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Indie Nation #2: MINUBEAT

6:44 PM on 01.18.2008 // Anthony Burch

Last week, I kicked off Indie Nation with one of the best, most high-profile indie games on the market. Aquaria is long, beautiful, immersive, award-winning, and actually costs money to play.

This week, I'd like to go in the exact opposite direction and point you to MINUBEAT -- a free, downloadable rhythm/shmup (yes, they exist) which can be completed in exactly sixty seconds and is, in its own way, a testament to pure gaming minimalism.

MINUBEAT, made by Cactus (an indie developer you'll be hearing a lot more from) won't change anyone's life, win many spectacular awards, or create obsessive fans, but it's a quaint, damned fun little game which shows us a wholly different side of indie gaming than Aquaria did.

Hit the jump to understand why you should download it.  

MINUBEAT, as stated before the jump, is a rhythm-based shmup. You control a small, octagonal ship with three powers. You can shoot a rapid-fire machine gun with the Z key, homing smart bombs with the X key, and you can vaporize all enemy projectiles with a press of the C key.

The catch, of course, is that each of the three powers will only work if pressed in time with the game's musical beat. The entirety of MINUBEAT is scored to a singular pumping beat which the player must adhere to in order to be successful. Don't kid yourself into thinking this is a music game, however: the beat is just that, a beat, and serves to provide the rhythm-fire mechanic rather than giving the player something to dance to.

The machine gun can be quickly fired like a metronome in time with the beats, but the homing bombs and projectile vaporizer buttons must be hit at precisely the right time, or they won't activate at all.


Given this mechanic, MINUBEAT accomplishes the unusual task of not only forcing the player to adapt his play style to what the game has in mind, but in actually building the entire game around this forced acclimation. Everything else about the game -- the graphics, the sound effects, even the beat itself -- is minimalist and secondary, existing only as a means to draw more attention to the rhythm shooting mechanic. 

Additionally, the game is only a minute long -- and that's if you play it correctly. Screw up, and it'll be even shorter. Measured by the clockwise-rotating circle on the edge of the player's ship, this time limit, while initially frustrating (I can't tell you how many times I made it to the final boss only to suddenly explode for what seemed like no good reason at all), again forces the player to master the rhythm firing. At first, the player thinks it utterly impossible to complete the entire game in 60 seconds; this, of course, makes it all the more satisfying when the player actually does. Granted, you'll angrily get to the final boss battle about a half-dozen times before you get down a realiable strategy for attacking him (personally, I like to focus on just projectile destruction when he fires, then hit him with nothing but smart bombs as he moves from side to side), but I've gotten just as much satisfaction from completing MINUBEAT's sole, one-minute-long level than I have with many 6-8 hour long mainstream titles.

Speaking of time limits, you might find it interesting to know that Cactus created the entire game -- the entire goddamned game -- in twelve hours.





On the one hand, this should inform you as to the game's length and aesthetic quality; on the other hand, Jesus Christ. In half a day, Cactus managed to create a clever, unusual, genre-bending little shooter in less time than it took me to get up from bed and actually write about the damned thing. I cannot even begin to comprehend the sort of mind that can awake, start programming, and come up with something as fun and original as MINUBEAT before retiring for the night. "Jealousy" doesn't even begin to cover it.

You can download the game here, but be warned: as much as I like the game, it is not going to change your life or anything. Do not expect a synthesis of music and gameplay of the sorts you experienced with Audiosurf, or the mind-blowing bullet hell scenarios you'd find in other shmups like Ikaruga. MINUBEAT is what it is, and no more; it's short, minimalist, clever, and reasonably challenging. It is also, to my mind, pretty fun.

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