Hollow Knight Reviews

AuthorReview
Titanium Dragon
101,393
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 1,029
Posted on 09 January 18 at 09:08
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Ever since Hollow Knight was released, I’ve heard from a number of its acolytes about how it is one of their favorite video games, if not their single favorite video game, of all time. So when I got the game for Christmas and installed it to try it out, I have to admit to being rather disappointed by the slow start.

The game starts off with you just having a rather lackluster weapon and the ability to jump. You don’t move terribly fast (though not terribly slow either) and early on, your abilities are sharply limited.

This slow start, I suspect, puts off a lot of people; an awful lot of people seem to start this game and then give up on it. Which is too bad, because once you unlock a few of the movement abilities, the game goes from slow and kind of awkward to very fluid. But for the first couple hours, the lack of movement abilities and your slow maneuvering through a pretty large environment can be rather boring. It was only after beating the second boss and unlocking the dash that the game really felt like it was starting to open up, and only after I got the wall jump in the third area I explored that things really started feeling fluid.

Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania; that is to say, it is a game where you explore an environment and unlock various abilities which allow you to explore new portions of the environment. Unlike many such games, Hollow Knight is not very linear; many portions of the game can be completed out of order, and indeed, after getting the wall jump upgrade and the first upgrade to your sword, the “correct” order likely doesn’t exist at all – you can complete a number of different pieces of content in a variety of different orders.

This is perhaps the game’s greatest strength – Metroidvanias are about exploration, and unlike many Metroidvania games, the growth of the area you can explore over the course of Hollow Knight feels very natural, with only a few “black barriers” that feel overly like they were inserted just to force you to get an upgrade to pass. Otherwise, the movement abilities combine in natural-feeling ways to allow you to explore more of the world.

The game also does a pretty good job of rewarding your “gamer sense” – that is to say, the sense that, if you were to try to explore in a certain way, that you think that a secret might be in a certain direction, there often is one. I was happy with how often this paid off; many modern games don’t feel like they insert their secrets very well, so when this game allowed me to find many secrets in natural-feeling ways by following what I thought might be right, it felt good.

The game has quite excellent enemy variety as well – while the game boasts a theoretical 150-odd enemies, it is probably closer to 100 plus some tougher repeats. This is still a pretty high number, and the game boasts literally dozens of bosses – a very respectable number. Not only that, but almost all of the bosses possess unique attack patterns, and while some of these are a bit on the simple side, in many cases they work quite well, and it feels good to master some of the bosses and be able to beat them without sustaining significant damage.

The aesthetic of the game is a bit hit and miss – at first, it felt sort of “generic cutesy indie game” to me, with the mask faces. But as the game went on, I felt better about the aesthetic, and some of the later areas look really pretty. There’s a great deal of environmental variety across the game, and a lot of areas look really good and have neat artistic ideas around them. This carries over to the bosses and characters, who all look quite distinctive and unique.

While all of this sounds very glowing, it should be noted that there are some caveats to this game.

I haven’t mentioned the story at all, and that is because there hardly is one. This game clearly took a lot of inspiration from Dark Souls, not only in mostly telling the story via snippets in your inventory and short dialogue scenes with very spread-out NPCs, but also in the central plot feeling in some ways a bit reminiscent of the first Dark Souls. The story is extremely lightweight and there isn’t really all that much to it in the end; there were really only three characters who I at all cared about, and one of them was a comedy relief character who mostly was just there to be silly. While the two other NPCs that appeared periodically (and eventually helped me in boss fights) were neat, every other NPC in the game, despite having a neat appearance, had no interesting personality, and even the NPCs that I did care about had at most two dimensions rather than just one.

The game also suffers from a lot of very easily missed secrets. There were a lot of secrets which basically were found by hitting the wall in random places with your sword and hoping it broke; while there was often some visual indication of where this could be done, there wasn’t always, and while some of these appeared in places where it felt natural for there to be a tunnel, others were just on random patches of wall. Worse, these weren’t always consistent – there was one “cracked” wall that you couldn’t break with your sword and had to break with an environmental enemy, which, while not too hard to figure out, took me a bit because the visual indication was basically the same.

The openness also makes it easy to overlook some important things – I didn’t find the shop NPC until I was in the third area of the game and ended up looking it up, and it turned out they were in the first area of the game, but I had simply missed them. Because of the way the game is structured, it isn’t always obvious that you’re missing something like that.

The mapping in the game was also somewhat questionable. While the minimap worked okay, you had to find a NPC in each area to give you a part of the map, which you could then fill in the rest of yourself. In some areas, this was really easy to do, but in others, it was easy to go the wrong way and not find the map NPC for quite some time. Navigating the areas blindly is rather annoying. Adding to that, you also don’t actually fill in new rooms on your map until you sit down at a bench (which also double as save points/checkpoints/healing points) – and while I get the concept of actually physically filling out your map, it was annoying in practice. After I got every area of the game mapped out, I almost forgot about this nuisance, but it was annoying while it lasted.

The final thing that bothered me was the backtracking. Metroidvanias often involve a lot of backtracking, but this game involved a huge amount of it. The reason is that the quick travel system is presented in-game as some trams and a stag beetle that carries you down a network of tunnels specifically built for it. Both of these systems only come out at certain spots, meaning that you must travel to these points to fast travel to somewhere near where you actually want to go, and then go from there.

This means that if you end up getting somewhere and then realizing you can’t progress further in that direction due to the lack of an ability or because it is too hard or whatever, you have to backtrack a bunch and then go out another way, possibly backtracking again to get there. Some areas of the game are particularly far from the fast travel points, including one crucial shop NPC who fixes broken charms (equippable items that give you passive upgrades), which was obnoxious every time I had to go back to fix one. While backtracking can be interesting when you are hunting for secrets, oftentimes it was just boring, and at the end of the game, when you unlock the last few abilities, you often have to do a significant amount of backtracking to get out to where they’re useful – and sometimes, you might not realize that you need to go to a certain location at all due to a lack of in-game direction to do so.

All of this niggled at me, and in the end, this game felt like it took me much longer than it should have due to these issues.

I did enjoy this game, and when this game is good, it was quite fun. But the game starts off kind of slow, and there’s moments in the middle where you have to do a bunch of boring backtracking which weren’t all that fun. On the whole, I’d recommend this, albeit with the caveat that this game isn’t perfect and starts off kind of slow. On the other hand, if you are a big fan of Metroidvanias, this is one of the better ones I’ve played.
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