Hollow Knight Review

Hollow Knight is a 2D action adventure game with light platforming elements, set in an open world environment. You play as a small character named “The Knight”, who travels through the underground kingdom of Hallownest. Your goal is to reach the top of the kingdom and defeat an evil creature called “The Radiance”.

Along your journey you will meet various friendly NPCs that will help you on your quest and also various enemies you must fight in order to progress through the game.

Hollow Knight Review
Hollow Knight Review

Hollow Knight features a unique “Soul” system which allows you to upgrade your character’s abilities by collecting different colored souls from enemies you defeat throughout the game. These include extra health, strength, spells, items, and more.

The combat in the game is easy to pick up but offers a lot of depth for players who want to take their time learning how it works and how to use it effectively against different enemy types. This can lead to some frustrating moments when fighting.

Hollow Knight has been praised and nominated for multiple categories at gaming competitions such as the Indie Prize and the Australian Game Developer Awards. It won the award for Best Independent Game at the 2018 Golden Joystick Awards, and it was named the Best Indie Game of 2017 by PC Gamer.

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Hollow Knight’s graphics are heavily inspired by the classic 2D games of yesteryear, but with advanced techniques like texture splats and 3D animation used to create a beautiful cell-shaded look that brings out the wonderful details in its environments and characters. The soundtrack is also incredibly well done; it features a wide variety of musical styles that fit any situation perfectly, from ethereal piano melodies to powerful rock riffs to haunting chiptunes. The game’s story is told through various cutscenes shown between levels, as well as a series of notes found in each level that provide backstory about the lore of Hollow Knight’s world.

Storyline

Hollow Knight is a game that pulls the player through an emotional rollercoaster. It is about a young man named Hornet who is trying to save his insect-like people from the corruption of a deadly disease called the plague of insects. 

The player must go into a large world, filled with enemies and bosses to kill, and collect charms that allow you to travel back to past areas, which enables you to get new abilities and power ups. 

The graphics are simplistic yet beautiful, and the controls easy to use. The story is engaging and interesting, giving a good reason for the player to continue playing.

As much as I like a game with a good story, I prefer it when a game’s story seeks to compliment gameplay instead of detracting from it. Luckily, Hollow Knight is one such title. 

This game is extremely simple in terms of controls and gameplay mechanics, making it easy to pick up and play even for those who are not necessarily well versed in video games. While mastery of these controls does take time, because there are so few (and they’re all quite intuitive), this doesn’t take long at all. There are no tutorials or prompts that tell you how to attack or dodge—you just do it.

Before diving into Hollow Knight’s depths, it should be noted that this game will provide you with one of the most challenging journeys you’ll ever undertake through a video game. 

The game itself is not difficult because it is poorly designed—quite the contrary, it is difficult because it takes your hand and leads you on a journey of discovery through its world, and expects you to pay attention to your surroundings if you want to survive. It’s for this reason that Hollow Knight will only provide you with fleeting moments of joy if all you want is to experience fast gameplay where your character runs about and destroys everything he encounters without much thought.

Gameplay

Hollow Knight is a side-scrolling game set in a world known as Hallownest. The player controls “The Knight”, an insect-like creature that can attack enemies by swinging a sword or using other items such as bows and spells, to traverse the world, beat bosses, and find new equipment.

Each area of the world is procedurally generated, which means that no two versions are ever exactly alike. Some areas are “safe”, allowing players to heal their wounds at the cost of being able to continue, whereas others contain enemies that can damage the player character upon contact.

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The combat system features multiple layers, with four weapon types and a wide variety of abilities for each weapon type that can be unlocked and upgraded by collecting soul energy from slain enemies. Soul energy is also used to power abilities such as dashes, jumps, and shield blocks. Once obtained, equipment can be equipped at save points found in each area of the game; likewise, items can be sold and replaced at these same locations.

It features an expansive map with dozens of dangerous areas to explore and is further enhanced by an innovative map system that allows you to quickly find your way around without having to painstakingly memorize complicated layouts. The game also offers several different game modes for both single-player and co-op multiplayer, as well as multiple endings depending on your choices during the game.

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The game starts out in a melancholy fashion: it’s dark, but not in an oppressive horror-movie way; it’s dark in a wistful, nostalgic way. You quickly learn that you’re playing as a nameless knight who has been sealed away from his home kingdom after failing to prevent a disaster from befalling it. 

But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just some sad story about how life isn’t fair; while the plot is certainly dreary at times, there are plenty of moments of levity that inject much-needed energy into the mix. This is made possible by impeccable writing and humorous characters (not to mention one memorable villain) that take what would otherwise be a bleak plotline.

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Hollow Knight’s environments take the form of several different types of biomes—dungeons, towns, overworlds and more. Each one is distinct in its own right, with a different level design, enemy placement and visual aesthetic. As soon as you’re familiar with one area, you’re thrown into the next. 

