Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Platform: Windows 10
Hollow Knight is a metroidvania styled platformer featuring all the usual suspect mechanics. Throughout your journey a number of abilities will become available to assist with traversing new sections of the game and can be used to unlock hidden paths in previous areas. Do not be fooled by the adorable hand drawn art, Hollow Knight’s world is not welcoming, nor is it friendly. The game has a very grim setting, and tone that is indicative of the dying lands you’re exploring. The kingdom of Hollownest is slowly decaying and the denizens therein have grown feral as a result. Will you be able to find the infection and cleanse the sickness from Hollownest, or will you leave it to rot?
Hollow Knight is a gorgeous game to take in. Despite its dreary tone, Hollow Knight offers a variety of eye catching and visually varied hand drawn landscapes for players to roam through. Every area of the game features a multi-layered scene that combines visual elements in the foreground, and several background layers to give the various rooms and hallways you pass a much greater sense of depth and scale. Hollownest feels much more vast and alive because of this. Caverns feel deep and desolate, gardens feel richly overpopulated with wild flora, and cities feel vast and forlorn as they now sit abandoned. On top of this, the environments tell a story about the territory you are exploring. They aren’t just there to be pretty. The various choices that are made for each locale can give you an idea of what may have happened to the place you’re traveling through, as well as give you an idea of what it may have been like in Hollownest’s better years.
In addition to the art that makes up the world, the inhabitants are also impressive to look at. The player character, an eponymous Hollow Knight, is wonderfully animated and visually distinct from the background. Thanks to the use of both black and white it is very easy to keep track of the Hollow Knight even in frenetic combat encounters. Enemies also feature colour choice, and designs that allow them to stand out from the background, so players won’t lose sight of them. Each area in the game features a mostly unique subset of enemies that, similar to the various locations, aid in communicating the history of Hollownest. The care and attention that went into creating both the visual and narrative elements of Hollow Knight’s art make it worth taking the time to enjoy and that is something truly special.
When a game has a soundtrack that I really enjoy listening to I tend to have a more positive experience with the game. Hollow Knight is one such game where that rings true. The ambiance of each soundtrack really captures the mood that is demonstrated in each locale. Greenpath is full of life and has a bubbly melody that gives it a feeling of a budding forest teeming with activity. Kingdoms Edge, outcast and forgotten, has a melancholy sound to it as you discover paths not traveled in some time. Deepnest, being a haven of darkness and shadows, has a quiet and sinister track giving off a foreboding feeling as if something is stalking you from the shadows. These, and many more, make up one truly immersive soundtrack and helped to further my engagement in exploring every inch of Hollownest by further cementing the tone and lore of each district within Hollow Knight.
There are so many times where I feel that games miss the point of exploration. Going on an adventure and discovering the various nooks and crannies of the world you’re rifling through should never feel like an obligation, or like a chore. That said, I’m also of the mindset that surveying should never itself be the reward for delving into a game’s world. If there is no reason for me to go travel through the map then why should I bother? Hollow Knight doesn’t fall into this trap and is one of the better platformers I’ve played in terms of how it’s exploration is handled. Going off the beaten path almost always results in eventually finding some kind of reward. It could be part of a health or mana (referred to as soul) upgrade, or a new unique charm. The charms are an especially noteworthy bounty as these allow you to augment Hollow Knight with different passive abilities. Given how valuable these abilities and character improving items can be, taking the time to examine an area fully never feels like a wasted effort. None of the goodies you find are useless and adventuring into all of the alcoves of Hollownest feels far more rewarding for it.
Not only are charms a valuable reward for ransacking every inch of Hollow Knight’s world, but they are also one of my favourite implementations of a passive ability system in a video game. What I like so much about the charms is how none of them feel completely useless. A lot of times I’ll find several ineffective, or weaker skills within a game that seem to exist simply to help point the player toward whatever the optimal selection is. While I understand this is an indirect way of guiding players, I really don’t like that this effectively leaves a portion of skills completely unusable in a game. This isn’t a problem in Hollow Knight, however, as each charm feels advantageous in the right circumstances. The less powerful charms have a lower cost to equip, and are integral to a number of distinct offensive and defensive synergies. Additionally, that almost all of the charms feature completely unique capabilities means there is a lot of room to experiment and find a desired set. Given the variety of challenges throughout Hollow Knight, I really appreciated being able to mix and match charms to suit my current situation. I really hope other games take note of this because being able to mix and match Hollow Knight’s charms into a plethora of combinations made acquiring new charms and experimenting throughout the game genuinely entertaining.
Giving players a desire to comb every inch of your game’s world for hidden rewards is good, but what’s even better is when you are able to fairly hide items. I use fairly deliberately because in my past experiences I’ve found secrets in the most random and asinine ways. Having caches littered throughout the map makes finding everything annoying and discouraging when there is no indication of where things may be kept. It’s not fun. Hollow Knight deals with this by telegraphing all of its concealed spaces, so they are hiding in plain sight. A careful eye will easily spot shadow covered pathways and disguised entrances to shrouded hallways and secluded rooms. The tip off for many of these are subtle differences from the surrounding environment. It’s enough to blend in, but not enough to avoid detection when players are seeking them. I really liked this as it alleviated one of biggest problems with games in this particular genre: getting lost for hours trying to hunt down a small subset of items to complete my collection. With everything being telegraphed I was able to find the overwhelming majority of items organically as I worked my way through Hollow Knight.
I don’t think I know anyone who likes being attacked right after they respawn in a game, but this is a problem that Hollow Knight has. If there is ever a time when you happen to fall into a pit of spikes, or acid water you respawn on a nearby piece of land. As soon as this is triggered, however, all of the enemies who were attacking you will immediately start to move toward wherever your spawn point has been set to. They will also begin attacking said spawn point before and after your character model appears. This resulted in me being attacked (and sometimes killed) immediately after Hollow Knight reappeared on my screen. This is extremely frustrating as it felt like I was dropped into an unwinnable situation. It happened enough times to be a noteworthy flaw, but infrequently enough that it didn’t paint my entire experience in a negative light. An extra second or two of invincibility after the player is able to move could easily remedy this issue, and it’s a shame that this is a problem for an otherwise tremendously engaging and fun experience.
Hollow Knight is a game I absolutely recommend. It is a crowning achievement in all of what is possible within the metroidvania genre. The combat and character animations are fast and fluid, the exploration is fun without being overbearing, the score and art really sell the atmosphere and tone of the world, and the way passive abilities are implemented is one of my favourite system in years. While it is not a perfect game, it is fairly damn close and I think it is well worth your time and money. Hollow Knight is a must play.