The Berlin-based developers, Studio Fizbin describe their latest title, Minute of Islands as a narrative puzzle adventure, where the game's premise of a young protagonist, who goes through an emotional time, is also a very prominent topic within its coming-of-age stories. Here we play the young girl Mo, who uses a handy gadget called the Omni Switch to save everyone from certain ruin. Ever since an event called the Exodus, this world has been in dire straits. Yellow fungal spores spread all over the country, destroying everything that gets in their way.
It is thanks to strange machines of the mysterious giants who live deep underground that said spores have been kept at bay from Mo's home for so long. But now that these titans have fallen asleep and their machines came to a halt, imminent death threatens to plunge the life of our beautiful archipelago into extinction. Within five chapters and around seven hours of playtime, our goal is to purify the air on four islands and awaken the respective giants so that they can keep the spores away.
Visiting each island follows the same pattern: First we have to find and repair the air filters on the surface and afterwards we head underground where the giants rest. The Omni Switch is not only the most important weapon of Mo, but also that of us players. Thanks to this tool, we can interact with the machines and gradually reactivate them. From a gameplay perspective, Minute of Islands is a mixture of jump'n'run with puzzle. Exploring the islands above the surface is walking, talking and platforming, while adventuring underground will add small puzzles to the recipe. In order to resupply the giants and their machines with energy, circuits have to be repaired, machines need to be rebooted and mysterious membranes have to be moved into the correct position.
Because the focus of Minute of Islands lies on its atmosphere and the game's story, the gameplay elements are quite simple and do not expect much from us. I was particularly entertained by the underground gameplay because the interaction of the Omni Switch was implemented in a fun way. The platformer sections, however, were a bit more irritating since it is not always clear which positions Mo can safely move onto. During the last hours of the game, the cyclical structure, which had worked very well up until that point, became noticeable, too. Just knowing where Mo's task lead her next took some of the tension out of the story. However, some unexpected scenarios in the finale let the feeling fly away, and so Minute of Islands came to a suitable ending in my opinion.
Every island tells us something about Mo and the fate of humanity. Some islanders have survived the destructive attacks of the spores until now, including Mo's uncle, her sister Mirri and her grandma. However, Mo turned away from her family a long time ago and this is the reason they exchange bitter words with each other before going back to work. It will become clear over the course of the game that Mo suffers from her job as the sole saviour and that her own expectations put an immense pressure on her. Inner monologues reveal a distorted picture of Mo's family, once that isolates the heroine even more from the people close to her. While Mo sails from one island to the next with her ship, we see visions evoked by the toxic spurs, which bring Mo's struggle with himself further to the fore.
Atmospherically and stylistically, the game exists somewhere between Adventure Time, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Hyper Light Drifter and H.R. Giger's body horror. The unique comic style with its splendid use of colours, these flying yellow spores that are reminiscent of falling snow, and the minimal soundtrack give the dystopian world of Minute of Islands its very own charm. Suddenly, even the rotting corpse of a whale or the skeletons of deceased residents acquire a certain beauty in this deserted world. In addition, retold memories from Mo, which can be collected anywhere, provide an insight into life before the Exodus.
Minute of Islands can be compared to games like Abzû, which introduces players to an experience rather than challenging them. The narrative adventure impresses with its great sense of style, a beautiful soundtrack and the Ghibli-like atmosphere. The deeper messages of the game about false self-portraits, forced isolation and the conviction that you are not allowed to share your burdens with anyone else are reflected in the melancholy, beautiful atmosphere.
Opportunities to determine Mo's path on her emotional journey and thus being able to find a fraction of yourself in her character would have been a nice addition that combines the game and its central message even more. Even without complex challenges, or perhaps precisely because of the lack of it, Minute of Islands is still a clear recommendation for fans of stylistically strong, narrative games who want to lose themselves for a day on an island far, far away.