In Minute of Islands, it all begins below the surface. Down in the dark depths, surrounded by tubes and wiring that snakes through the underground structure, I begin to climb upwards. In the underbelly of an island, I'm quickly met with a fleshy, vascular-like opening that's pulsating, as though it moves rhythmically with a heartbeat. The machinery here isn't made of metal and steel… In fact, it's far more reminiscent of the human body in some respects, with red veins coursing through the network, and those pulsating doors that open like a sticky wound.
As I reach the surface, I'm struck by the colorful contrast of the island to the underground network below. The hand-drawn comic art style that brings to life the intricate detail of Minute of Islands is utterly beautiful. At times, though, some of its imagery can be pretty gruesome; the only signs of life on the surface of the first island, for example, are gulls with bloody beaks that peck away at the corpse of a giant beached whale. Uniquely distinct in its style and even sometimes occasionally surreal, you just can't help but stop and admire the strange, otherworldly beauty of it all. Every island you journey to really is a sight to behold.
In this strange world of fleshy machines and hungry gulls, you play as Mo, a young apprentice to four brother giants who dwell below the surface of the archipelago. Each giant keeps the machinery of the different islands running, until suddenly, for reasons unknown, the machines fall silent, and the four giants lie in slumber. The air purifiers that ensure the islands are safe from an ever-looming threat are no longer working, and it's up to Mo to try and restore power to all four giants using her Omni Switch – a special tool the giants bestowed upon her.
Memories and mystery
With some rather simple platforming and puzzle elements, you journey through each island to restore its air purifiers and rid the air of poisonous yellow spores that have seemingly devastated the land and its inhabitants. After emerging from the underground world, I head to a boat that takes me to another neighboring island. The ramp to the little ship looks like tentacles and after it unfurls onto the bridge, I climb aboard and set sail. I then have to navigate my way to the first purifier by jumping onto ledges, climbing ladders, and occasionally moving obstacles in my path.
Using the Omni Switch, you restore the purifier by linking up power from your tool to the top of the machine. After all of the purifiers are up and running, you can then head back and venture down below to the underground network that's a bit like a labyrinth to restore power and awaken the giant. At certain points, you will have to backtrack on yourself to get to the next point, but the areas aren't so big that this becomes overly tedious
The journey of Mo in Minute of Islands unfolds through a single narrator who steadily reveals more about the archipelago and what happened to the inhabitants of the islands. With a storybook-like feel in both its art style and narrative, the narrator puts in a fantastic, nuanced performance – sometimes the voice seems to mirror the mood and emotions of Mo, as though it's her inner thoughts being read aloud. At other times, the narrator can come across as a voice that feeds Mo's insecurities or fears. Throughout each area, there are also memories you can find that will give you more insight into Mo's life and past experiences, and give more context to the story. The sense of mystery surrounding the setting keeps me hooked and continually pulls me forward to uncover more about the islands, and just what happened to the people who used to live here.
Carrying the weight
As much as I'm drawn to the sense of mystery in this wondrous setting, there's also an underlying feeling of unease I can't quite shake. From seeing small creatures covered in yellow spores that have succumbed to the poison, to bones, empty buildings, and abandoned possessions that litter the islands, there's a great sense of loss that permeates the experience. Even when the story doesn't go into as much detail as I would have liked to explain just what happened to this place, every which way you look, you feel the absence of the island's inhabitants. While you do meet some of Mo's family who remain on the islands, dressed up in gas-like masks to protect themselves from the yellow spores that poison the air, the young apprentice still feels as though she has to carry the weight of saving her home on her own.
One of the most interesting aspects of Minute of Islands is the way it explores just how Mo tries to cope with the burden she carries. In lots of stories, the hero can often seem so resilient and we don't often see just how they deal with the pressures of having to be the one who saves the day. As the one chosen to watch over the giants and ensure the islands don't fall to ruin completely, Mo often puts her task before her own wellbeing, which naturally starts to effect her. She also berates herself and has moments of self-doubt, which is reflected in the words of the narrator or the interactions she can have with the world around her. In this beautiful and unusual world, I find myself coming to care about this young apprentice.
The look and feel of Minute of Islands is definitely its biggest strength, with an intriguing world that's beautifully brought to life with its hand-drawn artstyle. And while the setting can be quite gloomy and even grim at times, there's a comforting message of hope that I took away from the adventure. For me, it serves as a reminder that you don't have to try and deal with everything on your own. Even if you carry the weight of a heavy responsibility on your shoulders like Mo does, you don't have to do it alone.
Minute of Islands is out now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.