This combination of interconnectedness and progression feels fantastic, making it easy to get lost in the wonderful world of Hallownest. It carries the same feeling of accomplishment that I had when I first set foot on the sprawling map of Super Mario 64—it felt like there was always one more place to go.

One of the main challenges you’ll face in Hollow Knight is navigating its vast, interconnected world. It can be very distracting trying to remember where certain doors and paths are amidst the enormous number of side tunnels and verticality. To remedy this, you can tear up a map on your in-game HUD that marks different paths, points of interests and boss fights by nail, if not by name.

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The game also keeps track of how many secrets you’ve discovered in each area, which adds a nice sense of discovery but isn’t always reliable as all it requires is walking near them and not collecting a reward.

There are far more of these distinct biomes than I ever expected to discover, and the edges of each one blend together with the next in ways that help them make sense in the world. For example, walls on the border of the Fungal Wastes, even impassable ones in other areas, will be dotted with its telltale mushrooms. The lush environment of an area called Greenpath feels bustling and humid, a stark difference to the cold, dark caves of the Forgotten Crossroads. The bubble-filled region of Fog Canyon isn’t technically underwater, but the muffled filter over all of its audio goes hand-in-hand with jellyfish enemies and a brighter blue tone.

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Hollow Knight’s gameplay may be the biggest draw, but some of its most striking elements are purely in the art direction. Its worlds teem with life: flowers, trees, critters, and much more are crammed into every area. 

The sound design goes a long way too. I’m fortunate enough to have a surround sound setup, and it almost felt like playing Hollow Knight in VR at times with how much work has gone into making its surrounding sounds feel present while also not being overbearing. Even the way your character moves feels deliberate—like you’re a little bug waltzing through a land of giants who could squash you at any second.

I ended up spending over 30 hours with Hollow Knight without even getting close to seeing everything it has to offer, though that wouldn’t be an easy feat even if I had spent more time. If you’re looking for an indie title completely unlike anything else out there, Hollow Knight is definitely worth your time.

The Verdict

Hollow Knight, a game that starts off with a small and intimidating world but becomes one of the most massive and imposing games I have played in quite some time.

From the get-go, things are familiar: you run from left to right, jump from platform to platform, slash at enemies. After a few minutes of this though you start to come up on your first enemy, who is just like any other enemy; until you see it, and the camera pans up to show how huge it actually is. 

The extent of its sword goes off the vertical scope of your screen–and then it kills you in one hit, making you wonder how far above must this threat be? This was but an introduction to Hollow Knight’s use of scale however; as soon as I started seeing more enemies much larger than myself my brain began to understand that enemies would either grow huge or stay tiny on the same level as me; thus leading me to move forward at times with more caution than usual.

Hollow Knight is an incredibly well-designed, beautifully animated, and fantastically written game. It’s a perfect example of the power that video games can hold when they earn their mature rating instead of begging for it. However, Hollow Knight is not without flaws, but they’re few and far between, so much so that it invalidates almost every complaint I had with them.

Hollow Knight’s flappy protagonist may look like an archetypical edgelord, but he’s not. Sharp metal wings and giant horns aside, he’s a sad little bug who just wants to find his way out of the pitiless kingdom of bugs he finds himself stranded in. 

And when Hollow Knight clicks, it’s because you’ve gotten as attached to this dude as he has to you. It may be due to an impressive metanarrative trick: The music that plays as your cute-but-mighty hero stumbles about evokes feelings of unease and confusion, using creepy piano keys and whistle tones that suddenly cut off into fragments. 

It suggests the unknowable; it suggests that something is wrong here. And of course when Hollow Knight is good it comes down to its smartly interlocking systems — a combat upgrade here leads to a puzzle solution there that means equipping a new charm there becomes possible.

Hollow Knight is tough to review because it exists in this strange, nebulous middle ground between indie and mainstream. It does everything a big-budget game does: complex bosses, interesting non-boss enemies, side quests for an endless extra challenge, rich lore about the world and its characters. But it does so on a budget of just a few people who have been working on their passion project for years. It’s effectively an indie game that got popular enough to become a mainstream one.

So, with all that said, should you play Hollow Knight? Yes, yes emphatically. While there are a few things holding it back from greatness, Hollow Knight is a unique exercise in atmosphere, player determination and mechanical depth. A few small flaws won’t hold back what could potentially be the best metroidvania around for the forseeable future. If you like the idea of exploring a vast world filled with secrets and danger, but want to avoid the pitfalls of some traditional options, Hollow Knight should be your first choice…even if its “2D Dark Souls” feel isn’t to your liking.

Hollow Knight Review
  • Gameplay
  • Storyline
  • Characters
4.8

Summary

Hollow Knight deserves every bit of praise it has received. It takes the trappings of a Metroidvania and expands on them to make one of the most unique and memorable games in the genre. Each area is a treat to explore, and there’s always something interesting tucked away off the beaten path. The initial learning curve might be a bit steep for newer players, but once you get into the swing of things there’s an incredible amount of depth to Hollow Knight’s world.

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