Game: Hollow Knight
Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer
System: Steam (Windows) (Also on macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PS4)
Developer | Publisher: Team Cherry
Controller Support: Full
Price: UK £10.99 | US $15.00 | EU € 14,99
Release Date: February 24th, 2017 (Steam) | June 12th, 2018 (Switch)
No review code was used, I purchased the game myself.
Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania adventure created by indie developer Team Cherry. The Metroidvania classification technically puts it in the same basket as the numerous other indie titles tackling the beloved action-adventure genre. This, of course, includes the Metroid and Castlevania games themselves. However, after more than 60 hours of playing and finishing the game at 92% completion, I can confidently say Hollow Knight pushes the genre forward.
I’ve played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as well as all the Gameboy Advance Castlevania and Metroid titles and my goal is to share how Hollow Knight innovates and why I think this is the best starting game to play for folks new to the Metroidvania genre.
A Grim World with Many Diverse Layers Awaits
Like in good ol’ classic Metroid fashion, the game starts you off in some uncharted location. You have no hints on where you need to go and what your purpose is in Hallownest, the game’s setting. The environment feels dark, cold, and a bit lonely until you encounter some foul creatures getting in the way of your journey into the unknown. In the beginning, all you have at your disposal is a sword-like melee weapon called a “Nail”. Castlevania fans should feel right at home!
It won’t be long, though, until you reach the town. Although it’s quite empty, at least you have the town elder to talk to. He should give you the lowdown of the lore, right? Well, not so fast! He’s just one of the many building blocks of the game’s vast worldbuilding, and your first doses of the NPCs you meet along the way will likely leave you with a few question marks here and there. Many characters speak in a rather poetic fashion, and I found it quite engaging, especially when paired with the cute rambles and babbles these characters voice out as you talk to them. Yes, there is absolutely no English voice acting in the game, and that might affect your ability to weave together the fragmented story pieces. Still, there are so many other elements within the game that kept me immersed.
Uncovering the Plot One Grind at a Time
If you are truly invested in the world of Hallownest and Team Cherry’s beautiful storytelling, play in longer bursts. I’ve experienced moments where I’d hit a cutscene hinting where I must go next but later hit a snag. Usually, it involves a difficult boss battle where I feel underpowered or some inaccessible area that requires a certain ability.
Once you get into the weeds of the game, you will quickly realize its complicated non-linear nature. You’ll be searching for maps as you reach new areas and seek out new upgrades. Once you learn a new trick, you’ll return to the familiar areas to see what paths you can now open. That can take some time, and before you know it, you might reunite with a certain character, and that’s where I had to pause and try to recall where I last met this person.
A game with a lot of grinding and backtracking sounds like a negative, but in Hollow Knight’s case, it’s really not. Hallownest is beautiful, filled with lush environments, destructible objects, cleverly-designed foes, engaging level design, and tons of secrets! Even at the 40-hour mark, the game continued to surprise me with yet another vast place to explore when I thought I’d seen them all!
Charming Your Way to Dull the Difficulty Spike
Another key element that makes these gruelling expeditions worthwhile is the satisfying platforming and combat. The first section you’ll explore serves as a nice playground for practising your attacks and fattening your wallet for buying valuable items! Taking damage? No problem! A simple hold of a button heals you by consuming “Soul” which is the game’s magic meter. Enemies don’t drop health powerups like in Metroid, but hitting them will restore some Soul. You won’t be able to buy or horde consumable healing items either, like in Castlevania.
Eventually, the game will introduce you to the “Charms” system, which lets you equip accessories you find in the game that add or augment your abilities. You start off with a limited number of slots, and as you collect charms, you have to decide which combinations of abilities suit your play style, especially since some charms take up more slots than others. I find this a very clever way of adjusting the game’s difficulty.
If you’re new to the genre, explore areas because several hidden charms and enhancements await. These items will come in handy in dealing with abrupt difficulty spikes. For instance, you can use a charm that expands your health meter to learn the bosses’ patterns and hopefully edge out a victory even after some rough mistakes. Or you can use your limited charm slots on melee strength, where you pummel your enemies with powerful attacks and dodge damaging attacks! If you think you can make it without these items, be sure to have fast reflexes when fighting certain bosses. Either way, beating bosses feels so rewarding as you often get new stuff or see the plot unfold even more!
Turning the Metroidvania Genre on its Head
What makes Hollow Knight so thrilling is that the game never feels too easy. Even after a lot of grinding for money and a lot of charm finding, I never encountered a boss where I would just have to cast a deadly spell and let it all be well. There were some moments towards the end where I really had to try different charm combinations and suffer through dozens of defeats until I finally got a good rhythm!
Without posting spoilers here, there were so many moments throughout the game that genuinely surprised me. And remember, this is a 7-year-old title filled with several shocks, twists, and game mechanics that don’t exist in any Metroid or Castlevania game. There’s a lot of Metroidvania familiarity as you collect those maps and flesh out your character. Still, the innovative spins and how they tie into the story really put the game in its own category. Welcome to Hollowvania?!
Conclusion – A True Timeless Classic
Just like how the Nintendo Switch and Metroid Dread bundle like bread and butter, Hollow Knight can just as easily be the butter of a Steam Deck sandwich (or just get it on virtually any other mainstream platform!). The main story might feel a bit short when you subtract the hours spent on grinding and figuring out where to go. However, you’ll likely add more hours doing side-quests, each with its own rewards and optional content that pull back the plot curtains even further. Combine that with the beautiful visuals, deep story, and generally higher, but not punishing difficulty compared to the games they take inspiration from, and it’s an A+ in my book.
I suggest you take your sweet time working your way through because Team Cherry is cooking up a sequel which may or may not see its release this year. Finally, I can join my excitement with the hundreds of thousands of Hollow Knight fans eagerly waiting for its completion!
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up