Hollow Knight tells the tale of an insectoid tasked with clearing the land of hostile creatures.
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania style game set in a world of insectoids. I hadn’t heard much about this game upon it’s launch in early 2017, but after it’s release on the Nintendo Switch during Nintendo’s E3 conference this year, I heard a lot of buzz about it. I listen to several video game podcasts and every one of them discussed how tremendous this game is. I like Metroidvanias so I decided to look it up. The art style immediately piqued my interest and the more I heard about how stunning this game is, the more I wanted to play it. I must say, this game lives up to the hype!
As with other Metroidvanias, Hollow Knight is a side scrolling platformer. As you clear out one area, you gain abilities that grant access to other areas. Often times, as you gain new abilities, you will have to go back to previously cleared areas to unlock more skills or strengthen existing ones. One feature that is new to the genre is that when you die, you drop all of your coins which are called Geo in this game. In addition, some of your items may break when you die and need to be repaired in order to use them again. You can go back and retrieve your lost Geo by defeating your spirit at the location you died. If you are unable to make it to and defeat your spirit, you lose all Geo. This is a feature similar to that found in the Dark Souls games.
The game is broken down into different areas. In each area, you will find a cartographer named Cornifier. You can purchase a map of each area from him. He will also tell you that you can buy items to enhance the map from his shop in the small town of DIrtmouth. Two items worth purchasing from his shop are the quill, which will highlight all sections in a region you have actually been in, and the Wayward Compass. The compass does take up one of your item nodes, but is well worth it because the maps do not have a “You are here” indicator on them. The compass fills that role.
The combat system is rather simple, but effective. You can slash your nail (remember you play as an insectoid so a nail to a bug is like a sword to a human) left, right, up and while you are airborne in the down direction as well. The enemies vary in degree of difficulty from simple mobs to bosses with intricate movement patterns.
In general, this is not only one of the most difficult platformers I have ever played, it is one of the most difficult games that I have ever played period. The developers did a superb job of making Hollow Knight challenging, but not aggravating.
The graphical style in Hollow Knight may not be for everyone, but there is brilliance in it nonetheless. They may be cartoony, but they are very well drawn. I think they animated appearance fits well in a game featuring insectoids and ghosts. Each area features a different base color where the background, the foreground, the enemies and the ground are almost entirely in different shades of that base color. You can notice when you are transitioning to another area because the tones may go from a blueish hue to one that is green. It adds to the charm of the game well. The color of each area matches that areas color after you buy the map for it. Little details like that show the level of care that was put into this game. Despite this being a 2D game, there is depth added by having backgrounds at different layers that move as the character does. This gives the feeling of a quasi-3D game. The lighting, textures and focuses all add to the overall aesthetic separating Hollow Knight from other games in this genre.
The musical arrangements and sound effects pair terrifically with the what is happening in the game. Normally, I notice the music in a game, but it doesn’t normally make me pay attention to it. In Hollow Knight, the sound enhances the overall gameplay experience. It helps draw the player into the overall experience. Each area of the map has it’s own unique music, which combines with the change in color palette during area transitions perfectly. This game features some of the most situationally appropriate music I have ever heard in a game. The somber tones of one area often become frantic during a boss fight. Another audio feature I like in Hollow Knight is the nonsensical noises that NPCs make when you talk to them. It may be gibberish, but it fits perfectly.
Hollow Knight has some of the most difficult and intense platforming I have ever seen in a game.
What makes this game even more impressive is that the development team for most of it was just two guys. They added two more guys to help finish the game. It was originally a Kickstarter and these four guys created a masterpiece. This game is one that once you start it, you will not want to put it down. Going forward, all Metroidvanias will be measured against Hollow Knight. I hope they are up to the challenge, You can find Hollow Knight on PC or Nintendo Switch.
***EDIT*** I did not finish Hollow Knight. I explored nearly, if not all, of the regions and collected most of the upgrades.*** Despite not having finished Hollow Knight, I can say it is a fantastic game. In fact, it may be the second best game I have played on the Nintendo Switch after Breath of the Wild. I give a 5/5 for stunning graphics, unique audio and gameplay that is an absolute blast! It is available on Nintendo Switch and PC, so if you game on either one, I highly recommend playing it.