When I first started playing Minute of Islands, I thought it would be a cozy adventure game, but it didn’t take long to subvert my expectations. A warning appears on the screen as you start it, letting players know about the heavy themes awaiting them. Similar to 2019’s Sea of Solitude, you must embark on an emotional voyage towards self-discovery. Minute of Islands successfully tells a deep and relatable story in its fantasy setting despite some minor gameplay issues.
Story – Somewhere Beyond the Sea
Minute of Islands’ story begins as the end of the world approaches. Dangerous spores float over the planet’s surface and have caused the extinction of many. If inhaled, the spores begin to take over the host’s mind and eventually destroys the body as well. Fortunately, ventilation systems have been placed across the sea, and as long as they remain active, the surface is relatively safe.
These ventilators wouldn’t be possible without the help of four friendly giants, who manually operate the machines that provide fresh air and power to the islands. One day, though, all of the air purification systems stop working. Without them, spores are now leaking into the underground areas where the giants work, and they are breathing in the toxic substance. Luckily they have an apprentice named Mo, and it is now up to her to travel between each ventilation system to fix them before the spores completely take over.
Mo’s journey to save the world is a melancholic one. The game doesn’t take long to show the player how much the fungus has affected the surface. As she walks towards her boat, she passes blood-covered seagulls and decaying beached whales. As soon as I saw what the fungus was capable of, it became clear how important Mo’s role was and how harrowing it might be.
What makes the story fascinating is how it portrays our protagonist throughout her quest. While she is aware of the toxins in the air, she refuses to wear a mask. She considers the fungus to be an occupational hazard. On almost every island you visit, you will meet one of her estranged family members. Some of them will want to sit down for tea, but they know that her work is always her priority. In the worst of times, people try to distract themselves with drugs or other habits. Mo seems to have lost herself in her work, and by doing so, has become an island of her own.
Despite its fantasy setting, I found Minute of Island’s story to be relatable and profound. The main story about the giants and their ventilators was satisfying, but Mo’s personal struggles and growth really captivated me. She must overcome trauma and anxiety to reach her goal, which feels like a pretty universal feeling these days. Even a few days after beating the game, I still find myself reflecting on her emotional journey.
Gameplay – Going With the Flow
Minute of Islands is a pretty standard platforming game with puzzles to solve throughout. You can move Mo around using the control stick and also have dedicated run and jump buttons. If you jump from a high enough platform, you can use her large yellow shirt to glide like Princess Peach.
While the game’s story is its main appeal, I wish some aspects of the gameplay were tighter. In general, I wish that Mo was able to move faster. Even while holding the run button, the amount of time it took her to reach a new destination was long enough for me to get distracted by something else in the room. One of the optional tasks you are given is to collect all of Mo’s lost memories from each island. I might have been more motivated to complete this task if it didn’t take so long to travel.
One of the greater mechanics in the game is the introduction of the Omni Switch. It is a device created by the giants and given to Mo as her only tool. The Omni Switch allows you to pump energy into machines like the ventilators to make them work again. It can also be used at any time to point the player in the right direction. I didn’t have to use it often, but I was thankful for the tool and its guiding arrow the couple of times I did get stuck.
While traveling, Mo often inhales too many spores. When this happens, she usually ends up in an abstract and dream-like world. To escape, you must collect shapes in the correct order. If you pick up any shape out of order, the game resets the entire process. The shapes fly around platforms and can often run into you as you try to collect them. I initially found these sections intriguing, but the more often they happened, the less enthused I was.
Graphics & Audio – Kaleidoscopic Ocean
The gorgeous art style throughout Minute of Islands often made it feel like I was playing an interactive graphic novel. The bright colors and attention to detail are mesmerizing and easy to get lost in. It constantly reminded me of Gris, another game that uses its art design to enhance its story-telling. One of the smaller details I enjoyed throughout my playthrough is that the loading screen shows different art almost every time you see it.
The music throughout the game was enchanting at times but mostly forgettable. I felt like it helped elevate the ambiance and feelings of loneliness, but it didn’t stick out as much as the art style. There is one song near the end of the adventure that I thought was really clever, though. As the title approaches its climax, Mo begins to panic and hears her heartbeat get louder. The music eventually builds around that sound, using the heartbeat as a metronome and beat. The ending was already pretty intense, but this last song helped cement it as one of my favorites of the year.
Minute of Islands uses a narrator to help with exposition and explaining what Mo and her family are thinking. Unfortunately, the narrator uses a languid and dry voice to do this. In a world full of vibrant colors, I wish the narration had a little bit more life to it.
Minute of Islands was reviewed on PS4.