There’s an old story in the literature world that Ernest Hemingway was once getting lunch with fellow authors and his signature stripped-back writing style was brought up as a discussion point. One of the other writers made a bet that Hemingway couldn’t write a story in six words, to which he replied by grabbing a napkin and writing 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' Indeed, to get at the heart of something, one often only needs to take the shortest route there — throwing out all extraneous elements that don’t directly help — and there are few games that exemplify this concept better than Minit, a bite-sized Zelda-esque adventure with a short time limit.

The story of Minit opens with you playing as a long-lipped duck creature living in a village, whose world is turned upside down when he picks up a cursed sword that he found in the surf on a nearby beach (Link’s Awakening, anyone?). The curse guarantees that our protagonist’s life will only last for one minute, at the end of which he’ll die and resurrect at his nearest house and start the loop all over again. The goal is to find a way to break the curse of this sword while exploring the broader world and helping people along the way.

Gameplay plays most like early Zelda games, with a top-down perspective, simple direction-based melee combat, and a large overworld packed with secrets and collectables. You’ll start out in the same house every loop and have exactly one minute from the instant you spawn before you have to start over. With a few exceptions, most of the progress that you make over the course of a single life carries over into the next one, which means you can go that much farther. For example, a shop owner asked us early in the game to kill off a series of crabs on a beach, which was rewarded with an item that allowed us to push blocks. When we started the next life, this meant that we could access a new area.

Over time, you’ll come to understand the world’s design extremely well, which neatly avoids the need for a map and the precious time it would take to read it. Though you initially start in the one house, there are a series of ‘houses’ that you can find in the overworld that can each be set as the place you start when respawning, which neatly helps to widen the world without overstepping that strict limit. Eventually, there’s even a way to link most of these houses via a simple teleportation system, which makes crossing the map a cinch.

It’s remarkable how cohesive and well-designed the map seems, with subtle environmental clues and barriers pushing you towards the next objective. Puzzles are seldom very brain taxing, you usually don’t even have a full minute to try them, but they usually put up enough of a fight that it’ll take several tries to figure out what’s needed. This is one of the strongest suits of Minit; a rapid-fire, trial-and-error approach to progression. It’ll take you several tries to discern what’s needed for each new obstacle you face, but the beauty of it is that death hardly feels like a punishment because you’re only being set back a minute at worst.

What’s more is how smartly the puzzle design often plays with this time limit, pushing the player outside their comfort zone. For example, there’s a goofy NPC early on who has critical information for the location of an item, but he talks so slow, taking close to a minute telling you all about how much he likes to swim before getting to the information that you’re looking for. Another great moment is when you find yourself in an intricate maze under ruins in a desert, where it takes just under a full minute to run through the whole thing and reach the item at the end of it. For such a simple premise, Minit manages to get a considerable amount of mileage; it seldom fails to surprise or subvert your expectations in some cool way.

The overworld is so full of character, too, with a memorable group of NPCs that help to infuse the simplistic visuals with some much welcome humour. One man likes to complain about how a corporation ignores his lawsuits while staring at a river filled with oil and toxic waste. There’s an unassuming sign in the desert pointing south which reads, 'Lost Person (Someone Help Them?)' A photographer living in a dumpy hotel remarks how he doesn’t get paid at his current gig, but is glad they pay him in 'exposure' instead. It’s often a joy to come to each new area, not just for the series of puzzles and mysteries you’ll have to solve but to see what new characters you run into and what they have to say.

On the presentation side of things, Minit is similarly restrained, opting for an extremely basic black and white colour scheme on top of pixel art graphics. Though one could hardly describe many elements of this game as a visual treat, there’s a certain kind of dorky charm to these drawn back visuals, even if they do feel a bit lazy in places. For example, the ‘endless desert’ is merely a collection of black screens stitched together with the occasional cactus or scorpion to let you know that you’re making any progress. Similarly, the soundtrack is a collection of 8-bit tunes with some acoustic guitars thrown in, achieving a sound that in some places reminds one of Animal Crossing.

It must be noted, too, that Minit is an exceedingly short game, clocking in at about 2-4 hours depending on how much you find. The short runtime is a natural consequence of a game centred around bite-sized action — any longer and it would start to feel padded and stale — but just bear in mind that this isn’t the kind of game you’ll be playing for months on end in search of secrets. Doing subsequent runs faster and with fewer deaths is always an option, however, and there’s a new game+ unlocked upon the first completion which gives you a forty-second time limit and remixes the world layout to match. All told, expect to get maybe fifteen hours out of this game, if you really rinse it.

Conclusion

Minit is a perfect example of a game that introduces a creative new concept, explores it thoroughly, and then ends before things get stale. This may be a short game, but you’re almost assured to have a blast for every bit of it, with funny dialogue, creative puzzle design, and moderate amounts of replayability all being a plus. We’d recommend this to anyone looking for something a little different than the norm, along with anybody who’s looking for a title that takes after the older Zelda games. We really enjoyed our time with Minit, and we’d encourage you to take the plunge on this one.