With Luigi’s Mansion 3 on Nintendo Switch being one of the biggest games of 2019, it’s perhaps the most successful period the green plumber has enjoyed in his entire career, which is why it makes sense for a few inspired releases to come along. While not a clone of Nintendo’s haunted mansion explorer by any stretch, Don’t Die, Minerva! is clearly inspired by the series in many aspects, but ultimately works as an atypical example of the dungeon crawling roguelike genre. Having just entered the Xbox Preview program, this is a promising looking title which will surely freshen up the Xbox One’s library of indie releases. On that note, anyone who purchases the preview build now will automatically gain access to the final game once it is released. There hasn’t been an Xbox Preview this exciting and promising since Ghost of a Tale, which ended up being a brilliant game upon completion.
You play as the titular protagonist, Minerva, as she explores a mysterious haunted mansion. The setup is simple and vague, but the premise and setting are pretty self-explanatory. The art style is what immediately jumps at you though, taking inspiration from pop culture franchises like The Addams Family and Hotel Transylvania. The aesthetic style and presentation are certainly timely as ghosts and ghouls have been enjoying a resurgence of late in cartoons and such. As familiar as it is, Don’t Die, Minerva! has a cool visual style from Minerva’s own creepy doll-like design to the various cute yet fiendish ghouls.
The graphical style is pretty decent for now, although likely to improve as the game simmers in the Xbox Preview program for the next few months before it is officially released. The opening area in particular sports some impressive texture mapping and lighting effects, while the mansion areas look nice but are rather simplistic in detail for now. The music is what you’d expect given the game’s premise, with typical spooky tunes and rhythms heard in Halloween cartoons of recent times.
Don’t Die, Minerva! has some similarities with Luigi’s Mansion, with the most obvious being the use of the torchlight. In this case however, Minerva simply uses the beam of light (activated by the press of a trigger) as a weapon which she points in the direction of the creature in order to dish some damage. In this regard, the game is as typical a twin-stick action RPG as they come, so it will feel immediately familiar. Aside from the primary torchlight, Minerva can also pickup stuffed animals and toys which serve as familiars that can be deployed to attack enemies. The combat system is pretty basic and effective, but the light RPG elements help add to the gameplay variety with new equipment, toys, and weapons (well… flashlights) to pick up along the way.
As clearly implied in the title, this is a pretty tough game and so you can expect Minerva to die… a lot. Upon each death you can expect to lose gold, equipment, and mostly everything but some permanent character upgrades do stay intact which makes repeated playthroughs a little more approachable. The gold needed to get good items isn’t easy as most of them are quite expensive early on, and with the amount times you need to die and retry before getting the hang of things it can take a while to afford some decent equipment and weapons.
What also helps with the replay value are the procedurally generated levels typical of a roguelike action RPG. The areas differ in their layouts and enemy placements and types, but they also have things like traps to further add to the challenge. Given that it is a preview build, you may notice certain layouts coming back in a cycle after some playthroughs, but overall there are enough maps and layouts for each level of the mansion to keep the level design interesting.
Don’t Die, Minerva on Xbox One is a welcome roguelike action RPG that is quite difficult in its challenge but also charming in its overall presentation. It will be interesting to see how this game comes along during the course of its testing in the Xbox Preview program, but with a little polish and perhaps a bit of balancing in the difficulty design this could be a real winner when the final game eventually launches in 2020. Xbox One definitely needs more cartoon-like and imaginative experiences, and this one could be a welcome addition.
Massive thanks go out to the team at Xaviant for providing the code giving us access to Don’t Die, Minerva on Xbox One. You can be sure we’ll be following this piece up with a full review as and when the game comes out of Preview and into full Xbox One launch.