Breezy, short and innocent, The Minims: A New Beginning is one of those games best suited to a lazy Sunday afternoon. Originally created for iOS devices and later ported to PC with some improvements, The Minims is the creation of beyondthosehills, a small development team from Greece. While the story leaves a lot to be desired, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts because there’s something inherently charming about it all. You’re not going to be blown away by the experience, but if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare then you could do a lot worse.
You control a furry yellow blob with big eyes called Mii, part of an endangered species called the Minims – in fact, Mii and his wife Mo believe themselves to be the last of their kind. The pair live together on an elevated rock in a place known only as the Great Desert. After running some chores around home, like freshening up the water in the pond, which serves as a smooth introduction to the mechanics, Mii discovers that his partner is nowhere to be found. He gets word that Mo was last seen at the dump, and thus begins both the story and our hunt.
Everything that follows is pretty vague when it comes to actual narrative. That’s not to say things don’t happen: you’ll find yourself swallowed by another creature, scale to the top of a mountain, delve some tombs, and more. That’s all well and good, but it just felt like I was pursuing objectives because I knew the game wanted me to, rather than understanding the actual purpose of them. I’m not against a story being mysterious, but the ultimate effect here is confusion more than anything.
There’s a scene where you encounter a supposedly wise elder creature, who tells Mii that they’ve met “because the fullness of time has come”. That’ll make as much sense to you as it did to me when I was playing. This is a character who embodies the definition of “elusive”, saying things which are meant to sound lofty but end up falling flat. He tells you that Mo has already chosen a path and now it’s your turn to follow the path in your own mind. I think there’s a good concept buried here, in deciding to leave your home and venture into the unknown to discover yourself and your purpose. But that meaning gets lost and the end result is more box-ticking gameplay, performing actions because you know it’ll progress things somehow, rather than coherent storytelling.
The short-term goals are always fairly obvious because a task description will float onto the screen to detail your objective, which can handily be referred to at any time if you forget. There’s also a hint system, though it has the tendency to straight up tell you what to do, rather than nudging you in the right direction. You probably won’t find yourself perplexed too often, though, because the difficulty isn’t overly taxing. There were a couple of times I thought the solutions were too farfetched or not signposted well enough, but otherwise the balance of complexity is well-handled.
Credit must be given to the puzzle variety. There’s standard inventory usage but there’s also some different environmental interaction. For example, one surreal area is built full of doors and wheels, your path ahead only becoming clear when you work out the correct combination of actions. Elsewhere, you need to play the right chords in a musical tune and then later time your clicks to a floating leaf. These different activities help keep the gameplay interesting, so props to this small game for mixing it up.
The Minims is visually quite simple but still manages to be effective, with everything smoothly rendered in high resolution. The world is chunky and colourful, which lends to the playful feel. And although nothing revolutionary, there are nice details that build atmosphere, like a blue mist within the forest, a cavern glowing red, and floating light particles. However, while a lot of the locations are large in scale, like the rocky island and the snowy mountaintop, there’s nothing much to see. These landscapes are very sparsely populated, which not only makes them less interesting to look at, but also means there’s not much to interact with.
Mii has no legs, but he manages to get around by hopping; he also has no mouth, only able to speak by… well, that’s unclear. It’s extremely simple animation, but there’s something cute about Mii and the way he bounces. In fact, all the creatures you meet along the way are similarly plain yet appealing. There’s not a huge cast, and character design is duplicated too much, but the likes of a blue bird who rides around in a propeller-powered balloon and the forever dozy-looking Furby-style beings make for amusing encounters.
Unfortunately, this design simplicity is a problem during moments of dialogue. Conversations playing out through text in large speech bubbles, which means you’re left reading and watching pretty static screens. The characters might lightly bob their bodies or sway their heads, but it’s not enough. There’s no emotion displayed, which makes conversations slightly boring to watch. At one point Mii tells someone they seem nervous, but you could have fooled me – unless a lack of expression is a demonstration of anxiety. Even having the camera cut between faces would have spiced things up marginally, but there’s none of that here.
Speaking of dialogue, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While a lot of it seems to exist to provide exposition or drive whatever semblance there is of a plot forward, it sometimes shows welcome flair through humour. When someone tells Mii to trust him and jump into the lava, Mii responds that while he does trust him, it’s the lava he has suspicions about. I also particularly liked the droll shopkeeper who offers up everything you see for sale, but then knocks you down when you try to buy any of it. These comedic elements aren’t as pervasive as they could be, however, and I think this approach should have been pushed further. Instead, what we’re left with is often flavourless without a whole lot of personality shining through the script.
The music in The Minims is great, never overbearing but lending a strong hand in building atmosphere. In the Great Desert a jaunty guitar track plays, strumming merrily as the birds tweet and pond water laps. As the journey progresses we get some moodier tracks with slow strings and echoes to accompany the mystery, while some of the more surreal moments are underlined by reverberating bass. Though there’s nothing likely to stick with you once you stop playing, it’s definitely a welcome backdrop, particularly in the absence of any voice-overs.
The one thing that makes The Minims very obviously a mobile device port is its interface. You can’t click to guide Mii around freely, only to designated areas indicated by a cursor change. Once selected, the camera will pan to the new spot accordingly and Mii will hop into view. Clicking hotspots doesn’t cause Mii to personally interact with anything either; instead the action is performed as if in first-person view. But by far the more frustrating element is that you need to hold the Shift key to move the camera around with the mouse, which is serviceable but by no means an intuitive control scheme for PCs.
When all was said and done, I enjoyed the two or three hours that I spent playing this charming game, but its primary fault is that the story just doesn’t make much sense. It’s difficult to be fully immersed when there’s no real motivation to complete objectives, or excitement to see what happens next. It’s a shame because there are elements that work well, like the bright visuals and different puzzle types. If you can overlook its storytelling failings, The Minims: A New Beginning is a cute, family-friendly affair and an admirable debut production from a small indie developer.
|Digital||October 2 2013||beyondthosehills|