I think it would be fair to say that, for the most part, games publishers don’t so much cover themselves in glory as they do rancid bird effluent dredged out of a clogged gutter.
Whether it’s shoehorning microtransactions into the tiniest cranny (EA), shutting down much loved studios to save a few quid but then inevitably losing far more when the new team assigned the IP stink it up (Bethesda), or milking an adored franchise so hard that its teats go grey and fall off (Microsoft), pretty much everyone who loves games has at least one tale of woe where a publisher has ruined something for them.
Thank criminy, then, for smaller outfits like Devolver. Not only are they dedicated to belching out absolutely excellent little indie games like My Friend Pedro and Gris across all formats, they also clearly don’t take themselves remotely seriously. Observe: they genuinely have a fictional CFO called ‘Fork Parker’, who has a Twitter account where he’s renowned for his inappropriate behaviour.
And if there’s one thing we all love, it’s grown-ups doing swears and stupids on purpose.
In short, if Digitiser were a publishing house they’d probably be much like Devolver. And further evidence of their ability to laugh at themselves is part one of today’s head-deficient Cerberus of reviews, which I shall commence with…now.
Devolver Bootleg is a collection of eight 8-bit style ‘ripoffs’ of some of their better-known games, all accompanied by some excellent retro-style chiptune soundtracks. In some cases, titles are warped into entirely different types of game compared to their original form.
For example, Gato Roboto (itself an 8-bit style Metroid-a-like with a cat in a spacesuit) is reworked as a Ghouls’n’Ghosts clone. Simian violence simulator Ape Out becomes Ape Out Jr, a Donkey Kong Jr spoof only with vast amounts more blood. Stylised open world fighter Absolver is transformed into a cartoony 2-player side-on punch up that looks straight off of a NES – you get the idea.
The retro style is also reflected in the steep as chips difficulty level (and before you complain that’s not the correct phrase, note this: the chips in question are up a big hill). If you’ve ever played one of the old freebie NES games on the Switch online service, you’ll know what I mean here – these games feel straight from the days when ‘longevity’ was synonymous with ‘horrendously difficult’ rather than ‘400 side quests and a ton of boring menial tasks’.
The amazing thing is, despite this all obviously being a joke (and as such, only costing the absurdly low £3.95 – so it’s not even a ‘Ha ha! We’re really wacky funsters – but we’re also going to fleece you to keep our accountants happy’ thing), some of the games are honestly quite fun. Hotline Milwaukee – yes, really – kept me going for about half an hour or so alone.
But even if the games were dreadful, for the low price and for the sheer daftness of, say, being able to play a giant shoe that’s also a gun, I’d still recommend it. In the increasingly bland high corporate world that big studios operate in, to say this is a breath of fresh air is a vast understatement – it’s more like a menthol cyclone gusting right into your chops.
SCORE: Luftrousers 3 out of Luftrousers 4
So on to our second game, Minit. And to start with here’s a gaming confession: I’ve never played Majora’s Mask. Yes, I know it’s a classic, and it’s not like I don’t play Zelda games. It’s just I’ve never been a big fan of the ‘time loop’ subgenre for some reason. Similarly, I used to get really annoyed with the ‘do over’ style of Dead Rising meaning you had to bludgeon the same zombs over and over again. Just let me get on with new stuff, man!
Anyway, you might have guessed from that non sequitur that Minit features some sort of similar chrono-mechanic, and you’d be right. Only here, it’s taken to the extreme that each of your loops lasts a mere single minute (hence the title). But despite disliking it elsewhere, much to my surprise the time gimmick in Minit wasn’t offputting to me at all.
Rendered in a super-retro black and white 8-bit style, which would see it fit in perfectly with the offerings on Devolver Bootleg, Minit sees you controlling a beak-faced little dude who makes the mistake of picking up a cursed sword that puts him in his 60-second replay hell.
Whenever you die, and obviously that happens a LOT, you appear back at your base. But crucially if you solve a puzzle it stays solved – so doors stay open, bridges up, coins remain in your inventory etc., meaning you slowly make progress in opening up new areas to explore.
Having only a minute to do stuff obviously sounds like it would get annoying, and I confess I had my reservations at first. But puzzles are perfectly pitched so that it rarely takes more than a few loops to suss out what to do, plus after not too long you get access to new houses and teleporters, allowing you to travel a lot further and eke more out of your tiny time window.
In fact, given it’s a mobile game I’d go as far to say that marrying the short burst gameplay to progression of a longer ‘plot’ is genius, as it’s ideal for the format. You can’t lose too much progress if you’re interrupted by a call or you get to your stop on the bus and have to switch off, but you can still get a little bit further even if you literally only have a minute or so to play, as a minute is all you ever have to play with anyway.
The game also features what’s rapidly becoming the signature Devolver style – it’s all a bit daft, and while clearly made with a love of old-school 2D RPGs is also happy to gently take the mickey out of standard RPG tropes as well. Having to listen to a wise old man dispense information about treasure is standard fare – having to listen to one talk deliberately, painfully slowly when you only have a few seconds to live is infuriating, but still funny.
For a couple of quid it’s a steal – I’ve played more of Minit on my iPhone this week than I have my Switch or PS4, and I don’t even have the excuse of a commute. Some occasionally fiddly controls aside (and that’s more the limitations of touchscreens pretending to be joypads than much else), it’s a fun-size wee game that punches above its weight and is a perfect fit for on the go gaming.
SCORE: 45 seconds out of a minute