Don’t Die, Minerva! — Too Cute to Spook

The New Year may be a blurry memory, and Halloween is just a vague shadow in the distant future, but that doesn’t stop the spookiness from flowing and a good ghost story from being told. Although far from spine chilling, this cutesy, spooky Roguelite adventure will have you tackling ectoplasmic spectres and ghouls as you traverse a dark and mysterious mansion. Slip on your wellies, grab your favourite cuddly toy, and try and figure out where Mum and Dad went and what you’re doing here. Delve deep into the labyrinth of the mansion and if nothing else, remember one thing — Don’t Die, Minerva!

Created by Xaviant Games, Don’t Die, Minerva! is a roguelite game with bullet-hell elements. Still billed as Early-Access, players take on the role of the titular character, Minerva, as you dodge-roll, weave and take out a variety of enemies in procedurally generated rooms and dungeons. Don’t Die, Minerva! offers a pleasingly difficult challenge to overcome; even for seasoned Roguelite enthusiasts. But it’s charming aesthetic, top-down action, and an item system based around a child’s cuddly toys, Don’t Die, Minerva! has all the right elements in place to make for a fun and rewarding game.

You could be forgiven for calling this a Luigi’s Mansion clone — yes, it’s set in a spooky mansion, yes, there are ghosts, and yes, there is a flashlight. But therein the similarities end. The art style has elements of a beautifully grotesque, and confusingly cute Tim Burton animation, whilst also remaining its own adorable thing.

The gameplay and combat within Don’t Die, Minerva!, like most roguelites, revolves around the accumulation of a resource — Essence in this case — during a run through the procedurally generated mansion. Essence can be exchanged for permanent upgrades, and these upgrades enable you to become more efficient at clearing rooms of enemies. Extra health comes in handy with the game’s combat and the scarcity of health items during your runs. For someone who is rusty using a controller, using twin sticks felt more comfortable than the keyboard and mouse. It wasn’t smooth or as precise as it could be using a keyboard and mouse, and perhaps this could be something to be looked at for its final release.

Combat doesn’t pull any punches in Don’t Die, Minerva! It’s often a tight dance of dodge rolls through a hail of projectiles, and circle strafing. I also found myself generally just hoping for the best when things got really chaotic. Using your flashlight to whittle down enemy health and calling upon a variety of deployables to aid you in combat, Don’t Die, Minerva! offers an entertaining and controller gripping level of combat. Deployable toys, for example, when dropped act as a totem of sorts which offers an area of effect buff to Minerva. They also have the added bonus of dealing out some extra damage to nearby enemies. Deployable toys also have health, so can tank some incoming damage for you when things get a bit too hot.

It’s also rather enjoyable seeing a stuffed monkey come to life and lob bananas at nearby spectres. A quirky and interesting design feature.

For an Early Access release, Don’t Die, Minerva! has a surprisingly broad roster of enemy types to throw in your path as you traverse the mansion and the grounds. From simple slow-moving bats to Ghosts of varying difficulty and abilities — of which there were shields, fireballs in patterns, and simple close-range tackles and melees. It would be good to see the enemy type increase even further on the final release. As it currently stands, there is enough variety to keep you interested. Forcing a mix up in play style and strategy when moving to a new area and encountering a new enemy.

Like most roguelites, players will discover the shop which can mix up your runs when you have the right amount of coins, and the upgrade system for your gear will keep min-maxers interested as you search for  those perfect synergies and combinations. Each run can be different, but once players have a sense of what they like doing (I was a fan of increasing my electrical-based attacks) players will learn what attachments are worth swapping out or avoiding completely.

If you ultimately fail, all these items (except permanent upgrades purchased with Essence) are lost as you are taken back to the beginning. Again after Early Access it would be good if Don’t Die, Minerva! continues to expand its spending options further. Allowing the option to bring more ways to play through the mansion. Adjustments like this can only benefit it in the long run.

As mentioned earlier, Don’t Die, Minerva! doesn’t hold back when it comes to combat, and this is both a blessing and a curse. The difficulty spike when moving from the different areas, whilst on Normal, could be quite severe for some — especially if you’re not used to the genre. Having said that, it was quite refreshing to have Don’t Die, Minerva! force me to learn the rules quickly and didn’t give up much in revealing the best way to handle situations thrown at you. But in the same breath it can be frustrating to be swarmed by difficult enemies in the second room you enter because of the procedural generation.

There is little in the way of a tutorial, beyond being told by the headless butler that you must always be dodging. Perhaps a little more in the way of exposition could lend itself to including light tutorial elements as well as a bit more lore building in the world.

Whilst much praise should be given to the combat, I found myself a little frustrated when meeting the endgame boss for the first time. Where the pacing of combat with general mobs and minibosses gave a challenge and genuine sense of achievement in outplaying a room; the final boss didn’t give me that same sense of overcoming and succeeding. The fight felt more of a generic, uphill slog, rather than the dynamic, precise combat experience it could be. Just a bit more time developing it further would make it a more satisfying encounter.

All in all, Xavient has created an Early Access game which is extremely polished and entertaining to boot. It’s a game with considerable promise, and with it’s highly engaging combat and fun, colourful art style, Don’t Die, Minerva! is definitely something worth keeping an eye on and has serious potential in being up there with other Roguelite adventures.

Don’t Die, Minerva! is available in Early Access on Steam right now.

Don't Die MinervaPCXaviant
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