Hollow Knight: An insect success (Review)

Every once in a while an Indie game captures the attention of everyone in the gaming community. In the past, titles such as a Shovel Knight and Cuphead dominated the conversation and now, especially with the announcement of its sequel, Hollow Knight is the next Indie darling gaining attention.

Hollow Knight takes an obtuse form of storytelling. The game begins with a nameless knight descending into the ruined kingdom of Hallownest, and that’s about it. Every other piece of story is told through optional pieces of text, characters who speak in poetic turns of phrase or subtle details in the environment that encourage players to think more about the areas they traverse throughout the game.

While this presentation of the story may seem overly convoluted, I actually like it. Hallownest’s history is beautifully dark, and discovering the little hidden details is a reward unto itself. It also promotes exploration which is where the real fun of the game lies.

Similar to many modern Indie games, Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania, a type of platformer which combines exploration and elements of role–playing games such as leveling up. For the most part Hollow Knight, succeeds in this well worn formula with typical upgrades such as a dash, double jump, etc. But where Hollow Knight bucks trends is with the map.

The map is a key part of any Metroidvania as players often need to return to previous areas to explore them completely. However, Hollow Knight’s implementation of this classic mechanic is … odd.

Everytime players enter a new area, they’ll first need to find the friendly map maker, Cornifer. After purchasing a map, only a small part of it is shown so even more exploration needs to be performed in order for the map to be filled in. This isn’t so much of a problem when Cornifer is at the beginning of areas, but in areas where he is at the middle or end it can be a little frustrating learning your way around, especially when tough enemies lurk around every corner.

Thankfully, once players do acquire a map, the rest of the game’s exploration takes hold. Finding upgrades to one’s health, weapons and magic is inherently satisfying and the feeling of constantly getting stronger is a highly addictive one. The other addictive aspect of the game comes in the form of its difficulty.

Hollow Knight is challenging. Really challenging. The game makes you feel like the bug one controls as players get crushed over and over and over again. This is exemplified by the bosses, yet this is where a lot of the game’s enjoyment comes from. Everytime players finally gain the wherewithal and skill to vanquish a particularly fearsome foe, they are hit with a rush of immense satisfaction that will keep them going.

Witnessing the new, nearly insurmountable bosses as they first appear provides a combination of curiosity and trepidation, like getting back that English essay where you’re not exactly sure how you did. The difficulty however is not the only driving force to keep gamers going.

The game’s style is one all its own. While every character is an insect of sort, the inhabitants of Hallownest are anything but disgusting. No, instead they are cute, even adorable, but the game does a great job subverting this initial tone. Every area provides an underlying feeling of ruin and infection. It helps add to the feeling that gamers are exploring a once mighty civilization.

The soundtrack aids in this feeling as well. The game is filled with calming and tense songs alike. Other pieces also invoke feelings of somberness, like a part of the world gamers explore is dying and about to take its last breath. It’s a world that one can become fully immersed in.

Hollow Knight is gaining so much media attention for a reason. It’s addictive gameplay, beautiful presentation and interesting world are all reasons why. While some of Hollow Knight’s attempts to mix up the standard formula of Metroidvanias unfortunately fail, it is still a game worth its price tag and one of the best Metroidvanias in modern memory. I can’t wait for the sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong.

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