The modern era of games has evolved in more ways than one, thanks to the expansion of the medium as a whole. It’s always fun to hijack cars, blast away aliens, and go on wild high fantasy adventures, but there are experiences that stray away from what is normally considered to be a fun adventure. Minute of Islands is what I consider to be one of those, a step forward for storytelling in video games. Not necessarily a crazy high stress action adventure, but an adventure and story that feels important all the same. Even with all the post-apocalyptic and fantasy elements on display, Minute of Islands gets across a story that is incredibly human. The experience is surreal, but there’s something to take away from it.
Minute of Islands’ main character is Mo, a young girl that lives underground and tends to machines. These ancient machines were left by a group of giants, and they currently keep the world safe from fungal spores that pollute the air. As the machines stop one day, Mo must leave to fix them all, or else the spores will come back and destroy what little life is left. Saving the world using abandoned alien tech is something that’s been seen before, but with the focus of Minute of Islands being entirely on puzzle platforming, this is much more about the journey and how Mo feels about herself and her environment than anything else. This sensation is aided by the narrator, which makes this game feel almost like exploring a story book. Compared to other games I’ve played recently, the use of silent characters and a narrator in Minute of Islands feels impactful, and again leads back to the storybook feeling. This extends to the gameplay as well, with the platforming feeling meticulous and puzzles not being too complex. This isn’t Mo’s first rodeo, and even though the player is seeing it as an outsider, it’s rather intuitive once you finish the first few puzzles. I feel like this was also a way of using the puzzles as a storytelling method, having Mo be confident in her skills as the sole person that can fix everything. Many small details like this, aside from Mo’s own inner dialogue, speak to her independence and outlook on the current situation.
Everything about Minute of Islands is hand drawn, which is a really solid stylistic choice. I normally love the hand drawn style, but even in a post-apocalyptic situation there’s a lot of color everywhere. Of course there are themes to it, especially when it comes to underground segments and sailing through the spores, but every area feels distinct and the differences are noticeable. The environments are incredibly telling, and even without dialogue it’d be easy to understand what happened just through the backgrounds. Gas masks and dead animals litter the shores, and every building is pretty much abandoned. Mo is alone save for a few people, and these connections are the last she’s able to place value in. The way Mo traverses these environments and interacts with the last remaining people are telling about her character in more ways than one, but also speak to the state of the world as a whole. There are some almost Nier-esque circumstances here, like a lighthouse-master whose wife sailed away to safety and keeps a hazmat-suit dummy in his bed as a substitute. Small details like this are easy missed, but add a lot to the characters and their motives, as fleeting as the character’s presence might be. Even though the game might look reminiscent of modern cartoons at a glance, the grotesque displays of death and rot are shown right from the beginning. Once you realize what you’re getting into, the further displays of surrealism and light horror are to be expected, and there’s a constant tension to the journey even though there’s not much happening.
Overall, I really enjoy games like this. Pushing the boundary of what is meant to be an “experience”, Minute of Islands tells a very meaningful story that some can relate to, despite the setting. It’s an exploration of the importance of connection among other things, and a genuinely convincing one at that. Try as she might to be the all important “main character”, Mo is flawed. There’s no shame in that, but coming to terms with it and recognizing your mistakes is the first step. Getting there is a journey in and of itself, and Minute of Islands does a great job with displaying the struggles associated with not only a person’s work-life balance, but prioritizing meaningful connections.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows PC (Steam)