One of the highlights during my trip to PAX East was playing Mina the Hollower. The demo highlighted the beautiful graphics, the intricate level design, and the heart-pounding action. I found myself smiling after completing the demo and wanting more.
The game is beautiful. The amount of animation that went into Mina is incredible, ranging from her attacks, to getting hit, digging underground, holding up items she finds, and burrowing underground and appearing in a different location. And the enemies are just as detailed. And there are many different kinds of enemies, which I mentioned during my time with the development team; that’s one thing they focused on. For example, one monster looks like slime on the ground, and another with just legs. Later in the level, I ran into those same monsters, except they were now together as one creature. Another example of a unique enemy design was a necro mage that kept bringing back the dead enemies I killed. I ran into many enemy types in the hour demo I played.
The game’s level design is impressive. Probably one of the most brilliant things I saw was how the game utilized secret areas. There are areas that Mina would dig under to get to, which would open up the screen to show more depth to the overall dungeon and level design. Mini-side quests gave me trinkets that I could wear to provide Mina with an advantage in battle. Again, these quests were in hidden areas of the level.
The game’s battle mechanic is fun too. It took me a while, but I started to get good at burrowing underground, popping up in a different location, firing off an attack, and getting back underground to dodge the enemy. Of course, Mina can’t stay underground for too long, but there are trinkets that you can find that will allow her to go further underground. You can equip a few of these trinkets at a time. Swapping out trinkets can be done at the checkpoints, also serving as her home base.
Similar to Castlevania, Mina can carry a sub-weapon. However, you can only have one sub-weapon at a time. One weapon that I was particularly fond of was a boomerang blade. Throwing it out would cause damage both on the way out and on the return trip back to Mina. A consumable resource controls sub-weapons, a potion you find when you destroy candles hanging on the walls.
You will take damage, and your potential health is handled by damaging an enemy. A yellow bar designates your potential. The more damage you do to enemies, without taking any hits yourself, will increase this yellow bar. Then you use a healing potion to fill up your health.
If you die - more like, when you die - you’ll lose a life spark, and the enemy that killed you will hold that spark. Sparks are essentially extra lives. You’ll regain that spark if you defeat that enemy. One interesting aspect is that each enemy also has a certain number of spark slots. Lower-level enemies only have one, but bosses may have several; if you die against the boss several times, they can be sitting on a treasure trove of sparks. If you lose all your sparks, you’ll lose all the bones you’ve collected during that run.
Bones are the currency in the game and can be used to level up Mina or purchase items from a merchant. Bones can be found by burrowing underground and uncovering them or in some cases, defeating enemies. This allows for some RPG aspects in the game as well.
There are plenty of puzzles in Mina too. For example, there was an area with a statue missing a head. To unlock the door, I needed to find the head of the statue, hollow underneath the statue head and pop-up under it, and then carry it back to the figure. The puzzles felt well-designed and intuitive enough to know what I needed to do.
All this leads up to the boss battle, and wow, it was thrilling and fun. I had Mina diving underground, popping up elsewhere, throwing out my boomerang blade, and ducking back underground before the enemy knew what hit them. It did take me a few tries to beat the boss, but it felt so satisfying when I did.
There’s a lot to love about Mina the Hollower. The art and level design is well-thought-out. The progression and pace felt good. And the action was responsive; it felt amazing to be able to dive underground to avoid being hit. I can’t wait to play more!