- Developer: Studio Fizbin
- Publisher: Mixtvision
- Release Date: 13/06/21
- Price: £19.99 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Mixtvision
Introducing: Minute of Islands Review
Standing apart from the crowd, thanks largely to its eye-catching, Ghibli inspired aesthetic, Minute of Islands is a fantastic, coming of age story that deals with complex themes such as failure, anxiety, and isolation. That doesn’t mean however that it is depressing to play. Far from it, in fact. What Minute of Islands does so well is to keep the player invested in the story by revealing small fragments of information at regular intervals. What it doesn’t do so well (or enough) is experiment with its own gameplay formula, which started to feel a little stale by the end of the adventure. When all is said and done, however, the game is an enjoyable, and visually impressive, experience that doesn’t outstay its welcome and made me re-evaluate what a video game could be.
No man is an island
Minute of Islands story takes place across an archipelago of islands – no surprise there. You play as Mo, a yellow Macintosh wearing sort of girl with a penchant for exploring underground caverns. Turns out that some time ago, deadly fungal spores started infecting and killing all forms of life across the islands, which triggered a mass exodus of the population. A few islanders remained, however, including the aforementioned Mo, who retreated underground and discovered the existence of giants. By using the technology and strength of the giants, Mo was able to purify the air above ground of the toxic spores and save her friends and family. That is until one fateful day, when the air purifying machines start to fail and Mo must set out on a quest to fix them using the fabled Omni Switch. This is a task which Mo takes a great deal of responsibility for. The rest of the story unfolds gradually as you explore each of the islands, restoring the air purifiers and the giants who power them. Along the way you will encounter a few of Mo’s relatives and other acquaintances, which fill in some of the backstory and prompt Mo to re-evaluate her priorities.
A minute by minute account
The game runs pretty smoothly on the Switch. Use A to interact with objects, B to jump, ZR and occasionally ZL to wield the Omni Switch. The game is a puzzle-platformer so there’s absolutely no combat, no timed escape sequences, no health bar, and no falling down into a pit of nothingness. You cannot die in this game. Your task is simply to navigate the islands, solve the occasional environmental puzzle (none of which are particularly challenging) and interact with literally every object you come across. Some offer meaningful backstory, some are mandatory to progress the game forward, and others are just, well, there to be discovered. I must admit I did find this approach to gameplay a little tedious from time to time, but on the other hand, it was nice to kick back for a few hours and just enjoy the process of an interactive story unfolding before my eyes.
Navigating the islands can be a little tricky when jumping from ledge to ledge, especially when coming downhill. Usually there is helpful white paint daubed on surfaces Mo can jump to, which does help a lot. For longer than I care to admit, I was having trouble working out in which direction I should be heading, until it dawned on me that the Omni Switch itself includes a helpful direction pointer to direct geographically challenged people, such as myself, towards their intended target. The only task beside the events of the main story are to track down and recover Mo’s memories which will be reawakened upon finding some meaningful object or location. I picked up most of these during my playthrough but I didn’t feel compelled to go back and find the ones I had missed upon finishing the game.
The game is divided into five chapters and for four of them, the game plays out in roughly the same way. Go to an island, interact with its lone inhabitant, restart the air purifiers, travel underground, and reawaken the giant. The final chapter does throw this formula out of the window, but it’s relatively short and is more like an epilogue. If I’m making the game sound boring that wasn’t my intention. Sure, the gameplay is a little one dimensional, but the story more than makes up for that and it kept me invested right until the very end.
I can see Ghibli now
Aside from the story, the biggest reason to play this game must be the beautiful hand-drawn visuals that give an almost Studio Ghibli inspired feel to the narrative. Mo’s yellow attire stands out in stark contrast to the decrepit, mournful landscapes, littered with shipwrecks and whale carcasses. To add a further sense of otherworldly horror, in some areas, the fungus has really taken hold and warps the scenery into a vibrant and surreal mockery of itself. My only criticism is that I wish the same care and attention had been paid to the caverns below ground as well, which are invariably a bluish-grey backdrop, strewn with the occasional vein or artery to supply power to the subterranean giants. The minimalist soundtrack, complements the mood of the game nicely, but I won’t be rushing out to buy an LP of it anytime soon. I didn’t encounter any bugs or hiccups during my entire playthrough, aside from the very occasional frame rate skip.
Conclusion: Loving every minute
I’m very happy with my brief but enjoyable playthrough of Minute of Islands. Sure, it wasn’t particularly challenging in any way shape or form, but then not every video game has to be. I appreciate this game for what it is: a great and engaging story, with wonderful visuals, that kept me entertained from start to finish. I’ll probably never play it again, but then I don’t feel the need to. If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan with a few hours to spare then pick this game up. It will not disappoint.
- Engaging storyline that will keep you invested right until the end.
- Beautiful hand-drawn visuals.
- Successfully deals with complex themes such as failure, anxiety and depression.
- Gameplay is fairly one-dimensional and repetitive.
- Traversing the environment can be tricky at times.