It’s almost impossible to avoid comparing 12 Minutes to the classic existential horror movie, Groundhog Day. It’s the same basic premise, after all; famous actor goes into house, eats cake, gets assaulted by policeman, chokes to death, wakes up in the time loop. Okay, maybe they’re not exactly the same. In fact, it’s only really the famous actor and the time loop that it has in common. Also, Groundhog Day is good.
As a game – that is, as a puzzle for the player to solve – 12 Minutes is profoundly unengaging. Yes, that first loop raises many questions (among them, How much was James McAvoy paid to be in something even worse than X-Men Apocalypse? Does Nintendo have a refund policy?) but getting to the answers is going to require an enormous amount of repetition, arbitrary guessing and the ability to overcome incredible amounts of ennui.
It’s a point-and-click adventure, more or less, that plays out in real time. A novel gimmick, for sure – The Last Express did it, but not a whole lot else did. Not in this genre; it’s a bit of a clash of styles. See, fiddly inventory management, complete with dragging objects using the left analogue stick and buttons, never feels good. Ever, ever, ever. And when you’re under time pressure? Forget about it. Touch screen input might have helped in handheld mode, but it’s not present here.
Many of the most notorious puzzles in adventure gaming are timing-based. Think of Broken Sword’s goat encounter. It’s memorable for the wrong reason; the puzzle exhibits the fundamental disconnect between a control scheme and pace designed for thought and an obstacle made for dexterity. 12 Minutes effectively trades on this design mistake. It’s like trying to play Punch-Out while wearing real boxing gloves.
Essentially, you’re tasked with repeating the loop over and over again, hearing banal dialogue you’ve already heard dozens of times, looking for that one little thing you could do differently that may result in the slightest crumb of new information. Fail, loop. Fail, loop. You’ll get bored. You’ll stop caring. You could just look at a guide, but then the game really will last twelve minutes. Small favours.
That way, perhaps you’ll enjoy the story — we thought it was stupid. Not the fun kind of incredulous stupid, like No More Heroes, say. We’re talking about Hang on, that makes no sense stupid. A lame, shock-value twist that doesn’t explain anything to any satisfaction, instead trading in ambiguity. Nothing wrong with ambiguity, if it’s in service of something. It can be haunting, not knowing the answers. Not caring, though? That’s something of a different matter.
12 Minutes on Switch is not a bad port by any means. Solid 30fps and strong visuals. Gamers of a certain school may get a kick out of the demanding, repetitive gameplay – perhaps masochists who favoured Sierra adventures over LucasArts. Though having said that, this writer has a soft spot for text parser-era Sierra and still got very, very little out of this.
Ultimately, we found 12 Minutes to be a trite adventure that squanders its initial intrigue almost instantly. We can see how someone else might get a kick out of its star-studded silliness, but in a gaming landscape littered with time loop games, we found this one extremely tedious at best.