Sometimes games come along that hit you emotionally as they resonate with exactly where you are in life. For me, Minabo – A Walk Through Life, is one such game. It sees you take control of a baby radish and life your life one step, one season and one year at a time. Before you know it, your life is over, but Minabo teaches you that the steps, friends, pets and family you made along the way were the real goals, not the destination.
When your radish self is born, you give yourself a name and are born to two radish parents. You immediately want to crawl to the right but every step advances time and the seasons beautifully change in the background to mark the passage of time. Crawling becomes walking and then running if you want to go through life as fast as you can, but as a radish you’ll also need to take care of your basic needs. Each radish wants physical contact, intimacy and a feeling of belonging and you can attempt to interact with any radish you meet on your journey through life. If you aren’t feeling like you belong in the world, you can choose that interaction option and hopefully your recipient will mutually give you some belonging back. Their needs are also on display for you and a chance meter for how successful that interaction will be. Success raises your ever depleting stats, failure drops them down.
Success is crucial because failure or low stats starts to shorten your lifespan. This too is on display with the point of death slowly moving to the end of the bar. Time moves as you move but as your parents, siblings and any other radishes you meet move to their own tune, you don’t want to be left behind all alone. Similarly, if they aren’t getting their needs met they too will have shorter lives and turn to a tombstone for you to weep at far too soon. Repeatedly talking to strangers may allow you to become friends, best friends or in some circumstances partners and lovers (holding hands with glee if you move at the same speed). This will eventually allow you to procreate and create your own offspring too. Baby radishes are born with low stats and so they require attention to stay healthy and connected to you. This might mean you ignore your partner and if you do that for too long, you can grow distance and have the relationship stagnate and break down. Minabo is a real juggling act and your interactions, a bit of personality bingo and careful choices can really give you totally different life experiences.
The reason why Minabo hit me so emotionally is because of where I am in life. I’m about to turn 40 years old, my dad is in quite ill health, I’m in a long distance relationship that is feeling the strain of conflicting priorities and I have a day job that doesn’t respect its workers. I found myself automatically having art imitate life. I was trying to look after my parent radishes as they start to turn grey, slow down and stumble. I could see their bars dropping and I’d hold back waiting for them to give them a hug or a joke. Doing that meant my partner or best friend was running off in the distance and I’d be watching our partner meter dropping. In one play through I’d got three children and I was so busy running between everyone I had totally missed that one child wasn’t getting any attention and when I saw them die at 39 I felt incredibly responsible and like I’d failed, despite having parents reach their 90’s and I’d got to 100. It wasn’t so much stressful as it was feeling so responsible for everyone’s wellbeing. Having that tied to my lifespan too was added incentive to just keep giving constantly but I couldn’t stop the passage of time. My parents passed away, I cried at their graves. My partner was charging off ahead. My best friend was disinterested and had reverted back to a stranger and my two kids had become stroppy teenagers. By the time I’d reached old age, I found myself desperate to keep my siblings going and they too would falter. My kids were now adults and didn’t need me so much but I felt like I needed them. Roles reversed and impermanence drew closer. That little dot signalling my end was getting closer and I still had things I wanted to do. Each death felt like a life well lived but still emotionally charged to see yourself keel over time after time after time.
Minabo – A Walk Through Life has 25 missions in its main story mode and this helped me break out of playing the same way I live. Each missions asks you to live differently. Some are family goal orientated, some ask you to live to at least 60 and have three best friends, others ask you to make no friends but get some pets. Some want life in the slow lane, others want you speed through it like a maniac. It showed off the diversity that Minabo provides and provides an interest comment on lifestyle choices for living in the real world too. Once you’ve cleared five missions, a free mode is unlocked to enjoy just living a life free of goals. Hats, won by rock paper scissor games, can help you achieve goals in mission mode if you get stuck as they can help slow down your needs or change a parameter in the game.
Lastly, when your life ends you get to read your epitaph. It’s customised to what your life was like and it comes with a photo reel of all the relationships you made along the way. Its cute and you can export it as a video too. It is very cute as a lasting memory of perhaps a particularly cute or positive run. A run takes up to 30 minutes and whilst I was entranced with each runs randomised radishes, personality trait modifiers and a few other tricks the game has up its sleeve, I can see a few players perhaps finding Minabo’s three choice stat hunt a bit limited. You have to let your emotions in to get the best experience here and that might not be for everyone.
Minabo has left a lasting impression long after playing. It really struck an emotional chord and is making me think about how I’m living my life on a constant juggle for things I’m not always wanting to fight for. Minabo takes the emotional rollercoaster of life and asks you to experience it at hyper speed and I found it enchanting and heart wrenching every time I sprouted anew. This will easily be on my Games of the Year list and is one of the most thought provoking games I’ve played in years.
Review copy provided by the developer. Out now on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch.
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