Name: Hollow Knight
Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Release Date: 24 February 2017
Platform: PC (click here for the Steam link)
It’d be really easy to sit here and liken Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight to any Metroid game, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Hollow Knight plays a helluva lot like classic and contemporary Metroid games. If there was ever a game that embodies the word “Metroidvania”, it’s Hollow Knight. Cut it in half and you’ll find a picture of Samus Aran running through it.
Ok, so you get it by now. Hollow Knight is a 2D platformer with a sprawling map to explore. Periodic skill upgrades enable you to backtrack and access previously out-of-reach areas, find more upgrades, and advance the story.
But instead of super missiles and life-draining flying parasites, Hollow Knight offers a weird and wonderful world full of talking bugs, corporeal dreams and ancient prophecies. The game opens with a tough but diminutive warrior awakening and jumping from a really high cliff to find a largely abandoned village called Dirtmouth.
It sits above a ruined, ancient kingdom that was sealed a long time ago – only the well in Dirtmouth allows access. And there’s something down there stirring from a long slumber…
Mechanically, Hollow Knight is everything you could ask for from a modern platformer. Expanding on the classic basics, it adds in a plethora of new twists and ideas to provide a challenging title even for genre veterans. All of those speed run videos you can find will seem extra impressive once you actually play the game for yourself.
The protagonist attacks foes with his trusty nail, bashing enemies at melee range. Supplementing this are some ranged spells, and later, advanced nail techniques that let you deliver charged power attacks. Enemies drop currency that can be used to buy map upgrades, more charms, or expand the nifty Stag system that serves as the ancient kingdom’s Underground network.
Adding versatility to how you play Hollow Knight is the charm system. Each charm has a different effect, and occupies a certain number of notches; the more powerful the effect, the more notches you use up. For example, you can use a charm that gives you bonus health, that shows where you are on the map, or extends the attack range of the nail to attack enemies.
You can gain more notches by purchasing them at stores, or unlocking them via challenges, but ultimately it comes down to the choice of having fewer stronger boons, or more numerous weaker ones. I found myself leaning towards the latter, though of course every player will be different. And the sheer volume of charms makes it fun to experiment with different combinations.
And experiment you shall, because Hollow Knight can be savagely, ruthlessly, mercilessly hard. There’s a small safety redundancy in place in that if you die, all of your hard-earned cash stays in the same location with a shade of your former self. If you defeat it, you reclaim your lost loot. But if you die again before you do, it’s all lost. Forever. And that’s even before you play the game in Steel Soul mode, which inflicts permadeath.
Luckily, Hollow Knight is a pleasure for the eyes and ears, so although the repeated deaths you’ll endure will culminate in repeated rage quits, exploring the labyrinthine depths of the fallen kingdom of Hallownest will take the edge off the anger.
I continue to be a fan of understated graphic styles, and the sleepy, dusty kingdom of Hallownest certainly showcases one. There’s such a rich and varied texture to each of the areas; the palette of Hollow Knight isn’t that varied, which makes how distinct the different sections of the world are such an achievement.
And what a world map it is. There’s a sprawling maze of interconnected caverns, rivers of acid, and forests of fungus to explore. And if there is a joy above all of the others in Hollow Knight, it’s in the exploration. The game places a high premium on the art of mapping, making it really difficult at first to navigate the mysterious depths.
Indeed, it’ll cost you a precious charm notch just to keep track of where you are at any given time. Incomplete maps of each area must be bought, and yet another item purchased to add new rooms to the map as you travel through them. Map pins keep track of places of interest – once you buy them, of course. Fortunately, Hollow Knight doesn’t operate a microtransaction system!
You can lose hours plumbing the depths of Hollow Knight, and just when things get too frustrating – and they will get frustrating – it’s easy to put the difficult area to one side in favour another far-flung corner of the large game map. A treat for the eyes, a nostalgia hit for old-school Metroid fans, and more challenges than a political election in Florida; Hollow Knight has a lot to offer.