Hollow Knight Review - A Delightful Atmospheric Adventure
Quick Glance - Hollow Knight
- Platform - Linux, Mac, PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch
- Players – 1
- Achievements – Yes
- Steam Trading Cards - Yes
- Controller Support - Yes (Highly Recommended!)
- Retail Price - $14.99
High Level Premise: You’re a tenacious stag-beetle-skull boy, spirited into existence by creator unknown, set off to discover all that lies within Hallownest.
Graphics/Style: 2D dark platformer. Hand drawn feel, similar to games from “The Behemoth” but with a Tim Burton style. Gameplay is interspersed with well-done storybook cinematics, possibly influenced by a Grimms’ Fairy Tale or two.
Music/Soundtrack: Minimialistic and perfect. Macabre at some points and whimsical in others, and always a proper fit for the environment you’re exploring.
Story: There is a barebones storyline that manifests itself in the form of on-screen blurbs and cryptic messages (think Lost Odyssey) at various points through your travel. One character, whose name is not immediately revealed, hints that the dead have woken. Nothing is explained to you as you begin, with the exception of basic motor skills. You simply fall down a well shortly after the tutorial and begin unraveling the maze of caverns and dangers below the town of Dirtmouth.
Replay-ability: I could see this being the type of game that you might only want to experience once or twice, but that depends on whether the subterranean network gets randomized at all on subsequent playthroughs.
Time Commitment: The time it takes to load into the game is minimal. You can save at any time. However, you start your game at the last bench that you sat on. That could mean being set back a few minutes from where you last left off if you save in a random location.
Value: The price they’re asking for this game is very agreeable. The gameplay is satisfying, and the mysteries, puzzles and challenges you’re presented with are worth paying an extra $5 - $10 over what they’re charging.
Favorite Element(s): The charm system, reminiscent of Paper Mario’s badge system, brings a fun, artifact-collecting aspect to the game. It encourages swapping out your gear for circumstantial encounters. It has a collect ‘em all feel, each charm given unique artwork and meaning, instead of simply giving you a bronze sword as an upgrade to your copper sword, for example. Boring.
I also really enjoy the “tactile” responses the player experiences. They help take this game beyond a basic platformer and make it more immersive. The “feel” when you hit an enemy, or when they hit you, is not subtle. There’s a hearty crunch if you strike one of the various beetle-like denizens, a dull clang for hitting a suit of armor with a squishy bug rattling around inside of it, and the ever-satisfying crumble of a beetle statue that unfortunately ended up in your warpath.
As with most of the games I play, I don’t do a lot of homework beforehand to see what I’m getting into. That takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. So once the Hollow Knight install was complete (very reasonable) I went in with a blank slate.
After a short tutorial section, I arrive at the main “town” called Dirtmouth. Yeah, Dirtmouth. It doesn’t really matter what the town is called, there’s not much to look at, the only things nearby are a spaced out beetle elder and a shiny bench. Cool.
The beetle elder seems to be having a spiritual experience and mentions something about a well. A well? Sure, I’ll go investigate…
And...investigation complete! If by complete you mean fall directly into the well with no regard for my own health or safety. While dusting myself off at the bottom, it becomes clear to me that I’ll be spending the majority of the game exploring a network of tunnels, pitfalls and secret nooks in the vast subterranean expanse that lay before me. But maybe without a map? I don’t seem to have one.
(Eventually you do start to get maps, and items to upgrade you map features)
I explored the immediate areas around the base of the well, which I fortunately could climb back out of if I wished. I found slaying the local beetle fodder gratifying and I wasted no time collecting up the blackish stones that fell from their corpses. That was Geo, and it seems to be used as currency by the residents of Dirtmouth… eventually.
Throughout my adventure, I find that the unique areas and characters in the game add a solid flavor to the experience. The Temple of the Black Egg, The Pilgrim’s Way, some kind of “Worm King” and Cornifer the Cartographer are a few of the names and places I stumble across. In one corner of the map, I enter a thick, garden-like area, inconveniently blocked by a massive armadillo creature that launches great blobs of bioluminescence at me. I get trapped in a small, unremarkable room at one point, and have to fight my way out through waves of enemies. And what would a game like this be without some boss battles? Of course I run into a few, but I won’t spoil those for you. Fortunately there are rejuvenation rooms scattered throughout, with pools of a shimmering, pearly white liquid and a nice bench to recover (and save progress) on.
When you die in the game, you lose all of your currency, but, not entirely. A la Dark Souls, when you get back to where you died, you can recover your lost Geo, but only after you defeat an evil shade of yourself!
The charms you collect, as I mention above, is the nice RPG element that really completes this game. They are scattered throughout the world, not all purchased from vendors, some found after a particularly difficult encounter. Each of them are unique and have different equip requirements and effects that help keep the player wondering what’s next. One, for example, simply allows you to see yourself on the map. Another, allows you to become invulnerable for longer after taking damage. I personally can’t wait to see what other abilities I might unearth.
All in all, the game is great fun. I’m not usually into platformers, but something about this title is charming. The hand-drawn feel makes the game more relatable in a way, and everything in it feels deliberate and in place. You can tell that Team Cherry wasn’t trying to push out a quick moneymaker, they were making a worthwhile experience. Kudos!