Survive for sixty seconds. That's all that Minutes asks. Forget about saving the princess, rescuing the galaxy, stopping the demons, or conquering the world. Just survive.
In Sony's release notes, designer Richard Ogden calls Minutes a "minimalist game," but that doesn't mean that it's a simple one. Behind Minutes' straightforward controls and simple visuals lies a surprisingly deep, tactical experience. While each of the game's sixty levels is only a minute long (hence the name), players will spend much more than an hour chasing down high scores, dodging obstacles, and gunning for that elusive perfect score. Minutes is just that fun.
In Minutes, players control a circular disk that moves around a single screen. Geometric shapes (straight lines at first, although other objects appear later) fly across the playfield. Hitting colored shapes grants points, while hitting black shapes deals damage. The disc can change size; the left trigger shrinks the disc, while the right trigger inflates it. The bigger the disc is, the more points the player gets - and the harder it is to dodge obstacles. This creates a unique risk vs. reward dynamic that promotes careful planning along with quick reflexes - players will want to make sure that they're as big as possible when they grab objects, but not so big that it's impossible to avoid damage.
That's pretty much it. As the game goes on, players will gain special abilities that can do things like heal or slow down time, but special abilities can only be used once per level. That introduces another level of strategy: players have to choose both the right time and the right power-up if they want to get the highest score.
And really, Minutes is all about the score. Living through the level is one thing; doing it with as many points as possible is another entirely. Every level has three score thresholds, and meeting them gives players stars, which lead to much-needed upgrades. There are also special rewards for collecting 100% of the items in a level, making it a full sixty seconds without taking any damage, nabbing a one-time only smiley face that floats through the background, and getting a "perfect" score - i.e. doing all those things simultaneously. While it's easy to get to the end of the game, truly mastering some of the later levels feels near-impossible. Minutes has been called "bullet hell without the bullets," and while it's more forgiving than a lot of shoot 'em ups, the same strategies apply. Memorize, plan, die, and repeat.
Thankfully, Minutes has a pretty gentle learning curve - possibly too gentle. The first twenty levels are deceptively easy, and the game feels dull at first. Our advice: stick with it. Although the challenge ramps up slowly, later levels make up for Minutes' sluggish start, requiring fast reactions and quick thinking. Players will want to return to those boring early levels, too; getting all three stars in some levels is impossible at the beginning of the game, and going back with a full set of abilities reveals new scoring opportunities, as well as a surprising amount of hidden depth.
Minutes has no multiplayer, although leaderboards allow players to compare high scores against one another. However, since there are a finite number of points available on each level, players can only rise so high. A "daily challenge" mode, which offers a new level every 24 hours, tries to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately, the challenge levels are randomly generated, and lack the elegance and character of the campaign mode. They're fun for a few minutes, but they aren't compelling enough to become a regular fixture of any gamer's routine.
Ultimately, the amount of mileage any one player gets out of Minutes will depend on his or her tolerance for this type of game. Minutes is an arcade experience through and through, best enjoyed in short bursts. Since everything's abstract, there isn't a story to drive the action or characters to empathize with. Levels unfold the same way every time, and unlocking all sixty levels will show players everything the game has to offer. The type of person who thrives on score chasing and self-improvement will find a deep, immersive experience here. Those who just want to "beat" the game and move on won't be nearly as satisfied.
Minutes makes no compromises. With deceptively simple graphics and a pounding soundtrack, it's easy to lose a couple of hours ducking and weaving through Minutes' expertly crafted stages. Missing a high score by just a couple thousand points is excruciating; beating the score but dying right before the clock hits zero is even worse. Ultimately, Minutes might only do one thing, but it does that thing incredibly well; fans of arcade-style mayhem should definitely check this one out.
Minutes is out now for PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. Game Rant was provided with a PlayStation 4 copy for this review.