Review: Hollow Knight

Man, this has got to be the most satisfying platformer I’ve played in a while. Among indies, it’s likely my Game of the Year for 2017. I hope something beats it because it’s going to be really tough to dethrone this one.

Here’s my review of Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight.

Impressions

Hollow Knight at first starts out as a somewhat terrifying experience – starting out in a dark, bleak world, armed with a nail and nothing else. Dirtmouth wasn’t exactly helping with how empty it is.

And then the adventure begins. You don’t have a map, there’s all sorts of scene transitions in every direction and wow, where do I go? I’m getting lost here, where’s the chain that leads to Dirtmouth again?

Then you hear the humming in the distance. You meet Cornifer and he hands you a map of the area. It’s just a plain map though, not a magical GPS you’d see in most games that indicates where you are.

This game hates hand-holding and I love all of it. Maybe I hated it at first with all the games I’m used to playing, but now that I’m in the game for hours; it pleases me as it gives me challenges that are genuinely tough and discoveries to new lands with pure delight.

The Review

That was quite a lengthy first impression, so here’s my favorite points on Hollow Knight:

  • Spectacular level design - Hollow Knight is a metroidvania type of game, and with it comes a lot of places and abilities for you to explore them. Team Cherry excels at making both fine details and larger parts of the game world to work perfectly.

  • Platforming treat - A metroidvania isn’t fun if the controls suck or if the game punishes you for something that isn’t your fault thanks to arbitary game limitations. The game does plaforming wonders and everything’s possible if you know how to git gud. No wonder people are comparing this game so much with Dark Souls from time to time.

  • Show, not tell - Hollow Knight respects the fact that you can think. This game doesn’t bombard you with tutorials or text on how to do things, and heaven forbid, telling things repeatedly. I can tell that the game took notes from analysts like Mark Brown on Shovel Knight and nostalgia and the popular Sequelitis episode on Mega Man S it shows things off fairly, then it builds up progression naturally through self-discovery and using your brain without annoying prompts to tell you things unless it’s truly necessary.

With all these points, you’re effectively getting a true adventure that you can experience for yourself – you discover new places as you learn new abilities to traverse them, the difficulty is up to you as the game does it fairly, and even if you’re stuck, you have the choice to revisit them later once you’re stronger. In particular, I’m referring to fights like the Mantis Lords – their patterns are difficult, but fairly presented and if you couldn’t beat them with your dull nail, you can keep playing until you get some nice upgrades and charms that can help you on their fight.

  • It’s an intricate piece of art - the game has it right when it comes to building a setting and matching it with its style of music and visuals. The setting gets complimented further as it tells their stories in a way that you’re supposed to discover only bits of it and you’re supposed to fill in the blanks, instead of telling the stories outright. That way, the game’s places feel a lot more meaningful as you piece up the bits of Hallownest and how it all worked in the past. .

  • Enemy variety - the types of foes you’ll encounter in Hallownest is amazing. They all behave differently and if that’s not the case, they all look unique with a notable appearance you won’t miss out on. They’re all designed to be wonderfully smart to fight against too – the game isn’t hard because they’ll send you a lot of the same enemies, it’s challenging because you have to figure out their patterns to get the rhythm, usually while working out on platforming and your HP.

  • A++ quality - the game goes beyond and above when it terms to quality and detail across all things said above. Everything just feels right and it just works because it’s all so well-crafted. Heck, I rarely find myself blaming the game on anything as it’s usually the case of the player neglecting particular details as to why he’s having a hard time.

Challenging!

This way of looking at the game also has its downsides, of course. Sometimes, you’ll neglect the show part of things and it’s the reason why the game industry did tell in the first place – it avoids player frustration. Likewise, I’ve found myself lost at Hallownest for a couple of times because I didn’t notice that small notch of unexplored space in the map, nor does the game instruct you on what to do next (after all, you have the freedom to as long as you have the means to do so).

There are no quest markers in this game, and finding yourself on the map takes a charm. You have to learn things and you have to use your brain from time to time. You can’t just mash buttons when fighting either, and dying means having to retrieve your floating shade and fighting the enemies in between .

It’s a tough life in Hallownest, but it’s a challenge that is befitting for a player and the game respects that you can achieve it. You have to work hard for it.

tl;dr - a beautifully crafted, polished and well-designed game. It’s challenging as it teaches you the hard way at times (which may be a bad thing for some players), but it gives you satisfying results with an adventure that you discover for yourself.