Hollow Knight (Mini-Review)

It seems to be a great time to be a gamer if you’re a fan of the “Metroidvania” genre. With its use of expansive maps and a progress curve that gradually opens up areas as you accumulate the right skills or items, players can get a lot of value out of a single title as they work their way through to a game’s end. Hollow Knight from developer Team Cherry feels like another great example of the genre that’s been built with care to preserve the concepts of the past but with enough elements of modern design elements to keep it both tough and fair.

After obsessing over Dead Cells last year it’s nice to jump into another game in the genre; especially one that aims for a different pace and atmosphere. The story opens with your character arriving at what appears to be a mostly abandoned town with the citizenry having headed underground for by the lure of what’s below but never to return The population consists of a variety of insect like characters and you’ll soon meet a few with very human traits that are revealed through dialogue. As you progress further in the world you’ll learn more about what’s happened but you’ll have a few obstacles to overcome first…

The beginning of your travels underground…

Things I like:

  • The game encourages you to both fight and stay alive. The very first ability you learn is to restore your health (indicated by masks on the HUD). Fighting enemies fills your Soul Vessel and allows you to continue to restore your health so from the outset you have the means to avoid a lot of unnecessary deaths. You are still likely to die a lot but hopefully it’ll be a lot less cheap deaths.
  • Death doesn’t always mean losing everything with a spectre of your former self remaining on the map. If you can defeat them (not too hard) the coins you lost at the time will be returned.
  • Visually the game is striking with a focus on a monochrome look for most characters and environments which helps make the splashes of colour really stand out more. The insect-like characters are distinctive using a comic style with thick outlines and detail. Once you become familiar with the enemies, they are quick to identify which is handy during combat. The backgrounds are great and don’t get in the way of the player’s focus on the characters which seems intentional and smart too.
  • The world that’s been created feels well realized and the effort made to keep the game’s mechanics fit within that is appreciated. An example that springs to mind is the fast travel system – you unlock over time and its use involves ringing a bell at a station to summon a giant insect which you can ride to your destination. It requires a little work to use but it doesn’t break the game (limited to travel between stations) nor does it take the player out of the world either as you’re treated to a brief travel cinematic.
Park benches provide rest stops and checkpoints.

Things I don’t like:

  • There can be a bit of a grind in the beginning as you work on purchasing your first shop items. It’s necessary as you’ll at least want the basic mapping tools to begin with but it might make you avoid venturing out too far. I’ll add that this is just me desperately trying to find a negative!

This is one nice game to play. The controls are easy to pick up and the initial learning curve is slight enough for you to “get good” with the skills you start with before being exposed to the rest. I think it’s still going to be a massive time sink for me but it’ll be worth it and it’s keeping me captivated so far… 🙂

Hollow Knight is out now for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch. Played on Xbox One via Game Pass.

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