Minutes’ key art may draw comparisons to Countdown, but in Channel 4 game show terms, this is way more Rachel Riley than Des O’Connor. An energetic arcade experience, this blistering bullet hell-inspired escapade is a real breath of fresh air. And while it may not silence the anti-indie crowd, it’s a shining example of how good gameplay will trump gargantuan production budgets every single time.
Developed by Richard Ogden of former PlayStation first-party BigBig Studios fame, the title is the anti-blockbuster, favouring frantic action ahead of cinematics and storytelling. The one-man game maker has admitted in previous interviews that this title was fashioned as a response to the downtime that has infected most multi-million dollar games – and it’s a master in the art of pick-up and play.
The premise is simple: you control a circle that’s capable of consuming coloured lines. Each stage gives you one minute to hit one of three score quotas, with each tier unlocking a star. Come into contact with a black object, and the inner area of your sphere will start to fill, eventually resulting in failure if your bubble should happen to burst.
As you progress through the game – and gather up stars – you’ll unlock the ability to change the size of your nondescript disc, allowing you to multiply your score. Making the ring bigger will net you more of the spoils, but will also increase the risk of you coming into contact with a nefarious shape. Power-ups enable you to temporarily counter any danger, but your success will ultimately rest with your own ability.
For such a simple concept, it’s frighteningly moreish, largely due to the perfectly paced progression system. At first, when you’re equipped with only the most rudimentary skills, you’ll question how it’s even possible to hit some of the higher score quotas – but persevere, and you’ll eventually be augmented with the tools required to perfect stages that seemed impossible first time around.
There are some difficulty spikes towards the latter half of the campaign – the title features a total of 60 stages, each with six objectives to complete – but because you always have the option to go backwards to improve your best scores, you’ll rarely find yourself shutting off the game in frustration. The music, too, is equally addictive, piercing the simplistic action with absorbing synthesised bass lines and, in later levels, screeching electronic riffs.
It’s not exactly a looker from a presentational perspective, but you’ll hardly have time to examine the simplistic backdrops when the screen is filled with approaching icons and spinning traps. The carefully designed levels may only last one minute apiece, but learning their every intricacy is essential if you want to perfect each stage – a foreboding feat which we suspect only the superhuman will achieve.
It’s these blessed elite that will get the most out of the Daily Challenge mode, which rotates every 24 hours. Generating a random level, you’ll only get one shot to succeed here, so you’ll need to sharpen up your skills if you want to top the ephemeral online scoreboard. While we can’t see the competition remaining fierce forever, it should be enough to keep you coming back every now and again, and in that sense, this is the perfect game to have sitting on your handheld memory card or hard drive.
Simple like a classic Swatch watch, it’s Minutes’ exceptional mechanics that make this indie worth your time. Clean, colourful, and effortlessly cool, this is a reminder that you don’t need a million dollars to make something special.