Twelve Minutes

This is a strange game in that on the one hand it is really rather good, and yet on the other it collapses under the weight of a concept it struggles to deliver. The central premise being a who done it played out in a three room apartment using a Groundhog Day time loop to collect information required to solve the mystery. Thankfully given the narrow scope the game game is mercifully short clocking in between 5 and 10 hours.

Twelve Minutes plays out like an Amiga/16-bit era graphical adventure like those developed by Lucas Arts with you essentially moving a mouse pointer to manipulate items in the environment, your inventory and dialog menu options. Over the course of the titular 12 minutes you need to solve various puzzles by interacting with your environment and talking to other characters to gain information needed to advance the story. Fail and the loop restarts for you to attempt again hopefully using information gathered from the last playthrough to push you forward.

This works up to the point the story naturally concludes. The story centres around a man coming home from work to a surprise meal by his wife who has special news for him. Their meal is interrupted when a copy breaks down the front door and the wife’s past quickly catches up on her. As some point this (minor spoiler incoming) base story arc concludes with a satisfying reason for cops interest in the wife’s past.

This is where the game breaks down by continuing past the point. The constant repetition, the slight obtuseness of the final pieces, and the inexplicably weird left turn the story takes from this point all bring it down. I actually didn’t physically complete the this playthrough after the natural conclusion occurred. A couple of attempts to push the action along and I ended up watching the last 15 minutes of gameplay at the end of a YouTube playthrough. Alas the nature of the gameplay and story means nothing is lost in the experience by taking this approach.


Grim Fandango

Back in January 2016 the remastered edition of this game was given away free with that months PlayStation Plus subscription on the PlayStation 4. While I had heard of the game before it was the first time I’d actually seen it and played it. I must say it captivated me right from the outset. Such is Tim Shaffer’s excellent story writing.

This version is the 1998 original for Win9X era PC’s. It’s a classic adventure game that clearly has it’s roots in the early text adventures of the 1970’s and early 1980’s like Colossal Cave and Zork. The evolution away from text input through to fully realised 3D worlds being seen clearly through the likes of Everyone’s A Wally on the ZX Spectrum and Beneath A Steal Sky on the Amiga.

Like many games of this nature it lives and dies on the quality of the puzzles the player needs to resolve to progress the story. Thankfully the majority of the puzzles are, while not obvious, entirely logical in their setup and design. That said I did find the puzzles on just the wrong side of having to get lucky and stumble upon a solution out of frustration. Indeed I actually reverted to playing the game with an IGN Walkthrough open in a web browser to pick up some hints and tips whenever, I far too often, got the feeling of having tried everything. Still I never felt cheated by the solutions. They were always of the – now why didn’t I think of that – nature.

Graphically Fandango is a game of its era. It’s clearly a PlayStation 1 era game. A time when, despite Tomb Raider showing what’s what two years earlier, game designers were still struggling to find how to present games in 3D environments. This game opts for the fixed camera and tank controls of contemporaries such as Resident Evil. This really is the most frustrating aspect when going back to replay over 20 years later.

If it was just for the puzzles and controls this game would have been a mediocre disappointment. What lifts it up and set’s it for many among the best games ever made is the story. Sure if you sat and thought about it for five seconds you can drive a bus through the plot holes but the characters are all spot on. The dialog feels natural. The voice acting is first class. You just can’t help but fall in love with the diverse cast paving your way through the ninth underworld.