Hollow Knight is a beautiful, shockingly fun 2D Metroidvania style title that sets a new bar for excellence. You play as a bug, in a world of bugs, unraveling the mysteries of a once-great society. You’ll slash your way through the world with your sword (called a Nail) as you encounter intriguing characters, enthralling environments, and enemy bugs that wish to squash you. From the inspiring hand-drawn art, to the often-cinematic music, to the precise and satisfying controls, Hollow Knight is a masterpiece. Every time I thought I had settled on an opinion about the game, it would surprise me by doing something more interesting or more fun. It continues to reveal to you that the rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper. If you haven’t played Hollow Knight, you need to. You absolutely need to.
As you play and explore Hollow Knight, you’ll unlock different abilities that allow you to interact with the world in different ways – dashes, wall jumps, ground slams and the like. This is probably to be expected in this genre. What Team Cherry have done exceptionally well, however, is nail down the pacing. You’re given new tools at a rate that keeps things fun and interesting, while still running into obstacles that you can’t quite deal with yet. When you combine this with world design that is frequently breathtaking, music that is deeply emotional, and a wide variety of interesting enemies, venturing out into the world of Hollow Knight is a beautiful and thrilling experience. Indeed, even backtracking doesn’t feel like a chore, it’s more like a puzzle with all of its pieces slowly falling into place.
In addition to the abilities that you unlock, there are also Charms that you can equip that will provide different bonuses such as extended reach with your attacks, or more powerful spells. This means that you have some flexibility in how you play. It’s usually not a huge change, and some of them are not even related to combat, but it does make things more satisfying and allows for varying strategies.
Enemy design also plays a large part in how compelling the gameplay is. You won’t be able to get by with mashing the attack button over and over, you’ll need to take advantage of all the mobility that you have as well. You’ll need to jump, slide down walls, dash out of the way of attacks, slash quickly, and more. You may even try to find a brief moment to heal yourself mid-fight. While the bosses are especially interesting, even the standard monsters you run into are well-designed. There are monsters that fly around and shoot projectiles, others that are adept sword fighters, and some that will charge, jump, or explode; you just don’t know until you encounter them. While you may be able to jump on top of one monster and slash downwards to kill it, that won’t work against another that holds a shield above its head when you try that.
The gameplay in Hollow Knight is so satisfying and addicting that it’s fun to play even if you’ve already gone through the story. It’s one of those games that you want to try and master. And should you continue to master the game, there are additional side challenges and fights that you can participate in that will push your skills to the absolute limit. Getting 100% completion in Hollow Knight is quite a task, as there are plenty of optional things that you can do throughout the game. I can see a lot of potential here for speed runs, different charm builds, and self-imposed challenges.
In addition, it’s a much longer and bigger game than I initially expected. There are merchants to find, collectibles to collect, maps to uncover, and the occasional secret too, as you dive into a story that gets its claws in and pulls you closer the longer you play. All of this helps break up the linear nature of this type of game, and gives you the option to explore and experience more of the world. In doing so, I find that it also helps build the connection between the player and the world.
When I play things like MMORPGs, or certain story driven games like Mass Effect, I expect to be drawn in and immersed. I wasn’t expecting that from this type of game, but Hollow Knight achieves it beautifully and keeps you coming back for more.
From the moment that you launch Hollow Knight, you know that it’s something special. Each aspect of the game feels solid, but then takes it a step further. The artwork isn’t just dark and shadowy, it’s also colorful, dreamy, bleak, and even warm at times. It does a fantastic job of helping to tell the story of the world. The music isn’t just good “for a video game”, it’s shockingly impressive. It’s emotional, cinematic and thoughtful. It hits you, it consumes you – the strings, the orchestra, the drums. They will haunt you, they will excite you, they will move you. The combat isn’t just a button masher, it’s dynamic, it’s fast, and it will frequently challenge you. The story is masterful and you’ll be surprised at how much you care about the world’s inhabitants and the mystery before you.
Hollow Knight is smooth. The animations and combat are like silk, which is incredibly important in a game like this. I haven’t experienced any bugs or glitches whatsoever, the load times are very quick, and everything seems to just… work. I find the UI very nice as well, it’s not overly cluttered and does a good job of relaying the information that you need. The inventory and menus are nice and easy to navigate, and actually remind me of menus that you would see in a Zelda game.
I know that I’ve touched on it already, but I feel it’s worth repeating – the way that the game feels and controls is very satisfying and precise. They’ve obviously done a lot of work making sure that the core mechanics of movement feel really tight.
Hollow Knight is a triumph. It is astoundingly good and shows what is possible when the right people come together and work in harmony on something that they’re passionate about. At least, this is what I assume must have happened, because every aspect of the game is just so good. And as I mentioned previously, there’s a lot of game here, in a genre that can tend to be more shallow. Hollow. Nope, not going to go for the pun. Hollow Knight is a game that will be talked about for years, and I sincerely recommend that you pick it up.