Hollow Knight: A Dark Yet Whimsical Gaming Experience
As of late, I have been playing a lot of indie games. As an aspiring indie developer myself, I believe in supporting the community as well as learning from other developer's successes and mistakes.
So, when I was told that I was going to reviewing Hollow Knight -- a recently released Metroidvania with a "Very Positive" rating on Steam -- I was quite excited.
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A Well-Balanced Aesthetic
Hollow Knight, the product of developer Team Cherry, is a 2D side-scroller with gorgeous hand-drawn art. And let me tell you -- the art style for this game is amazing. Despite the dark and gloomy color scheme that marks most of the game, it still manages to feel warm...even inviting...in some sections of the game.
The amazing soundtrack only adds to the overall feel, with its quaint melodies and fantasy vibe. And it's earned a spot on my list of games with great soundtrack, right alongside titles like Risk of Rain and Hyperlight Drifter.
There is a great balance between the hand-drawn art style and graphical effects that make it hard to differentiate between the two at times. I notice it in things like the particle effects when you slay enemies and bosses, as well as in some of the lighting. It just feels so natural... well, as natural as a decaying kingdom populated with bug people can get.
Room to Roam
Like I mentioned above, Hollow Knight takes place mostly in an underground kingdom of bug people. You play as some nameless hero bug, armed only with a nail sword. You will follow the path of the many other heroes that have come before, but never returned from the depths of decaying kingdom. What drove them to explore it...well, that's something you'll figure out along your journey.
And explore you shall! Hollow Knight, like other games in the genre, encourages you to explore all that it has to offer. And it has a lot to offer. You'll be able to cover a fair bit of the map initially, but as you progress you'll need a combination of charms -- equipable relics that grant a number of buffs and abilities -- and some skills learned from bosses and NPCs in order to reach all areas.
Despite the size of the map, and the amount of backtracking that you'll be doing as you gain new abilities and charms, the game never really feels like a chore. Enemies will typically respawn once you leave an area, which allows you to farm for Geo (the currency used in the game).
Boss Battles Galore
There are plenty of enemies to fight and quite a variety as well -- most with their own unique patterns and abilities. But Hollow Knight does a good job of introducing you to it without putting you in over your head. That doesn't mean you're going to have an easy go of it, however, as there are a number of challenging bosses to face as well. How many bosses, you ask? There are over 30 unique bosses in the game!
A number of these boss fights are optional, and if you're the type of person who gets frustrated when you die over and over, then you might have a hard time playing this game. It actually reminded me of boss fights in Dark Souls, though not quite as rage-inducing. I can say, however, that managing to take out a boss on the first try is very satisfying -- but that is generally not the case for me.
Also, like the Souls games, when you die you lose all of the Geo that you have collected up to that point and have to fight a shadow version of yourself to recover it. I found this to be a good mechanic for the game, as it forces you to think about what you're doing and what you're going to do. If you die before you can recover your Geo, then it is lost forever. So you really go into each area with a lot more respect for your enemies.
Something else that Hollow Knight really has going for it is great player controls. In a game like this, having good controls is a must -- and Team Cherry did a great job on this front. That said, I have to take the developer's side in highly recommending the use of a controller to play the game.
The control scheme pairs nicely with how the player gains abilities as they progress in the game, which keeps you from being overwhelmed. You have time to progress in your skills and gain mastery over abilities like dash, double jump, and charged attacks.
You'll have plenty of time to perfect those controls as well, since there is so much to do in the game. There are a number of hidden areas scattered all over the rather large map and plenty of things to uncover. I'm roughly 5 hours into the game at the time of writing this, and there are a number of achievements still grayed out that I'm eager to unlock. I can easily see this as a 30+ hour game, especially since there is more than one ending to the game.
It's not too often that I get the time to really play a game in-depth before I get to review it, and a lot of the time it ends up on my backlog afterward. But Hollow Knight is a game that I'm going to make time to finish, because it is simply that good. From the beautiful art and the enchanting musical score, to the depth of its story and achievements, Hollow Knight is a must-play game for anyone that claims to be a fan of Metroidvania titles.
You can find the game now on the Steam Marketplace for $14.99 for PC/Mac/Linux, and there's also a planned release for the Nintendo Switch coming sometime this year.
Note: A copy of the game was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.