Mina & Michi (Xbox Series S) Review

In a crowded indie market full of pixel-art adventures, does Mina & Michi do enough to stand out and warrant your attention?
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Mina & Michi – developed by Ratalaika Games and lightUP, published by Eastasiasoft – is a retro-styled isometric puzzler, with a bit of light combat and secret hunting. Played solo, it’s a challenging and methodical adventure that requires you to juggle both characters and occasionally control them simultaneously. However, if you’ve got a companion on the couch to join you, it’s a greatly streamlined cooperative experience tailored towards young or inexperienced gamers.

Mina & Michi offers up little in the way of plot. The pair start out sitting in the kitchen, recalling memories of a grand adventure, their love of different seasons, and their hatred of gelatine. From there, you pick your favourite season and are dropped into an opening act that serves as a lengthy tutorial. Your choice of season defines your starting tile-set, but you’ll move through all of them by the end of the game.

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The art style may be a touch generic given the crowded indie market, but it channels classic Zelda charm.

The basic gameplay loop involves systemically using Mina and Michi to manually activate switches, push blocks onto switches, dodge traps, defeat slimes (explaining the gelatine comment), collect upgrades, horde gems, and find keys or abilities that unlock new areas or the boss of each act. The limited number of player abilities, simple controls, and isometric perspective, make for a game that is easy to learn and master. If there’s one downside, it’s that while the seasons and associated tile-set can change based on your initial choice, the actual level layout and boss encounters are fixed.

The greatest challenge – especially for solo players – are rare moments that force you to move Mina and Michi simultaneously, typically the boss fights against bigger slimes. In most circumstances, you can systematically alternate between characters to get through any area. Mina can push blocks and throw projectiles. Michi also pushes blocks but unlocks more offensive abilities that are slowly upgraded to allow you to progress past more barriers.

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You need to keep Mina on the move during boss fights as they hit hard. If you’re playing solo, leading them towards Michi is a great way to inflict damage. Played cooperatively, player one can act as the bait while player two doles out the damage.

The block and switch puzzles form the bulk of the challenge, becoming increasingly tough as you progress. You’ll need to find the correct movement order for multiple blocks in maze-like environments, while carefully positioning Mina and Michi, and dodging enemies, traps, and other barriers. As these puzzles ramp up in complexity, they require more careful steps. Thankfully, if it all goes wrong and you find yourself stuck, leaving and entering the area resets everything.

These puzzles are often mandatory but sometimes represent one of two paths to an objective – usually the key required to access the boss. Multiple paths often exist, giving you the choice of puzzle-solving, trap dodging, or defeating multiple enemies to open up a way forward. Naturally, if you want to explore every nook and cranny for secrets (health for Mina and stamina for Michi), you’ll need to tackle all paths and collect enough gems to open gates that lead to chests and the keys that open them.

As you progress, blocks puzzles, traps, and enemies can all be found as part of one elaborate puzzle.

At this point, it’s worth discussing the difficulty settings, how player damage works, and local coop play. Easy and normal difficulty play similarly and offer infinite lives, but there are more gems on easy, making it easier to access all the upgrades. For those that feel they’ve mastered the game and tandem movement, hard difficulty gives you just one life. As this is a short game that can be cleared in 3-4 hours, it both aids accessibility and provides incentive for replays (there’s a speed-run timer you can toggle in the settings). For those who chase achievements and trophies, these can all be earned on any difficulty, in record time.

If you’ve got a less experienced gaming partner or child looking to get into gaming, the local coop is a great choice. Mina is fairly fragile when it comes to traps and bosses (especially before you’ve found some heart upgrades) but her magical companion Michi, with a stamina bar instead of health, takes no damage. The allows the second player to learn the ropes and help out in puzzles and combat with minimal risk, while player one can still carry them through tougher encounters and teach them the basics of the puzzle mechanics. This design reduces the burden when playing solo – especially when going up against some fast-moving and hard-hitting bosses – and makes the game more accessible when played cooperatively.

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Spring looks fantastic, with vibrant colours and blossoming plants, but the environments are far from friendly the further you progress.

The final thing to touch on is the pixel-art visuals, which fall somewhere between the 8-bit and 16-bit generations. The visuals use chunky pixels, blocky environments, vibrant colours, and subtle animations. However, the visuals always highlight puzzle items, switches, and hazards. The seasonal themes and weather effects are great – and can be applied to any act (the order based on your initial choice) – while the chip-tune music is appropriate and catchy but could grate after a while.

Overall, Mina & Michi might not stand out in a crowded genre, but the low price, short length, simple controls, charming visuals, and accessible local co-op mode make for an appealing package. If you’re after a tough solo challenge with a focus on methodical puzzle solving, or a game you can use to teach an inexperienced or younger player the basics, Mina & Micha is a solid pick.

Mina & Michi (Xbox Series S) Review

Mina & Michi (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
Mina & Michi is a brief but enjoyable retro-styled adventure, with a good mix of exploration, methodical puzzling, secret hunting, and light combat. A highlight is the local coop mode that seems tailor-made for inexperienced or younger gamers.
Mina & Michi is a brief but enjoyable retro-styled adventure, with a good mix of exploration, methodical puzzling, secret hunting, and light combat. A highlight is the local coop mode that seems tailor-made for inexperienced or younger gamers.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    5/10 Neutral
    It provides only a few clues as to the characters, their relationship, and their world. I guess you could argue it's not relevant?
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    Simple, intuitive, and requires you to use your brain - but also accommodating for players of all experience levels when played cooperatively. That said, the boss fights do feel unbalanced when played solo.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Pixel-art is all the rage these days but it both looks authentic and conveys all the information the player needs
  • Audio
    6/10 Normal
    Chiptune music combined with the classic bleeps and bloops of the 8-bit era feel authentic but can grate over time.

The Good

  • Simple, easy-to-learn controls
  • Block and switch puzzles get increasingly challenging but remain fun to solve
  • Child-friendly coop mode and multiple difficulty settings

The Bad

  • Boss fights feel like a difficulty spike for solo players
  • Short length
Total
4
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