Mina the Hollower Preview – A new look at Hope’s love letter to the Game Boy Era

Retro love letters are a dime a dozen these days. From titles that stay very close to the source material to games that take the core concept of a previous game and expand into previously unexplored areas, nostalgic experiences are everywhere in the games industry. Yacht Club Games emerged as an early leader of this trend with its smash hit Shovel Knight, which took the 2D action-platformer genre and gave it several fun twists while keeping the core gameplay and visual styles faithful to 8-bit graphics. Raised in us. Similarly, Yacht Club’s next game, Mina the Hollower, looks like a faithful homage to The Legend of Zelda: Lynx’s Awakening, but as I discovered during my hour-long playthrough, it’s more than a cheap nostalgic game.

Using Game Boy Color-style graphics, Mina the Hollower inevitably draws comparisons to titles like Lynx Awakening, but that’s by design. The team behind the game has obviously displayed a strong love for games coming out of that era and has done little to hide its inspiration. And the battle was similar at first; After choosing your weapon – a pair of nimble daggers, a Castlevania-style whip or a heavy hammer – you embark on a top-down adventure filled with dangerous monsters, clever puzzles and terrifying locations.

Mina can jump like Link in Link’s Awakening, but she has key gameplay moves that set her apart from other top-down action stars. In true Yacht Club style, Mina can dig. But she doesn’t just dig, she burrows. As a Hollowar, Mina is able to instantly sink below the ground and burrow for a time. It serves many purposes, from avoiding enemies to getting past obstacles like a dodge-roll. If you drill quickly towards the gap, you can jump forward an extra distance on your jump. This lair mechanic is a fun way to get around, but it’s more than that: mastering it is essential to making meaningful progress in the adventure. Fortunately, it’s intuitive, and the developers have built a variety of clever design elements around the mechanic, so it’s more than just an extra move at your disposal.

Once I got past the obvious visual lineage and core gameplay principles, I found that Mina the Hollowar probably had more in common with Bloodborne than Link’s Awakening. In addition to choosing your weapon, you’ll also carry healing vials that you can use at your discretion (although, the strategy definitely comes into play – more on that later), as well as various collectible trinkets to buff your character. These trinkets include everything from boosts to your defense or attack power, to deploying a spider to build a web over an otherwise impassable pit. My preferred trinkets are being able to burrow longer with another one that has a Mina attack while coming out of the ground. Players have two slots for trinkets at the start of the game, but there are ways to increase that.

Mina the Hollower

As you collect bones, you also level up (or “bone up” as the game says), allowing Mina to upgrade her stats. You can also balance how many bones you want to keep as currency and how many bones you want to convert into experience. Experimenting with all of these factors is critical to finding not only your preferred play style, but the play style that works best for each area.

After playing through the introductory area, I was taken to Bone Beach, a mid-game area that was much more difficult than the tutorial area I started with. A giant monster has washed ashore, prompting bone miners from all over. The world comes and rescues what it can from the giant corpse. As you can imagine, this has invited a number of unsavory characters and monsters.

Mina the Hollower

After experimenting with both the Nightstar Whip and the Blaststrike Maul hammer, I decided that the Whisper and Vesper daggers were for me. Using these, I can attack with a standard sword melee, or I can toss one at an enemy to deal damage – I just have to remember to retrieve it. I’ll shoot down all kinds of enemies, miners throw pickaxes, floating skulls spew toxic clouds, and haunting birds that dive-bomb you.

Fortunately, Mina will reward you for going off the beaten path by offering rewards like bones, trinkets, and sidearms. The projectile ax ends up being my favorite secondary weapon, but I also see a portal that you can deploy and warp to, and a throwing knife. You can only carry one at a time, and each has ammo, so you have to be judicious about how you use them.

Mina the Hollower

Discreetly speaking, healing bottles are extremely helpful, but limited. Instead of simply refilling your health each time you use it, it only refills the yellow portion of your health bar, which is gained by dealing damage to enemies. This means that if you want to get the most out of every vial you have, you’ll have to go aggressively to refill the yellow portion, but to really get the most out of the bottle, consume the bottle. When you reach a checkpoint, you can refill not only your health but also your bottles, so as you play, you’ll get a better understanding of how to accelerate your heals.

Although I have less nostalgia for Game Boy-style visuals than most people my age, I absolutely loved my time with Mina the Hollower. A myriad of mechanics that draw inspiration from a variety of sources combine to create a fresh feel, even if it plays like it came out three decades ago. Yacht Club Games made its name with the brilliant Shovel Knight, but Mina the Hollower may one day take her rightful place alongside the studio’s first iconic character. Sadly, with no release date or window in sight, it may be a while before I get my hands on this game again, but when the opportunity presents itself, I’ll take it with little hesitation.

For more on Mina the Hollower, check out our documentary about the making of the game Here. For more great games from PAX West 2023, head here.

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