20 Minutes Till Dawn is a bullet-heavy roguelike that’s off to a strong start

Those looking for a different flavor of horde survival might find it in 20 Minutes

The horde survival genre, I guess you’d call it, has had quite the year so far. Vampire Survivors lit the world on fire, and of course, there have been imitators. But what sets 20 Minutes Till Dawn apart from the crowd isn’t just its similarities to Survivors, but its key changes that make quite a difference.

I checked out the demo version, cleverly titled 10 Minutes Till Dawn, earlier this year and came away impressed. Well, after a decent number of runs in 20 Minutes Till Dawn‘s Early Access launch, that enthusiasm hasn’t gone away. Developer flanne’s roguelike survival still has room to grow, but its core concept is pretty darn solid.

Survive the night

20 Minutes Till Dawn has you pick a character and weapon, then jump into a darkened woods to survive the night against an ever-growing horde of creepy ghoulies. If you’ve played Vampire Survivors before, certain parts of this experience will look very familiar to you: the giant XP bar at the top, leveling up via tiny XP droplets from enemies, and treasure chests left behind by boss foes.

In the same breath though, you’ve probably already caught some notable differences. Alongside selecting a character that has their own passive ability, like summoning a shadow clone or firing a flaming shot every few bullets, you also have a weapon. And you fire it, yourself. This isn’t the auto-fire survival game, but a more traditional twin-stick shooter.

These changes alone open up a lot of new avenues for 20 Minutes Till Dawn. While some level-up options add additional forms of damage, like a mystical dagger or a ghost pal, many also simply augment the gun’s abilities. Load it up with Pyro Rounds, give bullets a chance to freeze enemies or call down lightning, or make the bullets bigger. We’re talking big, big bullets.

Though this removes some of the build-by-feel aspect, it makes the gunplay a key component of the early 20 Minutes Till Dawn run. Do you need a faster reload, or would you rather beef up your bullet damage? Maybe spread is better for your double-barrel shotgun, or you’d rather just augment its damage with elemental effects. Or forego all of that for a summon-based build. letting your pets do all the work for you. Options are easy to read, and have a pretty simple tree of one base upgrade, two tier-two options, and then a final one that brings it all together.

What goes bump in the dark

These choices become crucial pretty fast, because time is counting down. The survival aspect of 20 Minutes Till Dawn can get brutal, especially considering hits are incredibly dangerous for some characters that start with only one or two hearts.

Enemies gradually scale up in difficulty and sheer quantity, eventually adding variants that can explode or fire their own bullets back at you. And once the bosses show up, everything goes out the window.

Boss enemies in 20 Minutes Till Dawn are full-on encounters. Many have their own attack patterns and problems to deal with, like a gradually enclosing arena or massive lasers. It adds a bit more lethality to big fights, and feels like a bit more than just a numbers check.

Hell full of bullets

The progression system works incredibly well too, offering tiered upgrades on the Sword (offense) and Shield (defense) paradigms. Seriously, I can’t recommend enough that you get the Holy Shield blessing, it’s so useful.

There are a lot of reasons to keep playing, mostly to gather up resources to unlock more characters, weapons, and runes. When I finished my first run, it felt great; I was at the perfect meeting point of supremely powerful and moments from imminent doom.

The first make-or-break, though, will be the graphical style. I absolutely dig the look of 20 Minutes Till Dawn, as its almost-monochromatic feels very retro and moody. It also has the nice touch of adding some danger and fear to the edges of the screen, as you see the eyes slowly creeping forward before the full enemies are revealed.

That said, I also get that it could be a concern for those who find it difficult to read. Maybe some additional color options, or a higher contrast setting, could help in that regard.

Build diversity is also a concern, as though you start out with a lot of different options, I felt a lot of them funneling back in to similar pick-ups after a while. I like the small trees for upgrades, so I’m not just hitting the same upgrade for “more damage” over and over. But it also leads to pretty same-y builds over time for a majority of the guns.

The nice part is, all things considered, this is just the start for 20 Minutes Till Dawn. I’ve enjoyed the hours I’ve put in so far, and plan to put in a good few more. It’s off to a good start, and I think flanne’s roguelike survival game has potential to become a standout in a growing genre. Hopefully the Early Access keeps improving and building upon its strengths.

20 Minutes Till Dawn is $2.99, too. There are worse ways to spend $3. You can find it on Steam here.

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