Minit might seem like an unlikely game to launch a racing spinoff. The thing about Minit Fun Racer is that it was created for a different reason than most game sequels. Instead of leveraging an established intellectual property for the personal benefit of its developers and publisher, Minit Fun Racer was conceived and created in the spirit of charity. All proceeds from both the designers and the publisher will be donated to a different charity every month, with Doctors Without Borders as the first recipient.
As Kitty Calis, one of the game’s designers and the artist who came up with its distinctive style, tells Paste, “coming from Minit we were able to create a community and felt like we were in position to help support and give back.” Calis’s co-designer, Jan Willem Nijman, adds, “The fact that a publisher is like ‘yeah we’ll publish your game for free’ was kind of amazing. It’s just this weird coincidence and we were fortunate that…” “Everybody was willing to help,” Calis interrupts, finishing Nijman’s sentence.
Talking to Calis and Nijman feels a bit like talking to one person with two separate voices. They regularly trade off mid-thought, finishing each others’ sentences and immediately adding to what the other has just said. As half of the Minit team, which also includes Jukio Kallio and Dominik Johann, the two helped create one of our favorite games of 2018, and have now revisited that world and its basic underlying precepts in their new racing game.
Minit was a Zelda-style adventure that gave you exactly one minute for each run. You had to accomplish as much as you could within those 60 seconds, repeating basic actions to unlock power-ups and shortcuts that helped you travel deeper and deeper into its world. Minit Fun Racer works with similar concepts but in the form of… well… it’s not really a racing game, per se. It’s more of an endless runner but with a sudden and early end. You guide your scooter-riding critter through the busy city streets and obstacle-strewn hinterlands of the Minit world, starting with only 10 seconds to gather as many coins and get as far as you can. With those coins you can buy a variety of permanent power-ups between races, and those will both extend your starting time and also let you add to it while playing a round. It’s not as fleshed out or substantial as Minit, substituting that game’s surprising depth with quick burst arcade action, but it packs a similar thrill, and possesses almost all the charm and style of the original.
Nijman and Calis credit the existence of Minit Fun Racer to two distinct inspirations: a minor bit of scenery that was cut from Minit, and then a freelance art assignment from an unlikely source.
“Last year the New York Times reached out to Kitty to do an illustration about the transportation hellscape,” Nijman explains. Calis adds that this assignment dovetailed with their early brainstorming on making a game for charity; her Minit-style sketch of a gridlocked, potholed road, published early in the pandemic, got them thinking about how they could extrapolate this idea out into a full game.
It also made them think of something they had cut out of Minit. “In Minit there’s a parking lot next to the hotel. At some point we made some cars to put there, but we took them out in the final game,” Nijman explains. They were a realistic detail to add, but they also could be seen as foreshadowing something that never actually happens in the game. As Calis adds, “I felt like if we were putting cars in a game there were expectations. And I was like ‘well, I’m not sure if we can deliver those expectations in this particular game right now,’ so we took them out.”
Those cars stuck with them, though. “In our minds the world of Minit, it’s like a world, right?” Nijman says. “It’s alive and makes sense, and I don’t know, those cars, we always kind of wondered what they would be like. And this was the perfect opportunity to just put them in and have fun and see where it ends up and make something in the spirit of Minit while also supporting a good cause.”
Part of the world of Minit is recontextualizing the often grandiose scope of videogames into something more modest and mundane. And so there’s no grand finale to Minit Fun Racer. After this hectic, stressful drive through an absurdly busy city, and then a dangerous trek through the desert, you arrive at a small beachside shack just in time to enjoy the sunset. It’s a rush to nowhere in particular, with your only reward the everyday splendor of nature.
This conclusion comes right out of Calis and Nijman’s own lives. “A lot of Minit is a reflection of things we’ve encountered and adventures we’ve been on, and the same with this racing game,” Calis says. “Like in the end, the idea is you find your way through traffic and make it to the beach just in time for the sunset, and one of the things I’ve been enjoying lately, since there’s not like a lot you can do, is enjoying sunsets. Every day.”
“It’s fitting the tone as well that it’s not a game about getting to some big reward or item or boss,” Nijman adds, “but just how you take a moment for yourself throughout all this busy traffic and stressing out and the rat race of getting richer and buying everything in the store and you just have this really normal, beautiful moment. It feels fitting.”
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.