I don’t actually know what I can say about Hollow Knight that hasn’t been said before. It’s well known that there is a lot of love for this indie title from Cherry Games as it’s done the rounds on PC and Switch so there’s a lot of information out there. However, it’s finally released on Xbox and I for one couldn’t be happier as even more people get to experience this delightful little Metroidvania.
Having originally played a little bit of this on the Switch and I’ll admit that I didn’t initially see why it was getting so much praise. I found it occasionally frustrating, too sprawling and I generally wasn’t having much fun with it. When I was offered the review code, I wasn’t sure but as I love this kind of game, I thought I’d give it a second chance. I’m really glad I did.
Hollow Knight is a fantastic mix of dungeon crawler meets platformer by way of Metroid. The more I played, the more I also saw similarities with Dark Souls – which then had me thinking the Souls games are a great evolution of the Metroid games themselves, what with their twisting interconnected areas. But I digress. You start with a basic set of skills and as you explore the environment you discover better powers and open up more areas.
Your reason for being there isn’t really explained but all you need to know so I don’t spoil anything, is that the Hallownest is full of treasure and the diminutive “hero” is looking for adventure. The lore of the world is handed out piecemeal and is told through the environment and a few characters. One particular weapon you receive a little way into the game is also a great tool for discovering a little more. Every character has a little bit of back story and returning to them at various points allows you to explore them a little more using said tool.
The Hallownest is a world of bugs with very humanistic qualities and in some ways it’s quite cute. However, this is a dark place and very far from it. You can almost imagine that it’s a little world that exists beneath our feet. You’ll explore forgotten cities, forests, caves and terrifying tunnels. It’s all presented beautifully and it’s all entangled… Each area links up and connects in a logical way – if it was presented in 3D, I can imagine it would be a sight to behold and wouldn’t look too different to what the Souls games gave us.
Whilst there are several denizens who will look to help you, like the wise old sage and the various shop keepers, everything else looks like it’s designed to kill you. But here’s where it’s weird, most won’t actively pursue conflict unless you start it so there’s every chance you could progress without the need for murder. Well, that is until you meet some of the many bosses. Through the various expansions the world has grown and the beasts have become more fearsome.
Enemies are diverse and well designed and take a page out of every platformer of old. There are little bugs that look like knights with their miniature swords and shields. There’s the typical flying enemies that are designed to get in your way during tight platforming sections. Let’s just say there is lots to see and kill and I can see their similarities with the Souls franchise, in the challenges they all present. Then there are the bosses… Crystal covered knights who blast laser beams, hulking monstrous plants who spew damaging goop, terrifying spider things who scuttle about the arena are among the many you’ll face. They’re more diverse than the standard cast and you’ll need to learn each of their attack patterns if you hope to defeat them.
Combat is nice and simple, you attack with the X button and perfect timing means you can parry incoming shots. Collectable charms allow you to add perks like extra attack distance, added defences and sped up spells. A mana pool that refills with the souls of fallen enemies and allows you to heal or power your spells is also available. This can be upgraded with hidden items as can your health bar. There’s stuff hidden everywhere so it’s worth exploring off the beaten path.
But what of the many environments you’ll explore? As I said previously we’re in firm medieval fantasy territory here. Forgotten castles buried long ago and forgotten by everyone but would be adventurers. Forests full of murderous beasties, horrible dark tunnels and caves full of creepy spider creatures that crawl out of the foreground. There’s beautiful parallax backgrounds and foregrounds, lots of fully interactive blades of grass to be chopped down. Floors covered in the little skeletons and corpses of deceased heroes and whatnot. The level of detail is astonishing and each area looks unique. Just look at the screenshots and you’ll see how incredible it looks.
I also loved the music and the general ambience. Each area has its own soundtrack and they’re generally hauntingly beautiful, portraying a sense of melancholy. Every tiny footstep is different depending on the surface your covering. The tinkle of bones underfoot, the crunch of leaves. The thuds and tings as your weapon hits a body or surface. It’s brilliant!
I can’t recommend Hollow Knight enough. If you have even a passing interest in plaformers or Metroidvania’s this is up there with the best. It can seem overwhelming as, although I finished the main story and got one of the three endings there was still so much to see and do. Things are hidden in every nook and cranny and it’s easy to get lost. But don’t let any of that put you off experiencing one of the best games to release in the last few years. This is a perfect example of a finely tuned gameplay with just the right level of challenge if you’re up to it.
- Looks beautiful
- Great soundtrack
- Challenging but rewarding
- Easy to get lost
- Often a little too obscure
- Might be too tough for some players