Review: Minutes

Designed and made by one man, Richard Ogden, there is more to Minutes than meets the eye. What at first appears to be a simple ‘action puzzler’ (Ogden’s words, not mine) on the surface, quickly turns into an addictive and often at times infuriating, fast-paced test of skill.

Developer: Red Phantom Games
Publisher: Red Phantom Games
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
Also Available On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Available Now

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Minutes is designed with replay in mind, this is apparent by the fact that the first hour or so acts as a sort of tutorial – getting you to grip with the various hazards and power ups, and allowing you to familiarise yourself with the various mechanics on offer to help you rack up the highest score possible.

The gameplay is as simple as it is addictive. Consisting of sixty levels, each lasting a minute, the aim is to collect coloured ‘light energy’ to rack up as many points as possible, while avoiding the black ‘dark energy’. Dark energy damages you, and after so much damage has been taken its game over, and the level can be attempted again. It’s worth noting that you don’t lose points for taking damage, so tactical damage taking can quickly become a legitimate strategy when going for the highest score.

Collecting points unlocks stars, and collecting stars unlocks power ups to help you obtain more points (and trophies) as you progress. When selecting a stage you’ll see how many points are needed to unlock the stars in that stage, and each stage has a possible three starts to collect, so multiple play-throughs are a must for completionists as the highest scores can only be reached when all the power-ups have been collected. For such a small and simple game, there’s a whole lot to do.

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Power-ups are varied, and essential to collecting the highest score possible. They heal, slow down time, protect, or destroy all the dark energy within a radius. Only one power-up can be used per level, adding a layer of strategy to the proceedings. All power-ups are upgraded by collecting stars, and doing so is crucial if you hope to hit those high scores.

In addition to the power-ups you’ll also unlock the ability to shrink or grow. Different sizes have different effects on the score, with the bigger sizes acting as a score multiplier, and the small sizes reducing the score. This element works on a risk/reward basis, as the bigger you are the easier it is to be hurt by dark energy. Learning how to switch between sizes quickly and how to use the effectively is the key to a high score.

Energy comes in several different shapes to be collected and avoided. Pulsers are little shapes that float around stages switching from squares of dark energy to circles of light energy every few seconds, and Spinners are rotating circles with lines of dark and sometimes light energy protruding off of them.

My favourite hazard (?) has to be the Beams. These appear in some levels made of either dark or light energy. Before the Beam fires it has to charge for a few seconds, and it’s during this time you can see if it’ll be either light or dark due to a very then beam it emits before firing, so you have enough time to get into the appropriate position if you’re paying enough attention. This can either lead to almost instant death if the dark energy isn’t avoided properly, or absolutely huge scores as you’re blasted relentlessly with light energy.

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Each stage has bonus criteria to meet for a perfect score that should keep all you trophy addicts out there busy for a while. To meet perfect on each level you must collect all the light energy, take no damage, and find the elusive Minute Men, little smiley faces that float inconspicuously in the background, which are collected by tapping them with your finger as they float past.

Levels are replayable once they’ve been finished, but in order to select previously played levels you have to go back to the main menu and enter the game again, which seems a bit counterintuitive to me. It’s a minor complaint, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t irritate me.

The way new hazards are introduced and power-ups unlocked made my first play-through feel like an hour long tutorial. It didn’t hold my hand, which I appreciated, but the way I was limited in those early levels made the initial run quite dull, and I didn’t start properly enjoying myself until I’d unlocked everything. By that point I was close to the end and the game was quickly losing my interest due to its repetitive nature. I was almost convinced I wasn’t going to bother with a second play-through, but I’m a professional (sort of), so I sucked it up and went back in, and I’m glad I did.

It was on my second play-through where Minutes really came into its own. Going through the earlier, easier missions with a complete arsenal of power-ups and knowledge of their uses and tactics changed the game. I had the ability to rack up massive points which made the struggle feel more rewarding, and a total freedom of action within the levels.

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At this point if I didn’t reach a high score it was my own fault, and not because limitations forced onto me by the game. I had all the tools I needed to aim big, and was accountable for any mistakes I made in my quest to collect the most points. The fun came from figuring out exactly how to use the tools I’d unlocked, and in learning the patterns of the energy streams, and even in failure, knowing I was a few points higher than I was the try before was extremely gratifying.

Visually, Minutes is beautiful in its simplicity. Energy appears on screen as lines, and the occasional circle, of block colour. Dark energy will always appear close to black, whereas the light energy will change depending on the stage, and is usually the complementary colour to the softer, dream like imagery of the stages background, not dissimilar to PixelJunk Eden. This ensures that everything you need to focus on pops out of the screen, and makes it easy to keep track of all the various energy even in the most hectic times.

The sound design is pretty clever in this one. Each time you collect light energy you’re greeted with an unintrusive electric buzz, but when you collect dark energy you’re hit with a noise close to that of the buzzer from Operation. It’s infuriatingly grating, and does a great job of playing on the nostalgic connection we have with that particular sound, enforcing the fact that dark energy should be avoided at all costs.

If trance and dubstep are your go to music genres then you’re going to love the music in Minutes. Heavy bass rides underneath an extremely satisfying electronic assault on your ear drums, and I highly recommend playing this with a decent pair of head phones and the volume turned up.

Clean visuals
Addictive and obsessive game-play
Fantastic soundtrack
Controls can feel sluggish at times
First hour can be dull
That bloody horrible noise the dark energy makes

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Once I got past the first hour, Minutes became a lot of fun. It’s simple and addictive game-play has been keeping me entertained on my commute, and I’m sure my fellow passengers have enjoyed my constant ‘tutting’ at each slip up, as well as the games savage soundtrack which I’m sure they’ve also heard leak from my headphones . Its levels are the perfect length for a quick game, and the promise of a high score will keep you obsessively coming back. Simply put, Minutes will keep you entertained for hours (yeeeeaaaah!).

Review copy provided by Red Phantom Games
Official Game Site

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