman (of Vlambeer games) and Kitty Callis (who has worked on games like Horizon Zero Dawn) alongside freelance composer Jukia Kallo and artist Dominik Johann, is a paean to short games that manages to do the impossible, packing all the joy of a thirty-hour adventure into just a couple of hours' worth of even, minute-long bursts.
In programming, the word elegant is used to describe code that solves a problem in a particular novel, clever, or efficient way. It has a connotation of beauty: elegant code has a component of aesthetic pleasure to it. Just looking at it and understanding it feels good. Minit is like that. It's a joy to play, and it's the most elegantly designed game I've encountered in a long time.