After years of building out the world and characters of Shovel Knight through expansions and side adventures, developer Yacht Club Games is finally ready to create something unrelated to the dirt-digging hero. The studio is taking to Kickstarter once again to fund its newest project Mina the Hollower, which features a mousey protagonist with a familiar penchant for moving soil. I’ve spent quite a bit of time hands-on with the game’s demo, and while it’s a very early vertical slice, my first adventure with Mina offered a difficult yet promising look into what the final game may have in store.
Like Shovel Knight’s 8-bit homages to games like Mega Man, Yacht Club wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeve. With a top-down camera, muted colors, and chunky pixels, Mina looks like it’s been ripped from a long-lost Game Boy Color cartridge. It sounds like one, too, with crunchy chiptunes providing staticky ambiance to Mina’s exploits. The world reminds me of Link’s Awakening, traveling across a grid of screens, solving puzzles, and defeating creatures like zombies, blobs, and hulking behemoths. However, Mina’s combat prowess takes more from Castlevania, cracking foes with a quick swing of her whip and utilizing secondary weapons called Sidearms like the arched toss of the Volt Hatchet or the boomeranging Gyro-Dagger. Like Castlevania, using Sidearms comes at the cost of Joules, a resource that needs replenishment with potions.
Combat is fun and inspires creative use of attacks and mobility, but can also be ruthless in its difficulty; strategic at times, but imprecise at others. I found myself dying at obvious mistakes I had made, while other times, I felt I lost control of a situation in unfair ways. This is an early concept of what Yacht Club is looking to implement with the full Mina experience, so I’m not worried about some rough edges. The demo presented plenty of fun and unique scenarios that I loved struggling to survive through. Equipable trinkets help ease the difficulty by increasing attributes like health or attack power. The demo started me off with four, and six more lay hidden in the gothic landscapes.
Being a Hollower, Mina can burrow underground, traveling faster through the dirt than she can walk on top of it. By pressing and holding the jump button, I could cruise through the ground, dodging enemies to set up attacks from a safer position or maneuver under boulders or pots to pick up to throw at a baddie. Emerging from the ground also pops Mina into the air, and, if used correctly, it can help her fly further distances compared to the default hop. This burrowing mechanic is the core to Mina’s gameplay, offering benefits to combat and traversal, but also helps excavate buried items or locate hidden areas filled with treasure.
One area accessed frequently by burrowing is Mina’s Underlab, a sanctuary where I would refill my health, swap trinkets, and cash in Bonestone to level up. It’s the equivalent of a Dark Souls bonfire, allowing my health-restoring items to replenish and resetting all of the monster threats in the area I had previously dispatched. Whenever you die (and you will), you’ll drop an orb containing the bones – the currency used to buy items, as well as level-up experience – you had collected and failed to cash in before perishing. You’ll revive above the last Underlab you visited and set out to retrieve the calcium currency.
Mina the Hollower is both what I expected the Shovel Knight creators to do, and at the same time not. Yacht Club is great at cherrypicking and mixing old-school ideas and adding a new, appealing flair. I appreciate them not ditching these aspects and going for something completely different from what made the company a runaway success over the last decade. Part of that success stems from involving fans in the development process and molding and adapting to feedback as development progresses. As of now, the project has been fully funded on Kickstarter. What’s been made available for us to demo is a great proof of concept that I’d love to play through a few more times to find every secret. The bad news is the delivery estimate is set for December 2023, so getting my hands on the complete game is sure to be an excruciating wait.
To see Mina the Hollower in action, check out both our New Gameplay Today and full demo playthrough without commentary.