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Minute of Islands Makes a Compelling Case for Letting Go

Minute of Islands is a somber, heartfelt puzzle-platformer that carefully illustrates the struggles of coping with past trauma.

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Minute of Islands Indie Snippet

Minute of Islands is a somber, delicate tale that exemplifies the “tip of the iceberg” analogy. What starts out as a straightforward journey to save a set of islands quickly turns into an examination of pride and the damaging aftereffects of trauma. It’s a strikingly mature narrative masked by incredible art direction full of color and life, and the fact that it feels so natural to play is just icing on the cake.

A terrible airborne blight has stricken a set of islands and decimated the population therein. Among those who survived and refused to leave are Mo and—by extension—her family. At a young age she was entrusted with the Omni-Switch, a staff that allows her to maintain a system of air purifiers created and operated by four centuries-old giants toiling deep underground. It’s Mo’s job alone to keep the air above clean, and when the giants all suddenly stop functioning at once it’s up to her to travel to each and get them going again.

Image courtesy of Mixtvision

The road to restoration is straightforward: find and activate the air purifiers, delve deep into the heart of the island in question, and do some light puzzle-platforming to reconnect the power supply and get the giant the energy he needs to wake up and keep working. It’s a loop that’s simple to grasp and easy to execute, bolstered by grounded, tactile platforming that makes smart use of the Switch’s HD rumble capabilities. In fact, be it scaling the wreckage around the islands, cranking air purifiers open, or directing surges of power, the combination of well-executed rumble and crisp audio feedback makes every action the player takes as Mo feel weighty and visceral. It feels surprisingly “hands on” for a 2D game, and it helps players get invested in Mo’s role as a mechanic.

The gameplay itself is slow and methodical, leaving plenty of time for reflection. Most of the game is spent wandering around intricately detailed islands and collecting memories (signified by floating shapes) or inspecting points of interest to learn more about these devastated locales. On the flipside, the labyrinths beneath each of the islands are all aesthetically similar, but offer some variation via the environmental puzzles players need to complete to reroute the power for the giants. This may be the weakest part of Minute of Islands; none of the puzzles are necessarily poorly designed, but they’re all rather samey and rarely provide a challenge. They’re infrequent enough that they never weigh down the experience, but a bit more variety and ingenuity during these segments would’ve gone a long way. There are similar issues when Mo hallucinates and needs to collect memories to come back to her senses. The light platforming feels fine during these moments, and some clever ideas pop up towards the end of the game, but on the whole these moments feel like a bit of lost potential.

Minute of Islands
Image courtesy of Mixtvision

Mo’s journey to revitalize the giants and purify the air on each island is neatly broken up into linear chapters, making Minute of Islands a focused adventure with a specific story to tell. While the motivations behind Mo’s quest seem straightforward enough at first—the islands are at risk, only she can help the giants, and so on—it quickly becomes clear that Mo is a severely flawed–and at times scarily relatable–protagonist. Her notion of what she has to do to help those around her versus what those people actually want is strikingly divergent, and feeling the history of this years-long back and forth through painfully well-written and directed scenes was like a dagger through my heart. There’s a very human quality to the story Studio Fizbin is telling here, and everything from the colorful dilapidation of the islands to the absolutely stellar narration by Megan Gay do wonders towards driving home that vision.

Far from your typical by the book adventure, Minute of Islands is a story about duty, battling self-doubt, and reconciliation. How impactful its narrative is will largely depend on how relatable players find Mo, but there’s no denying the storytelling chops on display. It’s a slow and methodical journey, and there are some lulls when it comes to the more gameplay-centric portions of its runtime, but the heart-wrenching family dynamics at play and the shockingly realistic depiction of the inner demons Mo has to battle deserve to be experienced by anyone looking for an example of great storytelling in games. Minute of Islands is vibrant yet dreary, easily accessible for less-experienced gamers, and is not to be missed.

Brent fell head over heels for writing at the ripe age of seven and hasn't looked back since. His first love is the JRPG, but he can enjoy anything with a good hook and a pop of color. When he isn't writing about the latest indie release or binging gaming coverage on YouTube, you can find Brent watching and critiquing all manner of anime. Send him recommendations or ask to visit his island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons @CreamBasics on Twitter.

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