Review | Hollow Knight
"Explore the bug’s underworld and become the ultimate bug of them all! Hollow Knight is one of the finest side-scrolling games out there, do not let it pass by (I have no idea what I was waiting for all this time)."
As a fan of games like Castlevania, I occasionally search for similar titles. Hollow Knight was on my radar for quite some time, but I never tried it. Couple of years after it has been released, that day has come. I mastered the game, enjoyed more than I anticipated I would, and when do we get a sequel?!
All right, first things first. Salutes to Team Cherry, a small studio behind Kickstarter which made this happen. The inspiration comes from Megaman X, and of course, Castlevanias, and the idea was to develop a game where every inch and second counts when it comes to platforming. The freedom of movement really fits well, and I will explain all of that, but for now, let’s just say that we have a cute game that shows the dark side of A Bug’s Story (remember the movie?). A game where we control one bug, discover the whole underground and fight against other bugs? I really don’t know what I was waiting for.
Welcome young hollow bug! You are yet to become a fine knight and get rid of the infestation in this wrecked world. Buy a map asap.
So, yeah, you are a small bug with a nail (yes, a nail) as a weapon, making your way to discover undergrounds under Dirtmouth (starting village that lost its livelihood due to infection) in Hollownest kingdom. To prevent the infection the Pale King tried to seal the infection behind doors but failed to do so for once a flourished kingdom. When it spread through it drove the citizens to madness and undeath.
I love the idea behind the story. All NPCs contributes to the overall “feel” of the journey so well. As you progress through, bugs move and follow your progress, comment related situations, and even help in some boss battles. The whole narration simply shines, even though there are no voiceovers. Instead, you will hear made up language that the bugs speak. I freakin’ loved how they sound when they talk, it’s so sweet! When you finish a certain questline some inhabitants will share more about their life, some will even ask of you to ease their suffering. What they did with this part is simply witty. It “rides” well with one of the better soundtracks I heard in a while.
It's worth mentioning that game features couple of endings, each showing you short animation how certain events unfolds. The one with the mushroom is maybe the best one! Also, this is not the only time where you get animated cutscenes – many more are included, giving more context to an already fine hollow knight’s pilgrimage.
There is so much to do here. Even the smallest mechanics holds something valueable - like upgrading your weapon (the nail!). Be sure to backtrack once you get all of the powers (rewards are always neat)
What about the worldbuilding? I’m glad you asked! Progress is refined to its maximum. At least this is how I see it. There is a lot of backtracking, but it all makes sense. You start with a blunt nail, without any power, with couple of lives; without skills to reach distant or high areas. So, yeah, getting skills like rush or double jump is a must to fully explore this gorgeous, huge game.
How they did all of this is what inspired me to play it until the end without a minute of frustration even with often backtracking to some areas. With so many secrets, breakable walls, sections which require a lot of precise platforming – combining that with cute art and addictive gameplay is where it shines the most. I never felt bored for a second, especially on some boss fights which lasted for a good hour or so. It’s not easy, let me tell you that (Nightmare King, I’m looking at you!). So, expect a challenge. This one is all about the challenge and maximum precision of your fingers. As I adore a good challenge, what more can I ask for? What you expect is what you get, believe me.
The only period which felt a bit confusing was the beginning. Without the map and the pointer where you actually are, you will be quite confused where to go and what to do. Just be patient and discover as much as you can. Somewhere along the road you will get hooked and that will last until the end.
There is no lack of challenge, let me tell you that. Whether it's the arena, or some boss fights in their second encounters... It all comes down how skilled you are, and that is what I loved the most.
When you get the hang of it that is where you get the most out of the game. Maybe a downside is not being able to fast travel for some time. Even when you unlock traveling bug to carry you between station points, you can still just travel between these stations without an option to get closer to where you want to go next. I mean, I get it, but after 40 hours it felt a bit too much. Good thing is that you also unlock a certain skill that can serve as a teleport point, but still, you will have to traverse some halls over and over again. You want to get to that blacksmith bug to upgrade your nail? Sure, let’s travel across 10 rooms every time you wish to do so.
Not much more I can say about the negatives. Combat and platforming are top notch. Jumping by pressing jump button just a bit jumps just a bit (it makes sense!). Holding it more jumps higher. You get the point – and this means you have full control in rooms where you need to avoid spikes and jump perfectly to reach some neat reward. And boy, the rewards are great! Upgrading your life bar is a must, alongside with upgrading your nail to inflict more damage. You also collect charms, which you then equip on benches (checkpoints, also serve as a place where you expand your map based on whether you visited rooms for the first time). There are 40 charms to be found, and you will be able to equip around 4-7 when you max out your charm slots. Each charm gives some bonus. Balancing the perfect build can be a lot of fun, especially with such a decent boss/challenge variety.
Lastly, when you attack you fill out your heal/skill bar, which can be used to heal (but healing takes time, you must time it properly in between attacks) or to spend it on skills you unlock during your progress. It’s not easy to heal in boss battles, let me tell you that!
To sum thing up, I can say that map mechanics where you expand the map by sitting on the bench after exploring new areas, plus buying certain pointers in shops to show areas of interest on that map is balanced perfectly in a way that you don’t lose that exploration factor. You always need to look carefully where some secret possibly is, even when you know that something is in the room. Well done Team Cherry!
Nightmare King will truly be your worst nightmare. In the Voidheart edition all DLC's are included, making this the ultimate Hollow Knight experience. If you aim to pass the Pantheon challenges - be sure to prepare properly.
I just ended up in love. DLC’s that came later are part of the Voidheart edition which is now how you buy this on the consoles. The Grimm Troupe add-on is excellent, and the Pantheon challenges is where you can challenge 10/10 platinum difficulty if you want. I felt like the game is perfectly balanced and for casual players it’s just enough. You can ease your pain with good preparation and life extenders/charms if you ever get stuck.
Do not quit during first few hours! This game is worth it, the music is so good; the bug’s life was never more interesting! Exploring the underground and killing of all bugs you know from the real life (but of course, in their cartoonish version) is a ton of fun. You need to invest time and learn how to play to harvest the goodies. Be careful about dying and not getting your money back – it’s a souls-like way of collecting back what you lose during death.
I don’t know, I end up loving this more than I thought at start. Hollow Knight is a polished bug masterpiece on its own that will provide challenge, beautiful art and suiting notes that compliment this fine piece of gaming history and present. I strongly recommend giving it a chance, you will not be disappointed. Pogo your way across the kingdom, master the nail arts and I will see you in their next game for sure (day 1 for me without a thought).
"One of the best games in this genre."
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