Since Mina the Hollower was first announced, I've been on the outside looking in. As previews started to go live, I had yet to experience the latest from Yacht Club Games, which shifted from the Mega Man/DuckTales love letter of Shovel Knight to an homage to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. That finally changed at PAX West, where I got to try out a new demo, one that had the guts (literally) to further establish the game's tone and atmosphere.
Following our first demo and our return to it at PAX East, our PAX West demo took Mina into the inside of a horrific beast. Yacht Club had already begun establishing the game's aesthetic with ominous graveyards and spooky forests. It cements its atmosphere with the beast's interior, where Mina must navigate decomposing bones and active intestine walls that push her toward holes. It's an icky yet cool-looking stage, one that Yacht Club likens to Inside Jabu-Jabu's Belly from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
While armed with Mina's Nightstar, Blaststrike Maul, and Whispere & Vesper weapons that we detailed in our previous preview, the beast's interior boasted some of Mina the Hollower's strongest foes so far. There's a uvula-like enemy that bounces with the momentum of every hit, so players have to be cautious not to get nailed by the whiplash. There's a charging beast that does heavy damage if it barrels into Mina. There's also a brain-like enemy that expands when first hit and will use its size to find Mina and try to slam down on top of her. The enemies themselves are difficult on their own, but their clever placement within the stage, often around conveyors, deep water, and hazardous chasms, are what make them especially challenging.
This is where Mina's healing mechanic is on full display. As noted in our PAX East preview, Mina can heal for a greater amount, depending on how much damage she inflicts on enemies. If she heals, the amount is reset. However, the healing function is not an infinite one. She only has so many vials available to her, so it's not wise to abuse healing.
Going overboard with healing can feel tempting in this new stage, though. The beast's interior has some wildly challenging platforming mechanics. Mina can burrow and jump farther as she emerges, and that's a must for some of these jumps. As my time with the game ended, there was a ceiling grip that needed to be held mid-jump. I ultimately missed it on every attempt and watched Mina fall down the hole below before getting respawned at the room's entrance.
I expected Mina the Hollower to be a Link's Awakening-style adventure. It certainly looks like it will be that to a great extent. However, I was not expecting the platforming challenges, which feel more akin to something like Castlevania. That comparison is even more apt, considering that there's some serious knockback at work here. Getting hit by an enemy mid-jump and falling into a chasm is pure 8-bit era frustration, the kind that Yacht Club lovingly excels at capturing.
There's a lot to feel excited about with this latest effort from Yacht Club Games. Mina the Hollower is coming soon to PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.
These impressions are based on an on-site demo from PAX West 2023. It may not be representative of the final product.