Pedro would like to apologise in advance for talking about Final Fantasy XIII-2 during a totally unrelated conversation. He really can't help himself.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
June 13, 2021
Minute of Islands drew an emotional reaction out of me in a way that most games never do. Moment to moment, the game is a fairly standard puzzle platformer, but what sets it apart is the presentation and story. It is set in a world that is fascinating, bleak, and complicated, as are the characters who inhabit it. Also, if you couldn’t tell, the game is absolutely stunning to look at.
The story follows Mo (pronounced like “more”), a young woman who lives alone in an underground network of tubes and tunnels. She is the wielder of the Omni Switch, a kind of sci-fi magic wand that lets her interact with the machines scattered around the islands where she lives. There is a deadly poison in the air, for some reason all the air purifiers have stopped working, and Mo is the only one who can start them up again. It’s not just her job, she was chosen to do this.
The game consists of travelling to and exploring each island, which takes the form of jumping between platforms, pulling levers, and pushing various objects around so you can jump off them onto more platforms. The Omni Switch can be pulled out at any time to point you towards your next objective, and it’s otherwise used to interact with various machines, which involves holding down some combination of the S, D, and F keys (on keyboard). I found this a bit awkward, but thankfully controllers map these commands to the triggers, which is much more convenient. Button remapping is not possible for keyboard or controller, at least in the version of the game we received for review.
Gameplay is simple and unobtrusive, and apart from one particularly heinous puzzle that took me most of an hour to figure out (it took me 6 hours to finish the whole game), it’s a pleasant experience. While you’re given a map of all the islands at the start, the game is surprisingly linear. Mo has a boat that she uses to travel between the islands, but at no point do you get a choice in where to go, nor visit areas you’ve been to before. I didn’t mind this, since it helps keep focus on the art and story. Plus, apart from optional collectables that give glimpses into Mo’s past, there’s nothing left to do on an island once you’ve been through it once.
I can’t stress how beautiful Minute of Islands’ art style is. Every environment is vibrant, detailed, and full of little animations, and manages to strike a great balance. Some sights in this game are downright horrific (mainly the many, many animal corpses you will come across, in various states of decay due to the poison) but otherwise the game comes off cartoonish and family-friendly. It’s like Adventure Time meets Junji Ito.
You quickly learn that the islands are not as populated as they once were, and everyone left behind is connected to Mo in some way. Having lived on the islands her whole life, Mo knows all of them intimately. This means that you’re not just exploring this world as a player, you’re learning about Mo’s past, and learning about the island’s residents by the stuff they leave lying around (I love the concept of outdoor cabinets and I can’t explain why). I was engrossed by each of her relationships with the other residents. Instead of dialogue, everything is described by the narrator, voiced by Megan Gay, who does stellar work. Each character is read in a distinct cadence, and Gay’s performance perfectly underlines Mo’s emotional turmoil.
“It’s like Adventure Time meets Junji Ito.”
There were parts of Minute of Islands that reminded me of Night in the Woods, in that, in the midst of such a heightened, fantastical world, the protagonist is often the most interesting thing on screen. I adored Mo. Playing as her was always engaging, even when I didn’t fully agree with her. At several points, I kept playing not to find out what happens next, but to see what Mo does next.
I’m hesitant to say any more about the story because I think it’s something that should be experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. However, I want to point out that the game starts with a content warning for trauma, anxiety, and destructive behaviour. I think this warning is absolutely appropriate. There were parts I found confronting, stressful, and completely heartbreaking, but after playing it all the way through, I’m so glad I did. Minute of Islands tackles some heavy subject matter, but in a way that feels nuanced, respectful, and – maybe I’m just speaking for myself here – utterly relatable.
If there’s one thing about the game I wasn’t hot on, it’s its speed. The game’s pacing is deliberately slow at points, particularly when Mo is approaching or departing a dock, but these moments elegantly fit with the game’s tone. Where it doesn’t work as well is in the gameplay. For one, Mo walks at a snail’s pace by default. Running is an option, but I wish it was a toggle because I never let go of that dang button. Mo also has very slow animations when she interacts with certain objects, which was one of my main gripes with that aforementioned heinous puzzle. Without spoiling it, I’ll say it involves pulling levers in a specific order, trial-and-erroring until you get the correct combination. It took me, a noob, forever to figure it out, which involved pulling dozens upon dozens of levers, having to wait several seconds between each pull, which I found deeply frustrating. The pace is perfect for the story that Minute of Islands is telling, but it doesn’t always mesh with the gameplay.
Studio Fizbin have crafted a wonderful experience that achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It’s set in an intriguing world and tells an emotional story that explores a specific type of sadness, and how it affects relationships between loved ones. I can’t remember the last time a game affected me so much that I yelled at my screen due to something a character said. Despite my pedantry, I had a brilliant time with Minute of Islands and look forward to playing it again some day.