I was too young to experience the NES era of gaming -- a time that Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight sought to emulate. I could still appreciate the developer's dedication to creating an authentic, old-school platforming experience, but it's hard for me to feel nostalgic for something I never had. Mina the Hollower, on the other hand, is right up my generation's alley. I was practically inseparable from my Game Boy Color as a kid, so it's no wonder I loved my time with Mina the Hollower.
TechRaptor got to play an early slice of Yacht Club's latest project, which is currently active on Kickstarter with several weeks left. Taking the role of the eponymous Mina, you'll get to battle with Gothic monsters while utilizing a bunch of fun, diverse tools, and abilities.
Mina the Hollower Overflows with Charm
If there's one thing Yacht Club Games does best, it's making a game feel both retro yet exceedingly fresh. They accomplished this in Shovel Knight through superb art direction and music, and Mina the Hollower is no different in that regard. With its Game Boy Color style of 8-bit graphics, the sprite work and animations are, for the most part, top-notch.
Being an early build, I think some backgrounds and enemy sprites might benefit from a bit of touching up, but I certainly wouldn't be disappointed if this was the final product. Mina the Hollower succeeds in capturing an outstanding atmosphere, balancing Gothic's grim, spooky aesthetic with Yacht Club's signature humor and charm. The soundtrack is also a standout and complements the darker vibe Mina the Hollower gives off. I can't wait to hear the full soundtrack, and by itself, it's something I could see myself jamming to while working.
Mina the Hollower is inspired by several different titles, but if I had to describe it in one sentence, it feels like "Castlevania combat in the world of a 2D Zelda game." You're armed with a whip that sets foes on fire, all the while exploring dungeons and graveyards from an old-school Legend of Zelda game's perspective. Other tools of the trade include various "sidearms." In the demo, the sidearms I found was a throwing ax, a dagger that spins, and a big drill that shoots you forward -- who knows, maybe the Belmont family left some tools behind for Mina to use! These pack a mighty punch on enemies while keeping you distant from harm.
In particular, the throwing ax is especially useful against a pesky crow enemy that flies up high and swoops down on poor Mina. Throwing the ax arcs high makes crows much easier to handle than trying to whip them, so these items have specific strengths. Because the ax is thrown in an arc, it's trickier to use on ground enemies up close. Mina the Hollower seems to force players to use sidearms wisely and aren't just some cheap trick to easily destroy enemies. I'm excited to see what other sidearms are implemented in the final product.
But it's a surprise that your greatest strength in combat isn't even a weapon at all; rather, it's Mina's special ability to dig. Mina can dive into the ground and get under and around enemies or obstacles. Arrows launching from the walls are a tricky hazard, but simple enough to avoid if you dig into the ground. Levels are laid out so this mechanic can't be abused -- there are drops and protruding spikes, and you can only stay underground for a finite amount of time. It does present unique opportunities to approach combat encounters in fun ways and is also essential to surviving when surrounded by enemies. It's also a mechanic used in instances of platforming -- you gain a great deal of speed from digging. It allows you to leap out of the ground and avoid large drops, and controlling this felt super smooth. This ability breaths a lot of life into every enemy encounter and is likely to be the mechanic players will most enjoy.
It's wise to utilize your dig ability often because Mina the Hollower also offers a fair but challenging experience. Smaller enemies can overwhelm Mina and larger enemies, like these pesky, horned beasts, can take out large chunks of health. There's a level-up mechanic, and by spending a resource you gain when slaying enemies and exploring the world, you can increase things such as damage you deal. When you die you can lose this resource, so there's a big incentive to stay alive. Thankfully, you have an item that replenishes health. From what I gather, dealing damage to enemies fills this up so you can restore more health, though there weren't any tutorials to properly explain this.
Despite this, your progress doesn't seem to go back to square one once you die. A rope I dropped from a ledge created a shortcut, and this remained even after I died. There are also checkpoint areas Mina can dig into. These checkpoints are little hideouts to heal at and -- in the future -- equip new weapons, among other things. For now, I was able to equip trinkets (which give you new abilities) and manage resources. The prospect of unlocking more trinkets is exciting, and you can only use so many, so I look forward to mixing and matching to try out new builds. My personal favorite was a trinket that increased my burrow time, which proved to be insanely useful when navigating hazards and fighting enemies. There are quite a few empty slots where new trinkets will be stored, so along with the leveling mechanic, there's a surprising amount of customization in Mina the Hollower.
Ending with a simple but exciting boss fight and some frantic chugs of my health potion, the time I spent with Mina the Hollower left me wanting more. If I had to think of one area of improvement, it would be a proper tutorial so I can properly understand the usage of the in-game currency and healing mechanics. I'm sure those issues will be resolved in the final product. And honestly, I adored Shovel Knight, but if Yacht Club Games continues down this path, Mina the Hollower has the potential to be even better.
TechRaptor previewed Mina the Hollower with a code provided by the developer. It is available to back on Kickstarter now and is aimed to launch in December 2023.