I was initially circumspect of the wave of imitators that followed after last year's fantastic bullet hell horde mode shooter, Vampire Survivors. I like the original, dang it, I don't need all these copies! Great examples of the genre like Picayune Dreams and now Boneraiser Minions are really making me change my tune though, and the latter recently released out of early access on March 9 to "Overwhelmingly Positive" reviews on Steam. We appreciated this hordelike roguelike even when it was still under development, and creator caiys has only added to the experience since we last checked in.
Boneraiser leans into the passive nature of the Vampire Survivor fantasy: instead of powering up your little guy with spells and weapons, the focus is on beefing up a retinue of skeletal minions and letting them do the talking. Like with the most passive and unpredictable Vampire Survivors weapons, you have to watch for the opportunities your bony buddies provide. Instead of forging your own path through the gradually thickening soup of hostile enemies, you've got to go with the flow as your hench-skeletons carve up peasants where they may, hiding behind them like they're your older brother taking care of schoolyard bullies.
It's a great take on a sort of "summoner" fantasy, and reminds me most of playing a Necromancer in Diablo or Baldur's Gate, cooking up a doomstack of undead horrors and pointing them in the general direction of your foes. It also shows how this new "Bullet Heaven" subgenre can still offer some surprises, honing in on discrete elements of big daddy Vampire Survivors and making them a bigger focus—my other favorite VS-like, Picayune Dreams, goes in the opposite direction, grafting a more traditional top down shooter to Vampire Survivors' roguelike progression.
Boneraiser has a very nice presentation as well, with these bright neon colors on dark backgrounds like glow-in-the-dark paint at a rave and "as you remember it" 8-bit graphics that remind me of Shovel Knight. Further, Boneraiser does a good job of including all the extras and accoutrements we've come to expect from roguelikes, with fifteen unlockable classes and persistent upgrades and secrets to find. Developer caiys has also introduced new modes, like a card battler minigame or a trap-focused variation on the survival mode.
Like the original five buck champion, Vampire Survivors, Boneraiser offers an enticing value proposition with addictive, roguelike gaming on the cheap. My grinchlike suspicions of the emerging Vampire Survivors-likes have been pretty roundly debunked then, and you can check out Boneraiser Minions yourself for $5 on Steam.