Developer Yacht Club Games first made a name for itself with its indie hit Shovel Knight, an homage to classic 2D side-scrollers. Now, the studio is out to prove that lightning can strike twice with its next title, Mina the Hollower. Like Shovel Knight, it’s a bit of a throwback to an older era of games. This time, though, Yacht Club pays tribute to the Game Boy Color to create its own challenging riff on The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
I went hands-on with a demo of Mina the Hollower at this year’s Game Developers Conference and was pleased to see how well the idea works. The top-down adventure game about a burrowing mouse is a pixel-perfect throwback that’ll delight old-school Zelda fans. But, like Shovel Knight, it still puts a distinct spin on a classic idea to create something that feels modern and retro in the same breath.
During my demo, I had 15 minutes to wander through an overworld and dive into a dungeon. I immediately noticed that it looked and felt like a Game Boy title. Everything is rendered in perfect 8-bit visuals that have been carefully modernized without feeling out of step with history. It’s so faithful an homage that it feels like a long-lost game of the era.
The titular Mina is controlled exactly as I expected, moving and attacking in a four-directional grid similar to Link’s Awakening. Throughout my demo, I’d carefully navigate around square holes, slash at enemies directly in front of me, and dodge traps like arrow shooters and rolling spike cylinders. Mina even has a jump that functions precisely like Roc’s Feather, further drawing some Zelda parallels. Even some of the enemy types explicitly seem to call back to the series, with sprites that resemble Like-Likes, blobs, and more.
While all that is great news for nostalgic fans, I was more interested in Yacht Club’s original ideas. Mina’s most original tool is its burrowing, which allows its mouse hero to travel underground for a short while. That ability totally changes the pace of exploration, as it can be used to quickly dodge away from enemies or even burrow under traps to avoid them entirely. Once I got the hang of it, I could zoom through dungeon rooms in an instant. One screen, for instance, had me zipping underground to dodge one arrow trap, launching into the air to get over a pit, and immediately burrowing again to sidestep around an enemy on the other side. It’s a powerful traversal tool that could solve some of the stilted movement problems that come with older adventure games.
In addition to that, I got a chance to use a few different weapon types and buff-granting relics that let me customize my playstyle. I began by using a set of twin daggers that could be charged up to toss one as a projectile. Later, I’d swap that out for a mace that would attack a few squares in front of me. Random secondary weapon drops would expand my toolkit further, letting me toss axes or daggers at far-off enemies so long as I had enough magic. Finally, I’d have the option to equip two relics, which ended up being crucial to my run — a defense boost specifically saved my rodent’s behind multiple times.
Past and present collide
Based on the slice I played, Mina is a very challenging game. Certain rooms slayed me multiple times, as enemies and traps would send me bouncing around the screen. As far as I could tell, the game also appears to implement a bit of a Soulslike system, where players need to recover their dropped currency and gear after dying. I wasn’t totally clear on how it works, but there’s an interesting parallel between past and present at play here. The sometimes punishing nature of older games pairs neatly with a “corpse run” trend that’s added some higher stakes to modern games in recent years.
So far, Mina the Hollower is checking every box I expected it to and more. It’s a loving throwback to Game Boy Zelda titles with its own personality, thanks to its signature burrowing system. That should hopefully make for a game that’s every bit as memorable as Shovel Knight, giving old-school enthusiasts something new to obsess over.