It’s been a little over a year since Yacht Club Games, the developer of the incredible Shovel Knight, announced Mina the Hollower and its accompanying Kickstarter campaign. Only asking for $300,000 for its initial goal, it finished with more than four times that amount with $1.23 million, smashing the majority of its stretch goals. Since then, Yacht Club Games has been rather quiet as it focuses on making Mina the Hollower as polished as it can be. Even today, despite showing off a short hands-on demo of the game at GDC 2023, the game still doesn’t have a firm release date. But from what it has shown so far, its progress is already impressive.
More than flesh and Bloodborne
Apparently, when you aim to create a spiritual successor to Shovel Knight by blending the gothic horror of Castlevania and the swift action of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, you get something close to a cool demake of Bloodborne. In fact, reading through the comments for the game’s Kickstarter, the developers humorously responded to a fan question by saying it didn’t want to add the Pizza Cutter weapon because it didn’t want to rip-off Bloodborne 100%, but “maybe just 60%.” This goes to show that they’re fully aware of where the game is going, and really, having it be compared to Bloodborne is hardly a bad thing.
The 15-minute demo I played at the Day of the Devs booth mainly expanded on what we already know about Mina the Hollower. Our protagonist’s signature ability allows her to dig underneath the ground (without needing a shovel at all) and then pop up to burrow beneath obstacles, pick up boulders, or perform a boosted leap over gaps. Fighting enemies, some of which are faster than Mina, without getting damaged requires proper planning and not speeding through each screen too quickly. Admittedly, that was tough given the time constraints, but I made sure to play the demo more than once.
Dig them an early grave
One main feature on display in this demo were the three starter weapons, which was a stretch goal in the Kickstarter campaign. Mina had access to a swinging chained mace called Nightstar, a destructive hammer named the Blaststrike Maul, and a swift pair of daggers Whisper and Vesper. I found the mace to be a classic nod to Castlevania, an all-around weapon with solid damage and range, while the daggers had the neat ability to be thrown as projectiles, though I found it tricky to retrieve them in tight spots. I ultimately favored the hammer for its powerful charged attack which usually flattens regular enemies in one shot. It’s slow and lumbering, though, and getting hit mid-swing completely cancels the attack, so spacing and timing matter a lot for the weapon.
Along the way, I made sure to cut down any destructible objects I could find, whether it was a bush, a candle, or a stump. This would typically drop gold pieces, magic pots, and bones, which can be used to upgrade Mina’s stats and abilities. In particular, the magic pots were incredibly useful for powering a throwing axe that I used to lob at enemies that either had a large health pool or were tricky to eliminate with the hammer. There was one bird in the cemetery that wouldn’t stop harrying Mina from different angles, so I just threw an axe at its face so I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. Mina can only hold one of these special weapons at a time, so I could imagine swapping the axe to, say, the Gyro Dagger, which functions like a boomerang, to fit the situation.
Spark of life
It only took a few minutes into the demo for me to realize that not getting hit is more important here than in other games. While Mina packs several potions, they only restore her health up to a certain point. Hitting enemies increases the amount that she can heal, so staying smart and aggressive is key for survival.
Dying during a run will revive her at the last activated checkpoint, but only if she has a spark remaining. The enemy that kills her will absorb that spark (if it’s a hazard, you’ll find it near the trap), giving you the short-term goal of getting it back in revenge. In perhaps a nod to some classic games, getting hit turns you invisible for a few moments. However, I found that this made combat more difficult since I couldn’t determine the range of my attacks very well. At any rate, it’s just another reason not to get hit.
Last but not least, Mina the Hollower captures the gothic horror aesthetic well without being overbearing. Tenebrous Isle is full of crypts, graveyards, and undead enemies, and Mina will need to conquer them all if she hopes to restore the broken Spark generators spread throughout the island. Along the way, she can speak with some NPCs like a gravedigger and a carriage rider for a few lines of dialogue that are short and sweet. Better yet, the soundtrack has an upbeat but eerie quality that is just as strong as the melodic bleeps and bloops of the Shovel Knight OST.
Mina The Hollower still doesn’t have a release window yet, but it is planned to launch for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
This preview is based on a hands-on PC build with Xbox controller support at GDC 2023.