Don't Die, Minerva! Early Access Impressions: Good is Still Fun

Don't Die, Minerva! is a cute and fun addition to the roguelite genre, even if it doesn't go out of its way to shatter your expectations.

Over the last week, I've been putting time in on the latest Early Access release from Xaviant, Don't Die, Minerva!. The early indications point to a game that is clearly still a work in progress but one that has some promising signs.

Don't Die, Minerva! is a rogue-lite that puts players in control of Minerva, an 11-year-old girl who finds herself trapped in a recurring loop on the grounds of a haunted mansion.

The bad news for Minerva is that she has nobody but a friendly, ghostly butler in the lobby to talk to, and nothing but a stuffed animal and a flashlight to take further into the depths of a ghoulish mansion.

The good news is those stuffed animals and that flashlight are surprisingly useful tools for taking on the ghostly dead, and death just means starting over, possibly even with some new tools unlocked along the way.

Don't Die, Minerva! Early Access Impressions: Good is Still Fun

Like many games of its type, Don't Die, Minerva! makes use of procedural generation by randomly generating the game's mansion — sort of. The system doesn't quite play out as a truly random experience.

As opposed to creating vastly different worlds to explore through each playthrough, the procedural generation here means that the usual assortment of rooms are arranged in a random layout with randomized enemies spawning every time you start a new playthrough.

While this does mean you can't simply race through the levels from one elevator to the next — as there is no way of knowing exactly where you have to go  it also means that runs don't feel quite as fresh and distinct as they do in some other rogue-lite games. 

Similarly, enemies progress as you move from one floor to the next. However, there isn't a ton of variety to be had. Enemies often have similarities that result in minimal differences between their models. Some are simply rehashes or upgraded versions of those on lower floors. 

None of these are game-breaking issues, and the enemies, in particular, may see further expansion before the final release, but players should be prepared for the limitations going in.

Progress is Slow on 11-Year-Old Legs

Every death sees Minerva sent back to the mansion's front gate to take it on all over again. However, you don't get to keep all of your gear when that happens.

That doesn't mean that there's no sense of progress, of course, as the game does have the traditional rogue-lite standard of developing permanent upgrades. What you shouldn't expect, however, is to be wildly more powerful from one run to the next.

As Minerva explores the mansion's floors, she'll discover portals that bring her back out to the mansions gates, bathed in an eery red light. There she can improve her situation in two ways.

In the short term, a merchant offers her the chance to improve her gear and become stronger in the moment. With Mr. Buttersworth, Minerva can turn in crystals that help her progress toward unlocking permanent perks for future runs.

These permanent upgrades are not without value, but they are slow-going. Some basic upgrades can be unlocked in just a few runs. But as you begin studying some of the more enticing benefits on offer — and comparing their costs to the crystals harvested on an average run — you will quickly find it takes dedication and repetition to unlock the good stuff.

Light 'Em Up

Combat in Don't Die, Minerva! is relatively simple. Minerva is armed with a flashlight that damages any baddy unfortunate enough to get caught in its light. She can also deploy her stuffed animal to provide additional support.

Minerva enters the mansion armed with a standard flashlight to take on monsters if they get too close, but that doesn't mean that's Minerva's only option.

Whether you're finding them in an item drop, in a treasure chest, or on the merchant's table, Minerva can swap her flashlight for one of the alternatives lying within the mansion's walls. These lights look and behave less like flashlights and more like guns.

There's the machine gun variety, the heavy hitter that slowly churns out blasts of light, and even a Tesla-like arcing weapon. Each of these can be further upgraded with the addition of stones that Minerva finds around the mansion.

Upgrades range from adding increased elemental damage to granting special abilities like energy regeneration, knockback power, or chained attacks that bounce from an enemy to its neighbors.

As you get deep into a run and stack up powerful weapons with useful boosts, you can turn Minerva into a force to be reckoned with. This is further enhanced by the addition of your trusty stuffed animals.

As with weapons, Minerva can unlock new varieties of and higher-leveled stuffed animals as she progresses. But even the basic Level 1 Monkey you grab from the first elevator each run can prove to be highly useful in combat.

If anything, the stuffed animals can occasionally feel overpowered. Early in my playthroughs, upon discovering their effectiveness and while dealing with some user-error-related misunderstandings about the functionality of Minerva's flashlights, I found that it was often best to let them carry the load. 

One of the most effective strategies I found with lower-level enemies and weapons was to simply drop my monkey in the middle of a pack of them and focus entirely on dodging their attacks while the monkey cleared them out.

Their use becomes even more crucial as you begin to discover shielded enemies, for whom the two-pronged approach of a pincer attack is crucial to getting past their mono-directional defenses.

Don't Die, Minerva! Early Access Impressions — The Bottom Line

With all the caveats that come with Early Access titles, Don't Die, Minerva! seems to be an enjoyable, if unspectacular, addition to the world of rouge-lite exploration games.

While there was nothing in my time with the game that blew my mind, there was also no time where I wasn't enjoying what I was doing, either. The little touches, like the tiny blue footprints Minerva leaves behind after walking through defeated ghost goo, help to make it an endearing experience.

Although it's not the first game I'd recommend to somebody looking to try the genre out for the first time, if you're looking to have some fun in a new setting, it's a perfectly suitable way to spend a few hours with a controller in your hand.

Don't Die, Minerva will be available on Steam Early Access on December 5. It is scheduled to see a full release sometime next year. 

[Note: A copy of Don't Die, Minerva! was provided by Xaviant for the purpose of this impressions piece.]

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Published Nov. 26th 2019

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