Review: Minaurs23 Jul 2018 0
Released 28 Jun 2018
Minaurs is a bizarre experience. Featuring gnomish, subterranean, space-faring creatures who are just trying to save their species while righting the wrongs of the past, it asks you to be very patient as it reveals to you its depth and wonder. The longer you wait, the more you realize that it’s kind of just pulling you along on a ride that never gets very exciting.
You are one of the last free minaurs of your kind. The rest have been scattered to the stars and are lingering haphazardly in dangerous places in hopes for someone to come rescue them. You, with your sense of heroism and agency, conduct mining expeditions to dig them out of their potential graves, and maybe profit on the way. A mining expedition has multiple goals. To pass the mission and move on successfully, you have to find the specified number your incapacitated brethren in the caves below. On your way, you can also mine the some of the natural Resource growing in the many caverns.
You can’t just saunter into any given cave system all willy nilly - there are rules to be followed. Your hero minaur moves automatically, turning when he hits an obstacle he can’t climb over or swim through. These are usually walls for neighboring chambers, that can be reduced to rubble (or rebuilt) with a tap. Tapping the ground will open a hole that the minaur can fall through to reach lower levels, but he cannot climb back up to the level he fell from without some extraneous effort.
Put together, a round of Minaurs is a lot like a round of Lemmings, with your autonomous and diligent pawn trudging to a fate he doesn’t know, while you work the levers to ensure his trip is a success. It takes some strategic thinking to carve a proper path to the lost minaurs effectively, as they’re often on separate levels nowhere near each other. Navigating around natural hazards like choking gas, acid, and belligerent creatures adds tactical wrinkles that throw wrenches in your plans.
This seems more or less straight forward, but how things interact with you feels overly complicated. Your Resistance shield is a catch all buffer between you and bad things around you. Falling from tall heights or standing in poison will damage the shield, and if the shield is broken, you’ll start taking damage to your Energy Bar. Your Energy Bar is the currency you spend to build things and break things down, and without energy you’ll go unconscious. Both your Shield and Energy Bars regenerate and watching them both interact with wildlife and other dangers is a confusing sight, even if your character isn’t in any consequential danger.
For a game with so many instructions, it’s pretty tough to understand. Almost everything you do is punctuated by a tutorial menu, explaining the significance of this thing to the greater Minaurs ecosystem. But these screens then find themselves buried in the glossary, and paging through to get a refresher on a finer point of exploration is daunting. The prompts themselves are jarring, blasting into your face and completely pulling you out of the game, even if it’s just for a few moments. In some instances, they show up in rapid succession, becoming super annoying when all you want to do is watch your minaurs move from one side of the screen to another. At its worst, prompts will trigger sub-prompts, and suddenly you’ve drilled down into multiple Inception dream levels of tutorials.
Progression in the game is at a glacial pace. You have to rescue a certain amount of minaurs before you can move to a new planet, and that number can be needlessly high. The first planet requires 90 saved minaurs, and with each expedition having somewhere between 1-3 scattered across it, it will feel like an absolute chore to make the jump. As you rescue them, you’ll find maps to start Noble Minaur rescues or to drop into expeditions with large numbers of Resource to mine, but the process never changes much, and it gets old very quickly.
You’ll find as you explore, you’ll be gaining several different bars that are filling and shrinking without much fanfare. One of them involves the aforementioned Resource - this blue, iridescent stone - is what you spend to upgrade your skills and are a fee to go on any expeditions. You’ll get Resource as bonuses for finding minaurs, but you can also reap it from the land. I’ve never had a problem where I didn’t have enough Resource for something I wanted, and I spend very little time going out of my way for it.
Challenges pop up as you do things like gather and find wildlife. They each have specific goals like find a certain amount of Noble Minaurs or fall from a certain height X amount of times. When these goals are met, you are rewarded with a state boost and something called Prestige. Prestige is also gained every time you learn something new (every time one of those damned tutorials pop up). It serves as both a number to denote the progress of your knowledge of the Minaurs universe, and a gatekeeper for learning abilities. It never feels like anything more than wholly arbitrary.
Skills allows your hero to do things he couldn’t normally do without coaxing, like turning at will or not falling off of ledges for a short period of time. They don’t come very naturally - suddenly after reading enough tutorial menus your first set of them open up. That said, they do add a level of control to the process that makes the gameplay more active and gives you more of a reason to invest in the moment to moment stuff and not just your big picture path to victory. Unfortunately, they feel as convoluted as the rest of the game.
Minuars doesn’t look bad, but it can be hard to really appreciate the art direction because of how dark and monotone the color palette is. Greens don’t look much more vibrant or vivid than the browns do earthy or muted. There’s a twisted, jagged, Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal sort of naturalism throughout, which is charming. The animations struggle to give any of the characters and wildlife that same sort of liveliness.
All in all, Minuars is a solid concept bogged down by way too many systems, and the dreadful experience of learning them all. It also it far too long. That is to say, you spend far too much time doing menial things just to see something new, and to quickly realize that it isn’t all that different than the thing you’d already been doing.