What looks like Link's Awakening, plays like Castlevania, and is red all over?
Three years after I last attended PAX West, I returned to the show ready to try new demos and new games coming to Switch. While not everything I played has been confirmed for Nintendo's platform, Mina the Hollower from Yacht Club Games, creators of Shovel Knight, will eventually launch on Switch, and it's absolutely one worth keeping an eye on, especially for fans of Link's Awakening and Castlevania.
A top-down 2D Zelda experience, with an art style reminiscent of the Game Boy Color, Mina the Hollower is both extremely fun to play and surprisingly challenging, which is something that definitely makes it stand out from similar looking games. Its gameplay also contains a healthy dose of classic Castlevania, complete with Mina's standard whip attack and the ammo-fueled sub-weapons she can pick up. If you imagine the perspective of a handheld Zelda, the difficulty of an NES Castlevania, the Soul retrieving mechanics of Dark Souls, and the fighting to restore health of Bloodborne, you'll have a solid idea of what Mina brings to this horror-themed table. Oh, and the animation for walking down stairs is basically plucked from A Link to the Past, just in case you need even more of a nostalgia hit.
The hour-long PAX demo took me through a dungeon from about a third of the way into the game. From an outside area, I gathered my bearings as I learned to perform the basic attack, the sidearm (sub-weapon), the jump and burrow, and the healing vial. Mina's basic attack extends a whip out in front of her to deal damage, cut down grass, or destroy barriers. As in Castlevania, the sidearms have to be picked up from things like shattered candelabras, and the two that I encountered were a blade that was thrown out in front and returned like a boomerang and an axe that would be tossed in an arc and land with a thundering area-of-effect smash. The blade was helpful for taking down the boss of the demo, and it could even be struck with your whip upon return to send it back out.
The jump and burrow is a bit more complicated than it sounds. In addition to Mina's standard jump, you can hold down the button to temporarily dive into the ground. This allows you to avoid enemies and traps, in addition to crossing longer gaps, ducking under ropes and other barriers, and even unearthing treasure from the ground. Likewise, the health vial mechanic also took about half of the demo time for me to fully grasp. Essentially, the damage you take from enemies can be healed back through fighting. When your red health bar is partially depleted, striking enemies will fill up that empty portion of the bar, and this yellow color can be turned red by using one of your health vials. Because you only have a limited number of vials and because you need to be aggressive to build up the yellow health, there's a fascinating built in risk-reward system.
During the demo I died a few times, and each death brought me back to an activated checkpoint. Fortunately, I never lost the "bones" I had accumulated since I was always able to retrieve my blue spark from what had killed me, be it hazard or monster. This is one way in which Mina takes a page out of the Soulsborne book. Another is how bones function as both your experience points but also a currency to be used with shopkeepers. That they are doubley valuable makes seeking them out a critical task. Level ups are doled out just as in Zelda 2: Link's Adventure, so you can cash them in at predetermined junctures, save them up to raise a particular stat, like offense or defense, or hold on to them for spending at shops. There are also slots to equip stat-boosting relics, with many to discover throughout the adventure, and if the full game is as hard as the PAX West demo, you’re going to need them.
From the moment it was first announced as a Kickstarter, Mina the Hollower had my curiosity. Now it has my attention, and it should have yours, too. The way that it pays homage to what came before while showing an incredible level of detail raises the hope that Yacht Club Games may have another star on their hands. We don't have a release date for it yet, but there's no need to rush what could turn out to be a retro-flavored masterpiece. I can't wait to see how brightly Mina's shooting star shines in the months ahead.