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June 2020

Don't Die, Minerva!

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Xaviant
Release Date: 2020


XOne/PC Preview - 'Don't Die, Minerva!'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 28, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Don't Die, Minerva! is a procedurally generated rogue-lite game where you explore a haunted mansion packed with evil spirits as 11-year old Minerva.

When you're making a roguelike, you need to make it immediately stand out from the crowded field. In the case of Don't Die, Minerva!, the stand-out element is its kid-friendly aesthetic. Compared to how many other roguelikes go for a gritty, gory, more mature look, this is a good call. Don't think that the cute appearance translates into an easy game; Don't Die, Minerva! can pack quite a punch if you're careless.

Although the Steam Early Access version doesn't pay much attention to it, there is a story. You play the role of Minerva, an orphan girl who has somehow stumbled upon a mansion deep in the woods. Without any fear, she goes inside and meets a headless butler who offers to help her if she goes through the residence and defeats his master. Armed with her flashlight, she takes the mansion elevator and proceeds to wipe out all of the spirits as best she can.

The most succinct way to describe the core mechanics is that they're akin to a dungeon-crawling, twin-stick shooter. A room is immediately locked after Minerva enters, and getting out requires killing every monster that spawns. Killing those monsters requires you to continuously douse them in light until their HP disappears, which will remind you of Luigi's Mansion — minus the need for a follow-up attack to finish the job. Like any roguelike, everything is randomized for each run, and the only permanent thing you carry are the power-ups you gain from exchanging spirits with the butler, who you meet at the beginning of the game.

You pretty much know what to expect in Don't Die, Minerva! if you've played other roguelikes, so the surprises are few and far between. Your arsenal of light-related weapons is limited to four, and you can only carry one at a time. You can infuse them with gems that you find along the way, so they can have elemental traits to them. Your secondary weapon is a stuffed animal come to life, and each one has a different ability; the monkey acts as a turret, and the bear slams the ground to damage everything around it. Like your light weapons, they can also be infused with gems, and their attacks can also have elemental traits.

Perhaps the more surprising element of the game has to do with its difficulty options. The title is difficult on its normal setting, and the option to play at higher difficulty levels seems like a major incentive for those who want more out of their roguelikes. However, the game does sport an easy difficulty setting, so it may want to appeal to a younger set who wants some challenge but not an extreme amount, a notion strengthened by the lack of gore and other disturbing elements in what is essentially a horror-themed game.

At the moment, the only real issue with the game is with the fixed camera viewpoint. The isometric viewpoint works well to make the game look good, and it doesn't affect your shooting; it's a blessing since the default flashlight has terrible range. There are times when some objects will block your viewpoint, and it's annoying when you can't just rotate the camera to get a better view. Perhaps there's still time in the development process to improve upon this feature.

Presentation-wise, the game is in a very good spot. Aside from the stuttering in the first room of the mansion, performance throughout is smooth, and the rooms sport some nice-looking reflections and lighting. The creature designs look very kid-friendly and have a touch more detail than normal, and it's impressive that the game can hold a bunch of these enemies on-screen at one time. Sound-wise, the music is the real star, as it carries the haunted house vibe that you'd expect, but it doesn't transform into an annoying earworm, since it never feels like it's stuck on repeat.

As it stands now, Don't Die, Minerva! has what it takes to be a very good roguelike for all ages. The shooting is intuitive, and the action is constant enough that you'll be kept on your toes. The game is quite lengthy, and all of the fights are a challenge, while there's still some room for exploration if you want to find the perfect combos for your run. Even though it isn't scheduled to be finished until sometime later this year, there's enough to Don't Die, Minerva! that you could take it out for a spin now.

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