SEATTLE—Last week’s bustling, fun-filled PAX West 2022 was a far cry from the ghost town of its 2021 edition, which meant Ars Technica got to spend time with some of our favorite video game creators. You may have already seen our PAX West chat with its co-creators Monkey Island series, where we took a look Back to monkey islandnew puzzles, jokes and delightful animations. But that wasn’t the only interview we did.
Here are two additional interviews based on highlights from our time at the four-day fair. Each comes from indie studios whose previous games have impressed: Yacht Club Games (Shovel Knight) and Squanch Games (Trover Saves the Universe). The interviews took place after I played each studio’s new game, and I’ll be back tomorrow to cover more gameplay highlights from the show.
Mina the Hollower
(Release Date TBD, Platforms TBD | Official Site)
My favorite discovery at PAX West 2022 wasn’t entirely surprising, as it struck a chord with many of my personal gaming biases: Game Boy Color aesthetics. a top-down adventure reminiscent of the three Game Boy-exclusives Legend of Zelda Games? and the development of a studio like Yacht Club Games, which is best known as the creator of the incredible platformer Shovel Knight.
Yet, Mina the HollowerThe game’s world premiere at PAX West included one element I didn’t suspect: a healthy dose of the NES era Castlevania. As a result, the Yacht Club’s design philosophies slip away Link’s Awakening to make this new game more of an action-first exploration game and less of an action-seeking adventure with heavy backtracking.
The basic concept sounds pretty Zelda-like: Start at a central “hub” as a lowly, average adventurer (in this case, a timid mouse named Mina), then explore about eight zones in a 2D, top-down fashion . each containing “overworld” and “dungeon” elements. Beat all these levels to face a final challenge while getting stronger as you play.
But Mina the Hollower eschews the idea of an inventory that allows the hero to solve puzzles and explore new zones along the way. Instead, progress is more like it Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, where players choose which basic metrics (damage, health, armor, etc.) to expand as they gain experience points. (Also, as in Zelda IIeach time you upgrade a meter, its next upgrade is more expensive, which can slow your progress if you want to go all-in with, say, attack power.)
Equipping items, meanwhile, works just like in the classic Castlevania games: find the secondary weapon you want by breaking pots or lanterns, then keep it equipped until you find the next one you might want to use. (If you accidentally pick up a weapon you don’t want, you have a generous amount of time to grab the last one you had equipped.)
These weapon options are unashamedly lifted from the Castlevania series and include explosive bottles, throwing axes (which rise and fall in an arc) and throwing daggers, along with most Zelda-like the ability to go in and deal with the bad guys. As we say Castlevania, their ammo count is based on a mana meter that must be restored through exploration and killing enemies. The game’s main weapon is also a whip, and Mina has a slight delay when she flicks her little mouse wrist back before lunging forward and striking.
Mina’s signature maneuver is a burrow, which lets her slide underground, move a bit faster, and emerge for a very long jump. And this maneuver is definitely the secret sauce to feel good about the game. In combat, it lets Mina deftly dodge enemies and traps, while she can also burrow while exploring the world to root out treasure, dig underneath and pick up larger rocks, or sneak into hidden rooms.
Mina also gets a jump move by default (no item needed), meaning the level design generally forces Mina to jump in both combat and puzzle solving. After only minutes of playing, I figured out a higher speed maneuver that required jabbing to jump and jump diagonally over gaps or over stairs. It didn’t take me long to appreciate the new game’s combat times, and I quickly figured out how to manipulate or trick enough difficult baddies to attack them before they could deplete my limited health.
“This has been a secret for the past 5-6 years: our unannounced 3D game.”
Mina the HollowerIts director, Alec Faulkner, confirmed in an interview with Ars Technica that he began work on a Mina-original styling in early 2019 while the Yacht Club was putting the finishing touches on it Shovel Knight: King of Hearts expansion pack. It was inspired by a recent retro tech project.
“I bought a new Game Boy Color, hacked it, added a backlit screen and played games on a Flash card all the time,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘This Zelda the games sure are nice, but why aren’t there more 2D ones Zelda?’ Nintendo isn’t making a new 2D Zelda nowadays, and no one else has tried [during that era]. This is so strange to me: there are a billion platform games trying to be made Mario.”