A game of minimalist beauty, Minutes feels like a bullet hell shooter, but it's actually an absorb 'em up – an odd variant on a shooter without the shooting. If that sounds slightly abstract, then I'm cutting the right jib, because Minutes is just that: a game that takes traditional arcade game mechanics and tweaks them into something that comes across as different and original.
Developed by Briton Richard Ogden, aka the one-man studio, Red Phantom Games, the game takes its name from its format: it presents a series of levels that last exactly 60 seconds, where the objective is to guide a circle around a screen, absorbing moving colored lines and objects (light energy) by running into them. Making things difficult are perambulatory black lines and objects (dark energy) that intersect the colored versions. Touching these also results in you absorbing them, but this is a bad thing: touch too much of the black stuff and that prematurely ends the level.
And that's about the long and the short of it.
Like I already said, this is minimalist stuff, but that's what makes this game addictive. Sessions are short, staccato, minute-long engagements where you're trying to hit specific targets. You can clear a screen fairly easily once you've memorized its minute-long patterns of geometry and intersecting objects, but hitting the more demanding goals the game sets for you on each level is almost always a tricky challenge that can become hypnotically moreish.
As you might expect, the game soon ramps up the difficulty with increasingly complex shapes, patterns and intersections. Fortunate, then, that power-up weapons are also awarded along the way. Only like everything else in the game, they're not quite power-ups in the traditional sense, but instead useful tools you can deploy once per screen at a critical juncture - perhaps to slow down the gameplay for a brief period of time, unabsorb some of the dark energy you've accidentally run into, or even destroy black lines and shapes within a specific radius.
It's also possible to change the size of the circle. Halving its size results in a 0.5x score multiplier, while doubling its normal size sees a nice 2x bump. Needless to say, the bigger you are, the more difficult it is to avoid enemy shapes and lines, so there's a good degree of skill and judgment required as you constantly switch sizes to balance survivability and scoring.
What makes Minutes appealing is that it manages to capture the feeling of playing a high-end shooter, but without actually being one. You're basically sitting in the middle of a bullet hell, avoiding and destroying things - but not in the usual sense. The movement patterns you make are fundamentally the same as those made in horizontally or vertically scrolling shooter, but instead the action takes place within a single encapsulated screen, and the "enemies" are just abstractions. Also, because of the way the game is designed, it means that the action can be split up the way it is, into 60-second chunks. Each screen can be a satisfying exercise in its own right, and I found that when I sat down to play it, time flew. Breaking the action up into short bursts makes it ideal for gaming on the move, so the fact that this is a cross-buy with PS Vita makes it a perfect fit for the machine.
Ultimately, Minutes is an ideal "snack" game to play when you've got a limited period of time to kill, or when you fancy playing a game, but don’t necessarily want to invest the kind of gaming commitment you might need to put into a big AAA title. Just be warned, it does get exceptionally challenging on later levels - but it doesn't stop being fun.
Simple, but aesthetically pleasing.
Great pumping soundtrack matches the action perfectly.
Like the rest of the game, elegant and easy to use.
Later levels are quite tough, and even if you do finish it, you can always go back to improve your scores.
A clever, abstract take on a bullet hell shooter that breaks the action up into very short bursts. It's challenging, fun to play and very addictive. A great indie game to play between AAA titles.