For turnips, life is a straightforward path from seed to plate, and the anthropomorphized, emotionally needy root vegetables of new indie life sim Minabo: a walk through life don’t add a lot of pizazz to this essential route. It’s a kind of sleepy, allegorical life sim metaphor for human existence but, whenever it should be charming or irreverent or pleasantly absurd, it’s mostly cynical and dim. There are far better examples of this kind of abstracted game experience and narrative, and its comparably steep $15 price tag isn’t doing it any favors.
Every game-turnip’s life starts the same way: they spring from the earth as a little grinning critter with a set of three draining needs: physical contact, intimacy, and belonging. These represent the fundamental stats of Minabo: a walk through life, represented as bars that fill by interacting with fellow turnips on the journey from left to right. Failing to keep the bars topped off drains life expectancy, and a given playthrough can wrap up in a few bursts of fast living or as a ponderous extended sequence, though the limits of the game’s mechanics and interactive potential make the latter a drag. It feels, perhaps fittingly, like a farming game in certain respects, but absent of any satisfying gameplay loop to be found.
Not Much Style Or Substance
Much of Minabo weighs upon its cartoonish storybook presentation, with turnip characters appearing as animated drawings with sticks for arms and legs. It’s a style which makes a nice first impression, but also fails to serve or engage the weirdly dour themes of death, failure, isolation, and emotional frustration which feed the game’s thesis. Music is relegated to a single energetic piece of music that all but the most masochistic will be muting in the options menu after 30 minutes or less; it makes for a limited but truly horrendous soundtrack. Oddly, playing the game in silence adds an unintentionally creepier aspect to its cycles of life, and highlights the gratingly repetitive vocal sound effects which accompany every painfully slow action.
A tutorial walks players through the first “mission” of Minabo, but it mostly comes down to experimentation from there on out. At first, it appears like there’s a little more depth and variety to the gameplay, but it all boils down to walking from left to right and emotionally “testing” NPC turnips, for lack of a better verb. Click on a fellow turnip and one of their three emotional needs can be activated, with a circle marked in green and red hinting at likely success or failure. Fail an emotional “roll” and both the target and player’s gauges drain, making almost any click a risky venture, only made more frustrating when trying to click a single turnip in a herd of their peers. Low bars can prompt anger, even options to resent the offending turnip and forge an enemy, but can just as well lead to friendship and even romance.
Too Simple Without A Payoff
Is it that Minabo’s significantly shallow gameplay gets in the way of its emotional needs thought experiment? Developer Jason Rohrer’s formative indie game Passage came out over ten years ago, but managed to make a much more poignant statement on life’s brevity, limits, and relationship complications with far fewer pixels and game time. Minabo seemingly explores similar territory, but as a puddle-deep clicker game which never coherently forms into satisfying stories in the mind, a vital element of life/social sims. Unlike The Sims, none of these characters are ever entertaining to watch as a voyeur, and offspring are treated the same as every other NPC – a set of gauges to monitor on the march to death.
Minabo’s missions add challenges to the basic structure, requiring that certain objectives be met in a given life cycle, a process which serves to eventually train players for the “Free Life” self-guided sandbox mode. And yet, even with these tasks, or a collectible series of hats which can be swapped around to grant modifiers and boosts, the game never manages to get a leg over its overly simplistic premise and execution.
Screen Rant’s Review Score & Conclusion
Maybe it relates to its barebones dilution of social interaction and emotional nourishment. It’s possible to see its concept as a broad generalization meant to provide space for the profound, but the effect is quite the opposite; Minabo often comes off as skeptical and dull. “Friends” and “pets” never feel like independent stand-ins for their human equivalents, just blobs on a cluttered screen to click and test, methodically balancing their gauges and waiting through endless animations each time. Interactions frequently fail, even with full green bars, and a few fails can lead to the sudden death of a character, manifested as a tombstone on the screen. The player is then asked to grieve, become enraged, or the middle option: feel nothing, demonstrated as a yellow circle with an ellipse at the center.
It’s an argument for how humans have the capacity to ably control their emotions, of course, but it fails to effectively land when the surrounding gameplay is so tedious and randomized. The world of Minabo: a walk through life, as visually colorful as its characters and backdrops are, is frustratingly opaque, and its turnips often fail to reveal recognizable specks of personality on any given playthrough. As a life sim, there’s very little life to be found here, just a span of rudimentary clicks in overly long sessions which never get within spitting distance of an understanding of human relationships or a reckoning with existential dread, outside of this: life’s too short to play Minabo: a walk through life.
Source: Selecta Play/YouTube
Minabo: a walk through life is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. A digital PC code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.