Minit and Puzzle Hygiene

Minit is available on PC and all three current consoles.

I love me a good puzzles in a game, especially in an adventure game. It’s absolutely the reason why I’ve played every Legend of Zelda game in the mainline series, without fail, it’s what props up the deliberately-clunky gameplay of the otherwise fantastic Shadow of the Colossus, and it can even break up what would otherwise just be a long string of action sequences over and over again in an action game like God of War. Heck, even the wonderful open platforming play in Super Mario Odyssey is seemingly built around environmental puzzles.

But the thing is, it’s entirely possible to just… stumble through most of these. A wrong answer generally isn’t penalized, and most of the time these puzzle-focused sequences will happen in their own pressure-free environment away from the more time-sensitive, fast-moving action elements. Even in one of Pokémon’s more maze-like dungeon areas, you’re usually free to poke around as long as you have the patience for it. Of course, the opposite end of this is sticking the player in a more frantic situation where the situation has to be read and solved more rapidly and deliberately, while still keeping the flow and spirit of the rest of the game intact and not feeling especially punitive.

This is the exact line that Minit strives to walk – and it does so admirably.

For those unfamiliar with the game’s premise, Minit is a game that – with a few caveats – resets the playable world (with some caveats and exceptions) on a regular, sixty-second schedule. Nearly every screen has some sort of secret, quest-critical item, or other key element to your overall quest, the vast majority of them guarding their prize behind some challenge or predicament, so your goal is (in essence) to solve each in the short time allotted. It’s a remarkably successful setup, for two reasons:

  • You’ll almost never be able to resolve a situation the first time you encounter it
  • The “reset” process executes lickety-split

The latter of these is important because it encourages the player to act very quickly and deliberately, but keeps the consequences for failure to a minimum – just having to travel a few screens to reach the puzzle’s location each time – which encourages you to try and retry over multiple iterations so long as you’re doing so consciously. That feeds into the first point, which you will realize very quickly (especially with some earlier “subquests” being split across multiple screens. If you go through the same motions each time, just trying to “feel” your way through a situation without a proper plan or understanding of the whole puzzle, you’ll almost certainly be stuck throwing yourself at the same problem over and over for a long time.

Instead, Minit is built to encourage the player to be hygienic about how they approach the game’s many puzzles.

minitbelts.jpg
One of the game’s more deliberation-focused challenges.

As you continue to play – around the time you hit your first major checkpoint, you’ll have likely settled into a certain flow regarding a puzzle:

Discovery → Experimentation → Execution

You’ll enter a new area for the first time – sometimes multiple within the same cycle of sixty seconds – and have to make a snap decision about “is this something that I can handle with my current set of tools”? Either you make a mental note to circle back around to this spot later and move on to someplace else, or you’ll stop and move on to the next phase.

Once you decide on a screen, the next order of business is to spend the rest of your allotted time on understanding everything on the screen and how it interacts. Make a try at your first hunch, maybe even figure out a “solution”, but by the time you fully formulate a solution, you’ll almost never have the time to act on it. And that’s fine. The goal here was just to get a lay of the land and put together some sort of plan.

So on your next cycle, you execute. You make a bee-line for that same area, and you move with purpose. You fully understand what you’re doing – the puzzles in this game are designed into bite-sized chunks for this reason – and so you can act deliberately. You’re not just futzing about and flipping switches until you hit the right one; you know that you need to push this box along a specific path to cross that river and pick up the new shiny item. You well and properly solved the puzzle. And doing so in such a definitive manner feels so satisfying.

I suspect this is why they placed this slow-talking old man at the end of a pier along the starting beach, as well: you’re forced to sit there and listen for an entire sixty-second cycle if you want to hear the hint he has to give. Putting that early on plants the seeds of the right mindset in the player; that you’re not expected to solve anything the first go-around. Burning a cycle on just thinking things through is incredibly valuable in this game, and almost necessary for a first-time player.

minitoldman.png
Said old man. He’s a bit frustrating, but also an important meta-tutorial.

The whole mindset is wonderfully reinforced by the game’s “Second Run” mode, which only activates after the player has completed the main quest once. Sure, it ups the difficulty of the combat, but that’s not the key factor – more importantly, it lowers the game’s reset timer from sixty seconds to a mere forty. Here, you absolutely have to know your way around each section, with any margin of error meaning that you’ll almost certainly run out of time and be forced to re-do the puzzle again. That’s where the real challenge sets in, and it’s based around the very heart of the game this time; you have to properly know the exact requirements of each situation and act on them with intention.

In this way, Minit might feel like the most pointed expression and implementation of the breed of overhead puzzles popularized by Zelda and since seen in every JRPG dungeon under the sun. It’s not just putting obstacles in your path that can be brute-forced or knocked against until you just happen across the right series of actions or find the right peg to fit in a hole. Minit is asking you to think of each individual puzzle as its own puzzle, to consider it mindfully, and to execute on a strategy with purpose and understanding.  It’s even re-framed the way I approach environmental puzzles in games since by functioning as a gameplay parallel to a mindfulness practice.

I play more conscientiously, which leads to playing more appreciatively. And it takes is the right framing.

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