It’s not often you come across a video game concept you’ve never seen before. Here at E3, gaming’s biggest and most lavish marketing extravaganza, it’s more common to find yourself inundated with sequels, reboots, and remakes than to stumble on a creative, original idea. That’s precisely what makes Minit, a new indie game from developers Jan Willem Nijman and Kitty Calis, so exquisite. The game has a simple premise: every 60 seconds, you perish. Your small, blob-like character is then sent back to your monochromatic house, tasked with exploring the world anew and attempting to discover more of its secrets.
It’s one of those ingenious game design tricks that hits you over the head with equal parts novelty and depth. It only works because Nijman and Calis have designed such clever rules and mechanisms to guide your progress. In Minit, any item you find stays with you, be it your handy sword, a water pal, or a flashlight. When you awake again in your house, after the last 60 seconds have ticked down, you’re able to use those items to solve new puzzles and progress further through the game’s crude yet cryptic environments.
It’s reminiscent, in my mind, of the old-school trading quests of Zelda titles and tiny one-off flash web games that had you bring one item to a character, who would then give you another time to bring to a different character. In Minit, however, all of your progress is dictated by how strategically you make use of time, and how deft you are you at traversing from one point to the next. The duo says that, after around two to three hours of playing, you’ll be able to successfully beat the game in just one minute.
Nijman says many of these choices, from the art style and dialogue to tasks you must complete, are meant to subvert popular game design choices we’ve seen before. The constant death and rebirth of Dark Souls is a big one, yet the side-scrolling exploration of The Legend of Zelda is the most obvious inspiration. (You start the game by finding a sword on the beach.)
These influences both inform and trick you as a player into approaching Minit’s puzzles from a certain angle. It’s only by embracing the game’s constraints and working within them can you actually make progress. In my time with the demo, I often found myself racing toward a new item with just 15 seconds left.
“We get ourselves some limitations to make it more interesting,” Calis says. “One button, two colors, 60 seconds.” In fact, these constraints were borne from a 2012 game jam for the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time, in which Nijman and Calis had just 48 hours to develop, build, and deploy a working game. They came up with the concept of recurring, time-dependent death and the idea stuck with them over the years.
Calis went on to work on indie game Action Henk and for developer Guerrilla Games, the studio behind the hugely successful open-world PlayStation title Horizon Zero Dawn. Nijman, meanwhile, developed hit indie games as one half of the studio Vlambeer.
The two have been working on Minit for more than a year now; the couple travels from place to place, staying in Airbnbs and working on the game on the go. They also recruited fellow Dutchman Jukio Kallio to write the music (which is fantastic), and Germany-based Dominik Johann to help with the game’s minimalist art.
The team doesn’t have a release date for Minit, as they’re still hammering out which platforms the game might release on beyond PC. But Callis says that when it does come out later this year, Minit will cost “probably cost less than a really expensive coffee.” For a game this fiercely smart and unique, that’s a steal.