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Hollow Knight impressions

I love Metroidvanias. I actually didn’t hear about Hollow Knight when it came out back in February, but more recently I’ve seen a lot of people talk about it, so I grabbed it during the Steam Summer Sale after seeing just a few screenshots that had a Metroid-style map.

Like The End is Nigh this isn’t a full-on review (even though I’ll write it as such), because I’m not done with it yet and who knows when/if I will be. And I don’t know how close to the end I am. And it’s about time I write about it.

So let’s go and talk about this thing.

Presentation

The game features a really cool hand-drawn style that’s kinda reminiscent of classic cartoons, while being its own style. It features thick black lines and pretty disgustingly-animated bug characters (and I mean that in the best way possible, it’s great). It’s really unique and fun to look at. It eschews being bright and colorful, going instead with extremely dark visuals that are super moody. Most areas have their own “mood” color (as well as environmental elements), but it’s all a dark palette. The least dark thing I’ve seen is enemies that have orange on them, and that indicates explosives. I really like that every area stands out and tends to have decent landmarks making them fairly simple to navigate, with some exceptions. It looks amazing. My only issue is that some things are unclear as to if you can wall jump on them, and sometimes some background elements look interactive.

On the music front it’s really good, but it’s mostly atmospheric stuff that will never get stuck in my head, or that I’d ever listen to outside of the game. There are really cool atmospheric sounds though. My favorite is the map guy singing.

As for story, I really don’t know. You’re a ghost, bug, thing. You kill shit. Eventually there’s bigger shit that requires killing. I don’t really know. Maybe it’ll make more sense once I finish it.

Gameplay

So this is a Metroidvania game. A side-scrolling platformer that isn’t level-based, but rather has a big open map that you can explore, and as you advance you gain skills or equipment that enables to go to more areas.

Hollow Knight is mainly a melee-based game so most of the time you’ll be attacking with a sword-like thing called a nail. You can swing that in 4 directions which is quite satisfying, moreso in some areas where you can use the slash to bounce on objects or enemies. You also gain access to soul moves. There’s a ground slam which is useless in battle, a long-range projectile and a close-range blast that deals lots of damage. Soul is a limited resource though, and you can use it to heal yourself rather than attacking. You replenish soul by hitting enemies. Overall the combat is pretty interesting, a lot of enemies requiring learning how to time your slashes, or you finding openings to attack. Plus you want to not die because if you do you lose all your Geo (money). You can retrieve it Souls style by getting back to where you died and fighting a shadow (it’s easy, just hit it 3 times), but if you die before doing that there’s no getting that Geo back.

Otherwise the gameplay is about exploring, finding stuff (you can find soul gauge upgrades, health upgrades, Grubs, badges), finding boss battles, opening up shortcuts in areas for faster travelling later on, finding stores to buy stuff or upgrade stuff, maps. Maps are bought from a vendor who will appear somewhere in an area, then you need to sit on a bench to update the map. Benches also serve as respawn points and save points, plus they heal you. As you travel around you’ll find a lot of stuff that you will need to remember where it is because you can’t mark your map (unless I missed that feature and I’m an idiot, that’s totally possible), such as things that require keys, or trams that require passes, or tunnels that require Geo which opens up the fast travel feature here. There’s LOTS of exploring, and that’s where my issue with the game come in.

It’s really big, and there’s always so many options of places to go to, and I have no clue where I’m supposed to be going 99% of the time. I’ll get to a spot on my map that I haven’t gone to (after a LOOOOOONG travel time most of the time, even with the fast travel since they’re pretty far-off), remember when I get there that I need some power that lets me go through pillars of darkness (or some kind of infinite-dash), and then it’s down to the next place. I can’t count the number of times where I thought I had finally figured out how to progress before I saw that all I was getting was a health or soul shard, or a skill that doesn’t actually help me progress. I’m just saying a bit of a sense of direction would help the game immensely.

Overall

It’s the Dark Souls of Metroidvanias!

Yeah that was a joke.

So Hollow Knight is a game I find to be really good, but I feel like it has massive pacing issues. It’s really big, travelling is slow even once you unlock fast travel, it’s hard to figure out where you need to go next since you can’t keep notes on your map, unless you remember very specific small things all over the world. There’s still a few spots where I’m trying to figure out “where was it that the ground trembled under me indicating that I could smash through it”. Maybe I’m just approaching it wrong, I don’t know. I’m 11 hours in and I still don’t know how close from the end I am, I have no idea where specifically to go so even that far in I’m still blindly wandering and hoping to finally find one of the 2-3 movement-based upgrades I’m still missing.

That said the combat is fun, the Metroidvania concept still works, the presentation is really interesting, the boss battles are great. I like this game a lot, in most aspects it’s really well made. It’s just not exactly clicking with me, and I don’t think I’ll be finishing it. Maybe it’s just me though, so I do very much recommend checking it out.

(Currently only on PC, was announced for Switch)

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