Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back in time to relive a moment and make things right? 12 Minutes is a game that combines the time loops from Groundhog with the detective work of Sherlock to do just that and it’s just as challenging as you might expect it to be.
Often games that are so tightly bound in their gimmicks will falter and create a world that feels separate from our own, but 12 Minutes manages to walk that line. It places you in the shoes of a man who is being pushed to the edge while relieving the same moments over and over again.
Date Night Gone Wrong
You play as a husband who is coming back from work to your apartment. Upon arrival, your wife says she has a desert planned for you and lays out the plates, lights the candles, and sets the mood. Everything is going great, she announces a big surprise, you two dance for a little while, and then there’s a knock at the door.
Your wife goes to answer it when a cop comes barging into your apartment, handcuffs your wife and you, accuses your wife of murder, and then eventually knocks you out. You don’t even have a moment to really process what happened before you are standing in the entryway of your apartment again, the sounds of your wife in the bathroom alluding to the fact that something isn’t quite right.
You have returned to the moment when you first entered the apartment, and everything is beginning to play out just like it had. The game doesn’t tell you to but you instinctively begin to play slightly different from when you first did. Has anything changed? Did I do something wrong? What else can I do in this small one-bedroom apartment? These questions begin to add up and lead you to start your own Groundhog Day-esk investigation. Why is the cop accusing your wife of murder, and how can you put a stop to the tragic events soon to follow?
For the most part, the game is very good at hinting at what you the player should be looking into whether it’s a particular element of the apartment, a location, or even a dialogue option. An astute player will begin to work their way through these options to figure out the best course of action, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The husband learns most of his information through dialogue, but if you are a man of action, there is a chance that you will wander the apartment uncertainly, trying different actions that all ultimately lead to the same outcome. Or you might choose a dialogue option that you think will work, but it only goes about halfway because you don’t have enough information yet.
In fact, you will get it later in that run, but you will need to return to that same dialogue option. Either I wasn’t paying attention, or this wasn’t as clear as it should have been, but I thought that once I had used a particular dialogue option and it went nowhere that the dialogue branch wouldn’t give me anything else.
12 Minutes is both incredibly frustrating and well designed. The husband will save everything that he learns from one loop to the other but making assumptions about which paths are no longer necessary for the story might lead you to what seems like a dead-end like it did me. However, the narrative threads that you follow do encourage you to follow for the next clue to the tragic secret at the center of it all. There is a good story here and one that uses the most of its unique gameplay mechanic. The loops are not long, so it is easy to jump right back into the thick of the mystery, but it can also be frustrating as you have to relive the same moments over and over.
For instance, the wife stops you at the beginning of every loop to talk. You can try to skip talking to her, but it only saves a few seconds, so at a minimum, you will need to waste 3-5 seconds interacting with her. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but after the 50th time you reset, it began to really annoy me.
Replaying past options goes hand in hand with revisiting dialogue branches as it can seem like you shouldn’t go back to those moments, or you simply forgot to give a particular item to your wife to hold, so the game resets you. It can quickly become a game of trial and error rather than an engaging mystery through time.
I do have to say that the level of detail and creativity that went into the setting, dialogue, and how you can interact with everything is really well thought out. Due to its simple premise, developer Luis Antonio was probably able to spend most of his efforts on perfecting these elements, so it felt more intuitive for the player.
The achievements, on the other hand, are not intuitive and are some of the most frustrating I have ever gone after, and I am still working on one that requires you to replay through all the dialogue options again if you missed it. I know this isn’t a huge factor for a lot of people, but I enjoy collecting achievements as they add a lot of extra objectives to enjoy the game with.
12 Minutes removes its usual intuitive gameplay for the player to try random things around the apartment. The most confusing achievement is “The Gardener,” which essentially makes you water a plant 20 times with a few other important details in between waterings. I had to look this one up specifically because there was no way I would have come to the solution on my own.
When you finally finish 12 Minutes for the first time, you might be filled with awe, fear, or even sadness as there are several endings that you can find yourself completing. Part of the fun of 12 Minutes is trying to find the ending that you like the best but based on the fact that the credits only roll during one of the endings, it seems like there is only one canonical conclusion.
These few minutes after work can go a handful of different directions conclusively and dozens of ways that result in someone’s death, betrayal, or anger. The characters are complicated, and 12 Minutes plays into that to help flesh out its paths.
Luis Antonio created one of the most intuitive games that I have played in quite some time but falters a little bit with narrative progression. The paths are creative, dark, and often ridiculous, but when you involve time travel, a small cast, and a small apartment, you need a little ridiculousness to get you through the night. 7.5/10