Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.
A week ago, I downloaded Hollow Knight from the Nintendo eShop on my Switch. Long story short, the more and more I played, the more surprised I became.
My first opinion of this game was, "I'm lost, and I'm okay with this." I had this feeling because of Hollow Knight's unique art style and captivating musical score. I was oftentimes blown away by the sheer care and time that went into this homage to Metroidvania games of old. The animations are also beautifully crafted as well. Now that I think about it, the art direction of the game as a whole is original and impactful as are the tight and satisfying mechanics.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I easily get lost in Metroidvania games. Normally, when I'm lost in a similar game, I immediately lose interest. In this case, however, you are rewarded for backtracking in the form of racking up the in-game currency, which can later use to purchase items that assist you in finding your way around.
Another note I'd like to make is that the more I wandered, the more I found. I found two boss battles, a couple of NPCs, and different enemy variations that kept things fresh despite being clueless as to where I was supposed to go. Eventually, I bought a map and a compass and various "pins," and it was fairly smooth sailing from there. All in all, I fell in love with this game fairly quickly.
Many reviewers, myself included, have praised Hollow Knight's story to no end. It's deep yet subtle. It's dark yet quirky.
Hollow Knight tells you very little about the story firsthand. All of these monumental events happened long before you came along, leaving you to explore the aftermath. The player must uncover the troubled past of Hollownest, should they choose to explore its depths further than what is necessary, and if they do, the story will come through loud and clear for them.
It is a tragic tale, but it doesn't forget to take the time to be beautiful and hopeful, and those moments are easy to enjoy with the fantastic hand-drawn art style. Hollow Knight is a world that manages to get its traction with memorable characters and expansive lore.
The only way to do this story any justice is if you go and explore it yourself. Nothing I could say could scratch the surface of one of the deepest Metroidvania stories to date.
Hollow Knight's beauty and thrills rely just as heavily on combat as they do art direction. Combat is easy to pick up but tricky to master, as it relies heavily on timing. It's simple and effective and rewards patience and skill. Players must attack enemies with quick reflexes based on their patterns.
Along with good timing, you can greatly improve your weapon, health, and abilities through an upgrade system known as "charms," in which the player must use their in-game currency known as "Geo" which they earn from eliminating enemies. However, most of these are not necessary to complete the game, considering the player will get better as they continue through the game.
Combat is very forgiving as well given the fact that when you strike an enemy, you are granted a resource called Soul which is, essentially, your "magic." The Soul gauge is used for abilities like healing and ranged attacks. Yep, if you take some serious damage from one of the weaker enemies in the game, you will be granted the ability to heal yourself.
If you do run out of HP, you lose all of your Geo, unfortunately, but you are given the opportunity to get that Geo back, much like in the Dark Souls series. Simply return to the place you died, kill the shadow of your former self, and reclaim your Geo.
The boss fights are also tremendously fun, and thankfully, there are dozens of them. With so many boss fights, most games would fall flat and forget to include fresh ideas for each encounter. With Hollow Knight, however, each boss fight is tremendously different from the last. One moment, you could be facing a hulking brute, and the next, you could be facing a small, agile character.
Another important thing about the boss fights: Strategize from your mistakes. Trust me—you will get destroyed often by these bosses, but you can learn from your mistakes and time your attacks, placements, and healing a lot more carefully, and if all else fails, you can grind and make your abilities stronger to give you more of an edge in the toughest fights. As I mentioned earlier, the simplistic beauty of the combat mechanics alone in Hollow Knight makes for an addicting game.
The best content Hollow Knight has to offer, believe it or not, lies in its secrets and optional pieces of content that most miss out on with their first playthrough. Bosses, items, areas, lore, and more make for a very beefy Metroidvania, and given the minimal story you have to go off of starting out, it's exciting to uncover each and every piece of optional content Hollow Knight offers. The best part? It all doesn't feel like excess baggage to hit the 40+ hours of gameplay it could take to complete Hollow Knight 100%. Personally, I felt genuinely rewarded for finding each of the numerous secrets that this game offers.
Should you need to return to a previous area with a new ability that helps you reach areas you couldn't before, there is also a quick-travel system involving a fun character named The Last Stag. Where this character could have easily been made into an animal-like creature with nothing really notable to say, Team Cherry had the brilliant idea to make The Last Stag a comedic, wise character that has something interesting to say about each area he takes you to.
Let me put it this way—if you're stuck to the main course of the game, you're playing it wrong. While the story of Hollow Knight is beautiful on its own, taking the time to complete the optional portions creates a much better experience, especially if you want the best ending of the game (in my opinion), which brings me to my next point: replayability.
As I mentioned before, this game has so much to offer along with three endings that can be acquired.
You also unlock an extremely difficult perma-death mode called Steel Soul, and, trust me, it is very challenging. So challenging, in fact, that only 0.5% of Steam players have accomplished this feat.
There is a number of side quests to do in the game, and a number of collectibles to obtain, this can be accomplished during your first playthrough, however.
The most notable post-game content for Hallow Knight is the two free content updates that Team Cherry has added to the game. Much like Shovel Knight, Hallow Knight is given the same form of treatment, giving players more lore, collectibles, bosses, and areas to explore. There will also be a new update coming soon.
So, all in all, Hollow Knight offers a good variety of replayability that will draw players back to its vast, charming world.
Verdict: 5 Stars
Hollow Knight and its world feel alive. The game offers a plethora of deep, rich content. The forgotten kingdom of Hollownest is built with branching paths that you are encouraged to explore and take a few moments to stop and take in the sheer beauty of it all.
With numerous secrets to find and various challenging enemies to overcome, Hollow Knight offers one of the finest gaming experiences to date and is more than deserving of your time.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.