James Stephanie Sterling
Boneraiser Minions - Boning Up (Review)
Released: March 9, 2023
Boneraiser Minions has a Bernard’s Watch reference in it.
This is not the most important thing about Boneraiser Minions, a survive ‘em up in which you enact the role of a necromancer defending themself against hordes of heroes via the raising of undead minions. Obviously the most important thing is the huge number of dick and cum jokes, but the obscure referencing of a 1997 British kid’s TV show is one of many reasons why I fell in love with this beautiful nonsense.
Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about the dicks and cum, but we’ll get to that.
Since the ridiculously wild success of Vampire Survivors (disclosure: I wrote for that game), a number of similar “survivor” style games have flooded the market. I’ve tried a bunch of the bastards, and with the exception of Void Scrappers I’ve not been wowed by any of them. Nothing has quite hit the dopamine highs of Poncle's influential hit. Boneraiser Minions is a whole different story, however.
The immediacy with which I was won over by Boneraiser’s exceptional gameplay and absurd tone is personally unprecedented. After a single run I was utterly hooked, and I’ve sunk an obscene number of hours into this thing over the course of a few days. Easily my favorite game in quite some time, it’s a hallmark of an emergent genre.
Like Vampire Survivors and its many pretenders, the player’s direct influence on combat is inherently limited. You move around to avoid the swarms of mindlessly aggressive enemies while a growing collection of weaponry automatically attacks them. As you cut down the horde and level up, you add new weapons to your arsenal or upgrade what you already have. The key difference with Boneraiser Minions is the fact your weapons are, as one might guess from the title, minions.
Minions that have been Boneraised, specifically.
A variety of skeletons, monsters, and thoroughly bizarre abominations are available to summon and strengthen, all of which attack autonomously. Outside of a tiny few passive items that provide more traditional attacks, the titular Boneraiser has very little firsthand control of their offense. The minions will follow their leader, but otherwise the necromancer’s main job is to keep out of harm’s way. It’s Vampire Survivors by way of Pikmin (though Overlord is probably more apt).
Players aren’t completely helpless. Single-use spells will be collected during a run and fired off at will, doing anything from raining down bolts of fire to turning the player into an invulnerable snowman. For the most part, though, this is all about building units and enjoying the carnage they dish out in an ever-expanding army.
The units themselves range from mundanely practical to outright strange. Standard minions include such offerings as the spear-wielding Skewerer that dashes into enemies, a ranged Eye-popper Archer, or a debuffing Witch. These regular “Skelly” minions are upgradeable from levels one to three, each time becoming more effective, and at max level you'll be able to spend hero souls to transform your fully upgraded soldiers into their deadly “Daemon” alternatives.
Minions can also be fused together when certain combinations are recruited, creating powerful Giant types such as an oversized Mage or the… uh… Fister. Daemons may similarly be fused to become truly eldritch horrors with massive crowd clearing attacks, and then there are “Melded” minions - creatures seemingly made of blue sludge that spew their cerulean goop all over the place.
Even the weirdest of these Boneraised minions pale in comparison, however, to the Bros - a collection of colorful allies with eccentric gimmicks. “Broraised” underlings include pumpkins on legs that charge into opponents and explode, living pots that reach into themselves to fling smaller explosive pots, zombies that turn their victims into more zombies, and… strawberry people. Yes, there are walking strawbs and they'll be your friends. Bros of the same type are ripe for fusing, leading to some of the most delightfully strange character models I’ve seen in quite some time. The gigantic, Boglin-faced “Big Bro Potoussy” has to be seen to be believed.
Discovering every unit type and learning how they all interact to create weirder minions is a huge part of the fun, as is acquiring the aforementioned spells and passive items (referred to as Relics). Every new find is a genuine and often baffling surprise.
Quite a few character classes are unlockable, each emphasizing a certain playstyle through their permanent upgrades. The Lich focuses on Boneraising in large numbers and gets bonuses based on how many remain at level one. The Spell Hollow is better with spells (obviously) and is more effective with magic-type Minions. My personal favorite is the Sprout Brotato, an adorable potato-faced necromancer specializing in Bro minions that regularly explodes their own head on contact with enemies.
As well as individual upgrades, there’s a bevy of purchasable skills to be applied across all classes and an entire suite of powerups for the Boneraiser’s foes. Enemy waves can be bought and enhanced in a heroes’ skill menu, adding such antagonistics as poisoning elves or gem-filled slimes. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, improving the enemy is a vital key to survival - more heroes mean more experience and gold, while more waves mean more time to grow your army before powerful bosses show up. It’s a genius bit of balance, really.
As if that wasn’t enough, unlocks include an Architect Mode that lets you buy and place structures on the map itself. Your choices include exploding pumpkins, scarecrows that slow down enemies, coffins that grant a free minion, and altars that spawn overhealing “Occult” hearts, among many other constructs. Architect Mode is, essentially, another set of skills applied directly to the environment instead of the characters.
Cosmetic offerings are bountiful, with color changes and an assortment of ridiculous hats ranging from pumpkin heads to the mask from Scream. You can replace your face with a facsimile of Mario or a giant pulsing bubble if you want, and why wouldn't you? Extra game modes tweak the rules or provide an endless run, and there’s even a fully functional card game clearly inspired by Triple Triad/Tetra Master from Final Fantasy. I can’t win at it.
Boneraiser’s avalanche of stuff is unlocked at a very decent clip. It doesn’t take much playtime to upgrade a class, all the Relics and Minions are discovered swiftly, and you don’t really need to grind to acquire Boneraiser and Hero skills. This is a game in which rewards are both plentiful and generous, with little time wasted before the player has new presents to dick around with.
The art style is perfectly spooky, with every character boasting adorably inventive aesthetics. The graphics evoke a retro style that puts me in mind of a Commodore 64 game, albeit more detailed and wonderfully animated. There are some nice visibility options for those struggling against Boneraiser's inevitable onscreen chaos, allowing for characters and attacks to be outlined in a choice of colors. This is all topped off with a catchy soundtrack. I wish there was more music, but that which features is insidiously good at getting stuck in one’s head.
So anyway… let’s talk penises and semen.
Boneraiser Minions is obsessed with finding ways to say “boner” and reminding players that wizards “shoot their loads" because it sounds like cumming. It’s utterly childish, a puerile preoccupation with very little bearing on the rest of the game, and therefore I fucking love it. It’s so stupid, so infantile, that I can’t help but admire the commitment to crudely calling every battle a "pounding." It's a vulgarity so pathetic it comes right back around to being brilliant.
The writing overall is at once both babyish and sophisticated, giving it a strange sense of character all its own. Enemies are referred to as “Meanies,” one skill lets you create fire from your “tootsies,” and the Daemonic Batty minion attacks with “sonics of ear melty hurty.” Alliteration is all over the place too, which I enjoy as a lover of all things wordplay. When you add the deeply British phrasing and humor, you get a game that sounds like no other on the market.
I mean, it’s got a fucking Bernard’s Watch reference! Never in my life could I have imagined that popping up in a game.
Boneraiser Minions is a truly superb production, and not just because it makes a Bernard’s Watch reference. It’s a silly yet fiercely addictive survive ‘em up brimming with charismatic originality. From its premise to its unit-based spin on the genre to its multitude of unlocks and upgrades, this beautiful bit of nonsense won my heart with incredible ease. Boneraiser is the kind of game I’m excited to think about, and the constant cock talk is just a boners… sorry, a bonus.
No complaints. No notes. Boneraiser Minions is simply exquisite.