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'The Minims' Frustrates Rather Than Charms

I’m glad The Minims exists, though unfortunately I can’t say that I enjoyed my time with it.

Publisher: beyondthosehills
Genres: Adventure Game
Players: 1
Platforms: iOS, PC, Mac
ESRB Rating: N/A
Developer: beyondthosehills
Release Date: 2016-04-01

There’s a moment about halfway through The Minims where I’m in a boiler room, and the engine breaks down. I know that the engine runs on energy crystals, and I can see the crystals right behind the engine. I’ve immediately solved the “puzzle,” if you can call it that. To implement the solution, however, I have to slowly walk to the end of the room, grab a crystal, then slowly walk back to the engine to deposit it. The engine requires three crystals to start back up, and I have to repeat the exact same process (grab a crystal, walk back, deposit it) again and again.

This might seem like a minor frustration to fixate on, but I think that it’s indicative of The Minims as a whole. The minimalist point-and-click adventure game is largely the work of a single developer who has been working on The Minims since 2012. The game came out for iOS last year, and a Steam version is now available. Critics have been talking about whether auteur theory applies to games for several years now, but in the case of The Minims, perhaps a bit more oversight could have smoothed over some of the clumsier segments of the game -- someone to point out that maybe inserting one crystal into the engine instead of three is good enough.

You control Mo, a member of the Minims species, who in classic video game tradition is searching for his female companion named Mii. I stared at Mo for a while, trying to think of how to describe him: he looks a bit like a neon yellow drumstick with two eyes bulging out at the top. Also in classic video game tradition, you have to complete several arbitrary tasks before beginning your journey, like restarting the engine or unlocking the cellar door.

As mentioned above, The Minims is an adventure game, though there’s no inventory management or complex command system. You find items, click on hotspots, and try to use the items that you find on those hotspots. The puzzles in The Minims are . . . not very good, to be honest. I’m not even sure if they can be called puzzles, as very rarely do they rely on logic or critical thinking. Usually it’s a matter of brute forcing your way through by clicking on every last thing in the environment.

Here’s an example: my friend Jo is tired, so I have to brew some coffee for him. (Jo wants a cup of Joe, get it?). To make coffee, I have to grow coffee beans. To grow coffee beans, I have to plant a coffee seed. To plant a coffee seed, I have to find one by clicking on an ant that for some reason has a coffee seed on its back. I didn’t grow up playing 90s-era adventure games, but I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing that “pixel hunting” refers to. Also, how does this solution make any sense? If I want to brew coffee, why should I look for an ant?

To be fair, The Minims is an unapologetically weird game. Your main character, after all, is a neon yellow drumstick. Your friend Jo is a sentient garden hedge, and things only get weirder from there. I should also note that there’s a built-in hint system, which is always appreciated in an adventure game, and at any point, you can click on a light bulb icon to receive a point in the right direction.

My main criticism, however, is that The Minims feels needlessly esoteric instead of charming. Last month I reviewed Samorost 3, another deeply weird point-and-click adventure game, but that game was at least governed by rulesets that you could eventually decode. There are no rules in The Minims, and while that might be the point, it left me feeling alienated and confused.

It also certainly doesn’t help that the game’s iOS roots are readily apparent. The art style of The Minims recalls early computer animated movies: a lot of flat grass textures and simple geometry. Again, the game was primarily developed by one person, and it seems unfair to expect too much graphical polish from such a small team, but there’s probably a reason why a lot of adventure games are 2D. The world of The Minims seems flat and barren, when it should be weird and colorful and alive. I did enjoy the soundtrack, though, with its harp arrangements and acoustic guitars. (It turns out the developer’s wife composed the soundtrack, which is a heartwarming detail.).

So should you play The Minims? Probably not, in my opinion. I’m glad that game development has gotten accessible enough that one guy can make this weird, unwieldy thing. I’m glad that the guy is from Athens, Greece, and that we’re seeing a more diverse range of voices in game development. In short, I’m glad that The Minims exists, though unfortunately I can’t say that I enjoyed my time with it.


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