Minute of Islands is a 2D narrative-heavy puzzle platformer that follows a young yet jaded mechanic named Mo as she travels from island to island, desperately trying to fix the enigmatic giants that keep the islands she calls home hospitable. Developer Studio Fizbin has found something of a niche, specializing in hand-drawn adventure-style games – they also developed the Inner World series. Mixtvision Digital, the publisher, while somewhat new to the Xbox publishing scene with only a few titles under their banner, seems to have an eye for visually striking adventure-style games. The art style in Minute of Islands will no doubt be the first thing to catch people eye, and the visuals remain both vivid and imaginative from start to finish, but what about the actual gameplay?
The narrative in Minute of Islands revolves around a young lady named Mo, the sole mechanic on the island. The islands are inhabited by four mysterious giants who live underground and power the islands, protecting them. When Mo was younger she spent much of her time exploring the islands and interacting with the giants. The giants created a tool (the Omni Switch) and bestowed it upon Mo, granting her the ability to tinker and fix the biomechanical giants and the other odd living mechanisms on the islands. Throughout the game, Mo will have to use her Omni Switch to fix and restart all these organisms, and there are specific button combinations that must be pressed in order to do so. They are always displayed on the screen, and while it might sound like it would get tedious, I found it kind of unique – like my controller was almost an extension of the Omni Switch.
The story begins with the island archipelago becoming overrun by floating yellow spores that have spread across the islands because the filtration systems are offline. Mo is the only one who can fix these, making it her burden alone. Throughout the adventure, Mo grapples with different emotions related to this burden and how it affects her, and how her relationships with her family and the island’s other human inhabitants have become strained over time. She often second-guesses herself and wonders how her life would be different if she didn’t have these responsibilities. I felt that I could relate to many of the emotions and feelings that Mo expressed and I think many players will be able to do the same. Mo is faced with a tough choice at the end of the game, which can easily be viewed as a life lesson to those who are playing. The one downside to all of this is the story is told to you and you don’t have any choices at any point in the game, which is somewhat of a disappointment.
The gameplay revolves entirely around getting each island’s giant up and running again. There is a lot of light platforming involved when traversing each island and it can feel a little dull at times, which is amplified by Mo’s limited moveset. Crawling through tunnels is far and away the slowest action she takes, but if you want to find all the collectible memories you’ll have to deal with it because all the ones underground are hidden in Mo’s secret rooms that can only be accessed by crawling through tunnels. They do provide a unique view of the life that Mo has lived which is a nice bonus. One movement mechanic that I really liked is how Mo floats to the ground if you jump off a higher platform. She wears a yellow poncho and it acts as a sort of parachute which I thought was sort of cute and fun. There are also a few puzzle sections, most of which require you to move objects around in order to get to the other side. There are also a few matching puzzles, like the ones in the strange dreamlike areas in between islands where you have to catch some floating organisms in a specific order. You can check the order at any time by pressing the right trigger which brings up your Omni Switch. Another helpful function of the Omni Switch is that it points in the direction of your next objective when it’s brought up.
By far the biggest draw of the game is the exquisite art style. It looks like something you might see in a prime-time Cartoon Network show that would air before or after Adventure Time, but then at other points, it looks like some bizarre show you’d wake up to at 4 am on Adult Swim if you forgot to turn off the tv. Alternately, if you told me this was based on a comic book series published by Image comics, I would believe you. The art style looks like it would fit in with much of their recent catalog. Overall the art has a cartoon look, with vivid colors and lots of little details. Exploring the islands and taking in the different design elements is the highlight of the game. Since the game takes place on multiple islands much of the scenery has a nautical theme, with many of the buildings being made of different sea vessels like ships or submarines. Another common sight is the various sea creature carcasses scattered throughout some of the areas. I never felt like this was morbid, it just fit really well with the aesthetic. The carcass theme culminates in a uniquely original setting towards the end of the game. As you progress through the game the island settings get slightly more menacing and take on a darker feel, which matches the progression of the game’s emotional tone – Mo gets increasingly frustrated and angry as she races to fix the giants.
The story in Minute of Islands is told entirely by a fully voiced narrator. The voice work is well done, and for most of the game, it provides a satisfying experience. The only time the story suffers by only having one voice is when she narrates the conversations Mo has with other characters – most of the time just giving a brief summation of what was said. One other aspect that seems to suffer slightly is Mo’s inner monologue. I think having a separate voice to vocalize Mo’s negative inner feelings would have added to the narrative, or they could have at least tried to make the voice sound slightly more evil and sinister. Every time you start the game you get a pop-up notification on the screen saying that the game is meant to be played with headphones. I followed this recommendation the entire time, and I thought the sound effects added a lot to the game’s overall feel. Whether it was the different sounds Mo’s footsteps made on various surfaces or the more ethereal organic sounds in the underground areas each sound felt well placed and accurate for the game space. Perhaps the strangest sound effect is the noise the seagull-like birds that are cluttering the islands make, it sounds almost a cat-like MEeeeow squeak.
Anyone who likes this style of art will probably enjoy the experience, although some might find the price a little high for the game’s length and amount of gameplay – it took me about six hours to beat the game and get all the achievements. The collectible achievements are missable so make sure you get all the memories in each section before leaving, there’s a helpful counter in the pause menu that tells how many you’ve found. One aspect of the game that bothered me was the save system and checkpoints. Multiple times I played until I saw the save sign at the bottom of the screen before ending my session, but then when I returned to the game I would be back at a previous area. The game would benefit from one of those “your last save/checkpoint was 1 minute ago” features found in some other games.
Gamers looking for a puzzle-heavy platformer like Braid won’t find what they’re looking for here; alternatively, players searching for a platforming adventure like Limbo will also be let down. However, if you’re looking for a relaxing, story-driven adventure with light platforming and a few simple puzzles all wrapped in a sublimely vivid art style then this just might be for you. The story touches on topics that many games avoid, and most players will find some way to relate to the protagonist Mo, but the islands and their depictions are the real stars of Minute of Islands – it’s what kept me hooked. I remained intrigued throughout the experience, always wondering how the next area would be presented. The gameplay feels a bit monotonous, but that gives you more time to marvel at the artistic detail of the world.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.