Just Make it Till Morning
Initially released in Steam early access earlier in the year, 20 Minutes Till Dawn’s mobile release has much to offer. A pixel-art action roguelike, the game is somewhat reminiscent of Poncle’s Vampire Survivors while still doing enough to set itself apart. Players can download premium or ad-supported versions of 20 Minutes Till Dawn, though both offer a tensely satisfying survival experience.
Flanne and Erabit Studios’ 20 Minutes Till Dawn task’s players with, well, surviving twenty minutes until dawn. Players take control of one of ten unlockable characters as they survive alone against an infinite horde of Lovecraftian horrors. While the first few enemies are few, slow, and individually weak, it’s not long before the trickle becomes a flood. New and increasingly dangerous enemies join the fray as dawn approaches, keeping the player on their toes. The art style is simple, primarily greyscale pixel art with red highlights on the player character and some enemy sprites. Still, it fits the game’s mood, and the enemy designs were visually distinct.
20 Minutes Till Dawn’s basic gameplay is relatively straightforward. Players control their character with a virtual joystick on the left side of the screen and shoot by pressing on the right. Your gun will automatically lock on to the nearest enemy, or you can free-aim with your right thumb. The latter is a bit hard to control and isn’t usually necessary. However, there are times when it’s helpful to single out an individual enemy.
Players level up and unlock new Talents by collecting the experience points dropped by dead enemies. These diverse abilities include improved fire rate and damage, shields, and summonable allies. Specific Talents also combine into Advanced Talents. For example, buying Holy Shield and Smite lets players unlock an Advanced Talent called Sword and Shield. This increases the Shield’s recharge rate based on the number of enemies the player kills with Smite. All Talents are passive or automatically activate when meeting certain conditions. Smite, for example, is an AOE attack that activates automatically whenever players empty their clip.
Players can also spend points to unlock new Characters, Weapons, and runes between runs. The latter are upgrades which 20 Minutes Till Dawn splits into Sword and Shield Runes. As the name implies, Sword Runes are attacks and offensive buffs. Examples include things such as increased bullet damage or creating a shockwave whenever you reload. Shield Runes offer things like adding invincibility frames or health regeneration. The game further divides each category into four unlockable ranks, and players can equip one Shield and Sword Rune for each.
Each character also has a unique passive ability and three Exclusive Talents. For example, while there are several Talent chains, players choose between a random assortment at every level. However, the Starting character Shana can re-roll her upgrade choices at each level. Meanwhile, her Exclusive talents include Ascencion, which lets players recover her lost halo for massive combat bonuses. My favorite character was the pyromancer Scarlett. She has less health than most other characters but releases a wave of fire after every third shot. Her Exclusive Talents focus on buffing her burn effect, and her power synchronizes well with many of the game’s Runes and Talents.
20 Minutes Worth Spending
20 Minutes Till Dawn doesn’t have a story to speak of, but the game doesn’t need one. While the gameplay is simple, it’s tense, challenging, and rarely feels unfair. Your first run likely won’t last long. However, you’ll find yourself doing a little better every time as you get new weapons and Runes. Once you finally survive the night, you can play again at increased difficulty. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that new characters and weapons change things up, but don’t make older ones obsolete. I frequently found myself coming back to the starting Revolver, even after unlocking newer weapons.
As for whether to download the paid or ad-supported versions, there isn’t too much difference between the two. The ad-supported version is easier to finish since you can watch ads to revive yourself when you die. It also lets you watch an advertisement in exchange for an extra Upgrade at the start of your run. However, you also need to watch several ads to unlock the alternate Ruins map. Meanwhile, premium players get the full game for only $3. However, 20 Minutes Till Dawn is worth taking for a spin, regardless of which version you get.
Is It Hardcore?
20 Minutes Till Dawn is an action-packed 2D roguelike with tense gameplay and a satisfying progression system.