If you’re like me, you’ve seen Groundhog Day more times than you can count and it has become the basis of comparison for every form of media ever created around the subject of time loops repeating until the protagonist can get it “right.” Twelve Minutes is one of those games, where you have to play the same twelve minutes in time (depending on your choices, it may be much shorter than that) until you get the desired result. But the game stands apart from those other stories – I don’t know if it’s the mystery or the environment or the characters, but everything else became background noise rather than something being used for comparison.
Twelve Minutes has gotten a good amount of attention due entirely to its main cast: James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe. None of these characters have known names, so we’ll just refer to them as the husband, the wife, and the cop. The husband comes home from work and the wife has a romantic surprise planned for him. They are interrupted by the cop, claiming the wife had murdered her father years before. That’s it. That’s the entirety of the story I can share without completely destroying the fun of it, and honestly, it’s already about half of the total narrative.
The setting is quite small. At first, you get to access a hallway to the apartment, but after that one time, you’re limited to the living room/kitchen, washroom, bedroom, and coat closet. All rooms serve a purpose, and nothing unnecessary is added. Not having to look up, down, and sideways for clues or items that are useless seems completely opposite of most major titles these days, bringing a nice change of pace. There are no achievements for collecting random bits here!
At its core, Twelve Minutes is a point-and-click adventure, but unlike most, it features that time limit. Apparently, it can be completed in nine loops, but I can’t imagine doing that the first time around without a walkthrough. Nor can I imagine what information tidbits would be missed in bee-lining to this good ending, which is the saddest part – people will miss out on some of the most interesting stuff this game has to offer. There is, in fact, a proper ending though; it’s not an open-ended game where you learn all there is to learn and then your interest just fades until you stop playing. There is no hand-holding. There is barely a tutorial, just a couple tips on how to pick things up or look at things when the game begins in the hallway.
If FMV games were my bread and butter, point-and-click adventures would be my jam. In fact, I love a combination of the two, which Twelve Minutes almost has but the developer went with motion capture rather than live footage. Here’s the thing, though: point-and-click adventures that use a cursor UI is flat-out not meant for consoles. I don’t understand why Twelve Minutes was even released to Xbox; I quickly tried it on PC and it is far less infuriating there. Using a controller’s joystick to control a cursor is rarely a great experience, and this one is no different: no matter how much I tweaked the cursor settings, it never moved smoothly or easily enough to access objects in what I would consider a reasonable amount of time.
A traditional feature of point-and-click is drag-and-drop. Basically, you can open your inventory and drag items onto parts of the main screen to use them. You can use the bumpers or the D-pad to get to inventory, then scroll through using the same buttons, which makes selecting those items easier than grabbing anything in the scene. Thankfully, dragging inventory items to use on other objects isn’t too fussy; the item tends to “snap” to possible locations and uses. For example, when I want to put a mug of water on the dining table, it goes from highlighting the table to the plates pretty flawlessly, allowing accuracy that is otherwise not found with the cursor’s use. The live scene also pauses as soon as the inventory is accessed, which also helps usability. Too bad using the bumpers to access the inventory stops working at seemingly random times.
It didn’t have to be like this. (Fans of Drag Race, consider mentally inserting Jimbo screaming “WHYYYYYY?!” here, because that is both my actual reaction and an amazing gif most appropriate to my feelings on the flawed cursor.) Here’s the thing: Twelve Minutes would theoretically function best on a touch screen, closely followed up by PC. Yet there’s no mobile release in sight, which is a massive bummer. I’d totally shell out cash to play it on my iPad.
Aside from the point-and-click gameplay, the bulk of decisions are made through conversation. You can choose for the husband to act breezy, or for him to try and convince the wife of the time loop, or to start pressing her for information even though she won’t necessarily crack. Conversations are great for learning new information, but most of the information that is useful actually seems to come from doing basically nothing during a couple of runs. There’s something I really like about the idea of listening rather than arguing or flat-out jumping into action. After all, there’s always going to be another chance…
The game takes patience, which I admittedly lack. The way I see it, if I learn a single new thing each time the day repeats, I’m doing great. It takes learning information from many different scenarios to know what needs to be done to save the day. Items that seem inconsequential become of the utmost importance. Timing and order is so important. For example, to convince your wife the day is repeating, you need to show her a gift. But you can’t just find the gift and drop it on her, you have to tell her the day is repeating, choose to prove it, THEN find the gift and bring it to her.
Twelve Minutes is slow-burning, despite being about such a short time loop, but it will seep into your mind and refuse to leave. I actually dreamed in a time loop last night, which has literally never happened to me before. The concept is solid enough to stand on its own among dozens of other popular time loop media (television, film, games… it is everywhere). The intrigue and deeply flawed characters are enough to keep one invested for hours, and even worth putting up with irritating console controls.