Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
Released originally on PC in 2017, Hollow Knight is a kickstarter-backed Metroidvania 2D action platformer that is as challenging as it is beautiful. Now available on Switch, Hollow Knight comes complete with all the free content packs released last year and a number of game updates. The first thing you’ll notice when you start your journey is how gorgeous Hollow Knight looks and how beautiful the piano based soundtrack is by Christopher Larkin. Team Cherry is a small development studio but you wouldn’t know it from how accomplished Hollow Knight feels even from the get-go. Not many games have the ‘Nintendo polish’ but Hollow Knight is one of them, feeling truly like a first-party AAA Nintendo game.
You play as ‘The Knight’, a bug-like creature with a ghostly appearance who doesn’t speak and carries a nail for a weapon. There are numerous other creatures both friendly and non-friendly and all have a melancholy style that brims with personality. There is no shortage of characters in this game for players to love and listening to them talk reveals some really great world lore. Much like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight gives the player little nuggets of info, slowly filling in the peripheral of the world, but never so much where things make crystal clear sense. The ambiguity of who you are, where you are, what you’re doing is an intriguing driving force to push further into the underground world of Hollow Nest.
There are many areas in Hollow Knight and they all interconnect in fascinating ways. Team Cherry has found a great balance of slowly giving out upgrades which allow you to reach new places without making the world ever feel gated off. It’s a hard balance to find but Hollow Knight’s world feels open and dangerous and it never tells the player were to go or what to do. This can lead to some confounding moments early in the game— but when you finally reach that new area the build up is extremely rewarding. As you find new paths and explore caves and abandoned railways you must sit on benches to rest and The Knight draws in the progress on your map. Each area has unique music, new enemies, bosses, and plenty of terrifying environmental hazards. From bubbling acid water, to flower’s that shoot out explosive seeds, just surviving one screen to the next can be an accomplishment.
Thankfully, Hollow Knight never feels cheap. All deaths feel avoidable, and the combat and character movement is fluid enough where you can really react in the moment. Boss battles are all about navigating different attack sequences and mastering the risk and reward of when to attack and when to hang back. As you attack enemies you build up ‘Soul’ which is used either to recharge life or as a powerful attack. When damaged you lose a health mask, and when you lose all of them you leave all your collected ‘Geo’ (money) with your spirit. Make your way back to the spirit and strike it down and regain your cash, but die on the way there and everything is gone. This Dark Souls mechanic works well in the world of Hollow Knight and adds a severity to staying alive.
The strategy with managing soul is where much of the nuance comes from in Hollow Knight. To regain health, you have to hold down the A button and wait for the charge to complete— this delay makes recharging health in intense battles difficult as it leaves you open to damage. The other dilemma is making the decision to save Soul for health recharges or to use it up as power attacks. As you explore the world you’ll find ways to increase your health and soul capacity and finding these upgrades feels significant. Adding to the great combat and health systems is a buff system where you get slots for charms which will do everything from increase your movement speed, to reducing the time it takes for certain attacks, to even surrounding The Knight with a dung cloud that is lethal to enemies. Expanding the amount of charms you can have becomes one of the main goals in Hollow Knight.
Enough cannot be said though about what excellent value Hollow Knight is. It’s $15 on the eShop and it took me 30 hours to beat the story at a 75% completion rate. If I wanted to see everything the game has to offer and collect everything I could probably sink another 30 hours into it. And there’s more free content coming this year! Even when you feel lost, or stuck at a boss fight, the game is so compelling that you don’t want to stop. And because the game is so non-linear, you can usually go off in a different direction so it never feels like you’re beating your head against the wall. This is a game that works great in both handheld mode and docked on the TV, running at a smooth 60 fps and looking razor sharp.
There have been many Metroidvania games in the last two decades but none have felt this good. It’s not hyperbole to say that Hollow Knight is in the same league as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid. While it doesn’t do anything very innovative, and those games were very innovative for their time, it does refine the genre to a point of near perfection. The love and attention to detail in every animation, every corner of the world, is a huge part of why Hollow Knight stands above its peers. But the tight controls, creative boss designs, accessible but deep combat system and pure amount of content push this into a whole other level. Paying only $15 for Hollow Knight feels like a crime— there’s $60 games that come out on a regular basis that don’t feel half as accomplished as Hollow Knight— but you can’t argue with a good deal. Truly one of the best games available to play on Nintendo Switch, Hollow Knight sets the bar for its genre and is a cannot miss modern-day classic.
Hollow Knight Gets
5 out of 5
+Haunting musical score
+Wonderful world lore
+Challenging and rewarding gameplay
-First few hours can be confusing