Hollow Knight Review
February 24, 2017.
The true meaning of adventure is to explore the unknown and to be enriched by what’s uncovered – to have an excitement blurred by anxiety, and to be braver than you ever have before. Hollow Knight embodies adventure in every way, and no matter whether you’re lost in the glistening gardens of Greenpath, or the waterlogged depths of Deepnest, the biggest thrill comes from what you can’t see, and what you might find.
In the beginning, little is known about the character you play as, but as the Hollow Knight, you must traverse the expansive underground below Dirtmouth and uncover its mysteries, fight its foes, and collect as much Geo as you can. You start the game without a map, so from the off your only objective is to explore. There are so many ways in which you can go, and enemies will come at you from all angles. Eventually, you’ll buy a map from Conifer (one of the game’s more colourful characters – and I mean that in the loosest sense), but even then, it’s much more fun to explore.
The world of Hollownest is bleak – filled with so much sadness and wonder, you’re overwhelmed with the game’s design. Its gorgeous art style feels unnerving, but you’re constantly taken aback by the amount of detail in its 2D hand-drawn accomplishments. Christopher Larkin has composed a heart-breaking soundtrack, and the pain, loss, and beauty that exudes from the harp strings or piano notes of this wonderful score will leave you feeling moved and broken. It’s weird, but the progression feels similar to that of The Snowman – a weird comparison, I know, but the music takes you on a journey, just as the game itself.
As Hollow Knight, you start of fairly baron of abilities, so the insects and bosses alike can be overwhelming to you. You have a sword, or as the game calls it, a nail, which you can attack enemies with. You can jump as well, but that’s about it. As you move on throughout the labyrinth of the game’s caverns and fallen civilisations, you unlock new powerful moves and also special manoeuvres to help you traverse the world easier (dashing, jumping up walls etc.).
Life is precious, and in Hollow Knight, death will happen quite a bit. It’s a tough game, but one that’ll never push you to the edge. When you kill and enemy, your soul meter fills up, and you can use this to fill up your health or fire off one of the attacking abilities you’ve unlocked. I wouldn’t say it is in short supply, and there are shrines you can strike to fill it up, but at times you can be fighting multiple enemies and be too frivolous with your soul power, leaving you defenceless and powerless; every attack from an enemy slows down movement for a split second, and you feel every strike.
Hollow Knight trains you to appreciate life, and treat the unfamiliar with the respect it deserves. Never be arrogant to think you’re invincible, and tread cautious regardless of how safe you think you are. There’s a similar mechanic to Dark Souls where if you die, your spirit remains in the spot at which you met your grisly fate; if you return to the spot you’ll collect any Geo you had (the game’s currency you’ll spend buying items and charms at various merchants), but if you don’t reach it, you’ll go back to the last bench you visited (think bonfires or lanterns).
Another nice little aspect of Hollow Knight are the charms; you have a certain amount of notches (spaces to equip charms), and by putting these charms into notches, you’ll gain certain buffs for doing so. You can only equip a certain amount at any one time, so it’s important to find the ones that work for you. If you find you’re a beast when it comes to melee, and prefer to wade in without a care in the world, equip the Fury of the Fallen charm to regain your strength if close to death; it can help with those final strikes killing the crowd of beasts surrounding you before you die. If you prefer to fight with the magic abilities, or those that require souls, make sure the Spell Twister charm is equipped because it reduces the amount of souls used when these abilities are exercised.
Hollow Knight is a great Metroidvania game, brimming with charm and sacrifice throughout. The range of NPCs and enemies is staggering, and the boss fights will test your resolve. Most of these fights have a simple pattern, and it doesn’t take a long time to work out the boss’ movement, but they can be tricky depending on their speed and range. It’s such a big game, and well worth buying if you’re a fan of the genre; yes, it reminded me of the mythos of Dark Souls, and has shades of Salt and Sanctuary, but Hollow Knight stands on its own as one of the best Metroidvania games of recent times.
Beautifully hand-drawn environments
Music is haunting and powerful
Gameplay is simple, yet effective
Exploration never gets dull
Death can take you back quite a long way
It’s a stunning game, majestic in art design and fluid in combat. It’s difficult at times, but the rewards for getting to the next area far outweigh the frustrations.