Time has weird properties. Time spent at work can drag. Time spent waiting for something exciting to happen can feel like an eternity, and subsequently pass by in the blink of an eye. Throughout all this, time never lies – no matter how fast or slow it feels to you, its inexorable march forward is steady and consistent. A minute is always a minute.
Red Phantom Games’ Minutes has a simple premise – you are given one minute. During that one minute, you have two objectives:
- Pick up as much coloured stuff as possible
- Don’t die as a result of picking up too much black stuff
Utterly abstract in its presentation, Minutes has you controlling a resizable circle as you aim to collect beams and blobs of colour over sixty stages. Each stage is identical every time it is played, so what originally seems impossible rewards a patient approach along with trial and error. Stages start off tricky and don’t get any easier, and an on-screen timer reminds you that no – a minute has not passed yet, and yes – maybe now is a good time to start panicking.
The goal of Minutes is to score as highly as possible, and points are earned collecting the coloured stuff. The more your circle is expanded as you collect it, the higher the score multiplier is. Collecting the black stuff increases your damage gauge, and upon hitting a critical amount the level ends prematurely in failure. Four distinct powerups are also on offer, of which one can be used per stage. Quell slows time, but not your circle – enabling movement to previously-impossible areas; Fortify heals you; Shield keeps the bad stuff out for a set amount of time; and Blast destroys all black items near your circle.
Once you have got to grips with all that, it’s a journey through the sixty stages – where things start off simply and get very difficult very quickly. New types of obstacle and collectible objects are introduced frequently to keep things fresh along with a new aesthetic every five stages. From here the game wants two things from you – to get perfects, and get high scores. Easier said than done, as the sheer amount of stuff to collect and obstacles to avoid that are thrown around on screen is astronomical after the first few stages.
Perfects are achieved by completing a stage having taken no damage, collected all the coloured stuff, and achieved a certain score, as well as finding “Minuteman” – a smiley face that blends in to the background a little too well. High scores are achieved by collecting as much stuff as possible at the highest multiplier possible – and for me these two goals are a little contentious. Minutes encourages you to go for a “Perfect”, but significantly higher scores are available by sucking up a bit of damage in exchange for keeping your circle large and multiplier high. The two things the game expects you to achieve run at cross purposes with one another.
This wouldn’t be so problematic were it not for the amount of time it takes to get up to speed. Each stage gives you three score targets to achieve, each one rewarding you with a star; however, to begin with no powerups are available and the multiplier cannot be changed. This makes it impossible to achieve more than one star at first, and the powerups and ability to alter your multiplier are unlocked as a reward for hitting set star goals. Not only does this make it impossible to achieve a “Perfect” until you’ve bashed through a large number of levels at a reduced capacity, it also increases the number of times you have to retry each level without a complete toolset. What’s even worse is that once you’ve unlocked all the powerups, better versions of those powerups become available. It’s a cycle that leaves you feeling like you’ll never be able to do the one thing this game should truly excel at – chasing high scores.
Minutes is very challenging, and a successful navigation through the madness of the later stages is incredibly satisfying. Sadly the amount of babying and learning through failure results in an experience that gives you something to achieve – but won’t actually let you properly do that for far too long.