Mina the Hollower was at stealth mode at PAX West. Yacht Club Games usually has a big booth at the show, but instead, you had to make an appointment and get smuggled into a hotel room to check out Mina. They’ve been playing this one very close to the vest.
Mina is the next internally-developed project from Yacht Club Games and the follow-up to its runaway indie hit Shovel Knight. Yacht Club’s published a few other creators’ indie games, such as 2021’s Cyber Shadow, but Mina is only its second new IP.
I went into the game cold at PAX, only knowing that it was the next thing by the Shovel Knight people. It turned out to be a sort of mash-up between the early Legend of Zelda games and Castlevania, with a pixel-art Game Boy aesthetic and a sort of dark steampunk feel. Mina is neatly positioned to hit several of my weak spots at once.
Yacht Club Games Goes Game Boy with Mina the Hollower
You play as Mina, a mouse and genius inventor who happens to dress like a member of the Belmont family. She built a series of Spark Generators years ago for the people who lived on Tenebrous Isle, which brought a new era of prosperity to the village. She’s now returned to the Isle in response to a letter from her friend Baron Lionel, who’s informed her that someone seems to have sabotaged the Generators. When Mina arrives, the Isle is also overrun by monsters.
It’s probably easiest to call Mina a top-down dungeon crawler, much in the spirit of one of the handheld Legend of Zelda games like the original Link’s Awakening. Each level is a twisting maze of secrets, traps, treasures, and monsters with a uniquely baroque aesthetic. One of the demo stages was like a Nintendo adaptation of H.R. Giger, where you’re forced to navigate through the guts of an enormous beast.
The first thing that makes Mina tricky is that healing can be difficult to come by. Each enemy you can defeat in sequence slowly fills up Mina’s flask, which you can drink to restore her life. That ends up making your survival a question of momentum. The more enemies you can drop in a row without taking a hit, the better off you’ll be. However, most of the enemies I encountered in the two-level PAX demo were fast-moving and just durable enough that I couldn’t reliably rush them down.
Mina can defend herself with one of three weapons: a mace and chain, a pair of daggers, or a hammer with an explosive head. More importantly, she can burrow into the ground for short periods, which serves as both an escape method and a way to circumvent certain obstacles. If you come up underneath certain objects like boulders, Mina will pick them up so you can throw them at a nearby monster for high damage.
As you defeat monsters and smash up your environment, you collect bones to use as a currency, which you can spend to upgrade Mina’s gear. She’s still got a number of underground labs scattered throughout the Isle.
You can duck into one to restore her health, change her active weapon, or sort through any of a wide variety of trinkets you’ll find over the course of the game. Some of the trinkets are handy but unexciting, like a defensive bonus. Others are absolute game-changers, like the one that lets Mina drop a bomb whenever she stops burrowing.
Even with all of that, I wasn’t expecting that Mina would be as much of a challenge as it is. The relatively scarce healing can be an issue, so both of the levels I played at PAX turned into a sort of endurance challenge. You can restore your health at any of Mina’s labs, but it also causes all the nearby monsters to respawn.
Mina shares Shovel Knight’s habit of making many of its individual rooms into a sort of mechanical puzzle, where it’s not always obvious how to get from point A to B with the tools and skills you’ve got available at the time. The first trick is figuring out what you’re meant to do; the second is pure execution.
You can always burrow to trigger a short invincibility window, which can give you a useful edge against certain monsters but that doesn’t help if you need to bridge a chasm. Mina can only stay underground for a few seconds, too, and it’s really easy to pop back up in a bad position.
This was one of a few different indie games I saw at PAX West that were trading on the old Game Boy aesthetic, aside from a couple of off-site games like Draco & the Seven Sea Scales. Mina makes the most of its deliberately limited color palette and pairs it with a chiptune soundtrack by Jake Kaufman (Crypt of the Necrodancer, Cyber Shadow, Shovel Knight Dig).
Like Shovel Knight, Mina is sort of what you had in your mind’s eye when you were playing 8-bit games back in the day, but it’s trading on games like Link’s Awakening instead. It’s tricky but instantly playable, and my 45-minute session seemed to pass in seconds.
Mina the Hollower has currently been announced for Steam. Yacht Club Games plans to give it the “Shovel Knight treatment,” however, which means Mina should eventually be ported to every platform under the sun. It’s also slated to receive a physical release, upon its arrival at a currently-undetermined point in 2024.