Review – Hollow Knight

The Hollow Knight logo. A little masked knight stands to one side.

This week’s review is a 2D hack and slash adventure game through the ruins of a once-great city, from the fine people at Team Cherry. But be careful while playing, you may encounter a lot of bugs. It’s Hollow Knight, let’s go!

The little knight bounces off of another enemy's shield, rebounding to hit them again.

Hollow Knight is a game where you play as a little masked knight, who has traveled far to reach the fabled subterranean city of Hallownest, now a decrepit shell of its former self. With your trusty nail in hand, venture forth into the shadowy ruins of the metropolis below the surface. Face off against all manner of insects, from beetles and grubs to bees and wasps as you delve into the depths. Find fantastical new areas underground, green forests and foggy swamps alike are hidden below ground level. Find secrets hidden in every corner of the world, from stockpiled wealth hidden from greedy hands to the mysteries of Hallownest’s fall from grace. What happened to Hallownest? Who is the Hollow Knight? Why does everything bleed orange? Unearth all of these answers and more in Hollow Knight.

The little knight fights centipede-like creatures in underground tunnels

Now that the introduction is out of the way, we move to the visuals of Hollow Knight. Hollow Knight is a game that looks good, it’s just plain pleasing to look at. The simplistic art style combined with the use of composition in the background elements and use of palette in the various areas of the game altogether make for a good-looking game. More than once I’ve stopped in a zone and thought “This game looks great.” It’s pretty enough to take you out of the game, but only for a moment, a testament to its visual design.

 

The soundtrack is great. The main composer, Christopher Larkin, has done a wonderful job of composing a variety of battle tunes and area themes that sets the tone for each fight or zone. Scenes of wonder or atmospheres of dread are appropriately related in the music. You can find his work on his bandcamp here.

The little knight faces off against three guards

Careful positioning is key to survival.

The movement is basic and the combat is tight. You can move at a steady pace and jump around to your heart’s content. You’ve got your nail and can swing it all around and in the air, and are able to bounce off of enemies by swinging down from above them, using your nail as a sort of a pogo stick, Ducktales style. In addition, you have a SOUL meter that fills as you hit enemies, and can be used to heal yourself, albeit slowly. As a game of the Metroidvania genre, there are a large number of different zones to explore, each one with its own unique landscape features and enemies. These areas are pretty big to traverse on foot, but fortunately there is a fast-travel system for getting back to certain areas more easily and returning to exploration. Similarly, as a Metroidvania game, there are many areas you cannot access immediately, but will gain access to later. Throughout the game, you will find powers that will allow you to move in different ways, like wall-jumping, dashing, and double-jumping, meaning that you’re going to be going back through some areas multiple times trying to find all of the hidden secrets.

A map of the 16 areas of Hollow Knight

As I said, the map’s big.

When you first arrive in Dirtmouth, the near-ghost town you come to at the start of your journey, you are introduced to the bench, a simple little place to sit for a quick breather and represents your checkpoint throughout the game. If you are to die, you respawn back at the last bench you sat at. Unlike other Metroidvania games, Hollow Knight has a lot of tight platforming and a high likelihood of death, in an almost Dark Souls-esque way. When you die, you leave behind a small black ghost that holds your money, and if you are to perish before retrieving it, it is lost. Spending money before you lose it becomes important, so what it there to spend it in? Upgrades and charms! You can purchase mask fragments and vessel fragments to expand your health and SOUL meter, and upgrade your nail for more damage at the nailsmith. For more modular gameplay, there is a system of charms that you can use for a variety of upgrades, like dealing damage when hit or casting spells for less SOUL. Charms can be bought from various vendors, but more can be found in the various nooks and crannies of the underground.

The little knight faces off against a much larger knight using a mace.

Boss battles can also get a little intense.

Hollow Knight is not beyond criticism, however. Dying, of course, sucks, and learning the patterns for enemy attacks like in boss fights, or learning how to safely traverse new environments only to wind up dead can be a hassle. The fast travel system isn’t perfect, as it has strategically placed positions you can return to that, while making sense in the lore, can be somewhat frustrating to work with when getting to particular areas. In addition, when exploring new areas, more often than I liked I found myself dying without finding the fast travel station for the area, leaving my ghost somewhere frustrating to get to and without an easy way to get back there.

 

Altogether Hollow Knight is a fantastic indie Metroidvania game. It’s a game that made bugs the main enemy, but they were never really gross or made out to be something nasty. Creepy or dirty perhaps, but not something super icky in the way that other games might make bug enemies, where they’re the size of people. If you like Metroid titles or Castlevania games, by all means give Hollow Knight a try. If you like action, platforming, exploration, and/or a good challenge for your reflexes, this may be something for you. You can find it on Steam and on Nintendo Switch.

A small beetle in a miner's cap picks at wall.

Happy secret hunting!

Thank you for reading. Have a nice day!

 

–Dr. Glovegood

Dr. Glovegood

I like gloves. I like games. I'd like to see more of these in the world.

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