Platformers will always have a special place in my heart. Games like Mario Brothers, Cosmo’s Quest and Crystal Caves made me fall in love with gaming. In recent years I have started to trail behind the evolution of the genre. My lifestyle has changed and videogames play a smaller part in it. Sure, I still love me a round of Smash Brothers or Pro Evolution Soccer but some of the appeal of newness is gone. Another Playstation console is being released? Okay cool. Maybe I’ll buy it in tree years after the price has dropped. Have I become jaded a bit? It could very well be. But once in a blue moon a game crosses my path that rekindles my love for gaming and you guessed it, Hollow Knight is that game.
Hollow Knight: Voidheart is the complete bundle of the original game included with all the extra content that was later released. It’s a platformer in the ‘Metroidvania‘ mold: you get to jump and fight your way to a huge interconnected world filled with obstacles, tons of secrets and droves of enemies in all shapes and sizes. During the game you will slowly gain new abilities with which you can enter areas that were previously inaccessible. In Hollow Knight there are also multiple endings and multiple paths towards them, which results in a pleasant sense of freedom. At moments the game faintly resembles the 2D equivalent of 3D open-world games like The Witcher and GTA.
Hollow Knight starts of subdued. A rather cryptic story of cosmic creation is followed by dark skies, depressing music, and slashing simple enemies in gloomy caves. You don’t get a lot of information about what to do so you inevitably move forward and let the adventure unfold. You discover that you are somehow inextricably tied to a devastating sickness that has crumbled society and driven its bug-like inhabitants mad. Clues regarding your role in this are sparse and it will take many hours before the story really takes shape. What does reveal itself quickly is that Hollow Knight is a neatly designed game, from its crisp graphics and vibrant sounds to its tight controls that make manoeuvering around a real treat.
As you progress deeper you’ll discover that Hollow Knight is a game made by and for experienced gamers. New abilities are not quickly discovered and its currency Geo is hard to amass, although it will get increasingly easier the further you get. The lack of extra abilities in the beginning makes Hollow Knight a pretty bare-bones platforming affair for roughly the first ten hours. You jump, you slash, you advance. In hindsight this slow pace is the perfect way to get aquainted with the controls and prepare you for more difficult sections later on. It also makes the moments where you get additional abilities all the more rewarding.
You know you got SOUL
Hollow Knights’ platforming action is deepened by the inclusion of SOUL. Health is drawn from your reservoir of SOUL, which can filled by hitting and killing enemies and hitting the occasional magical statue. You will kill like your life depends on it because it actually does. After being hit by an enemy you can replenish your health by charging from this SOUL reservoir. In order to do so you have to stand still, which asks for a strategic approach especially when faced by more powerful enemies, some of whom rarely give you time to rest due to their size and speed.
SOUL is also the ‘ammo’ for some of the more powerful offensive abilities that you will gain later. Want to save SOUL to recharge health? Alright, but It will leave you without a few shots of that handy blast attack of yours. The dual system of SOUL being used for health and attacks is deepened by Hollow Knight’s Charms: perks that can provide benefits like a quicker health recharge or a gain in attack power, but also a boost in speed or an increased amount of Geo that enemies will drop. Charm slots are few and some trickier areas and bosses force you to really ponder on which Charms to equip. Time to weigh your options!
Due to Hollow Knights’ challenging nature you are sure to die many times. When you do so you will leave behind behind your Geo at roughly the same place where you died, reminiscent of Dark Souls. When you arrive at your place of previous death you have to slay a cute black ghost that resembles your last incarnation. Killing it is not hard but getting there again can be though, especially since savepoints are sparse. This layer of tension adds an element of consequence that will keep you on your toes. Imagine my cry of gamer-agony when I first failed to kill my ghost and lost about three hours of collected Geo. At times like these Hollow Knight is a truly unforgiving game.
Despite being a challenging game that demands quick reflexes it never feels like the challenges are unfair. Bosses can be overwhelming when first encountered but it’s a matter of time before you will discover their pattern of attack. One of the rare instances where the game does feel unfair is when savepoints are situated too far away from boss locations. Having to travel for five minutes from a savepoint to a boss fight might sound like a minor nuisance but when having to do this twenty times in a row the frustration really starts to add up. It’s a rare slip up from such a thoughtfully designed game.
It can take a while before a game really grips you. As I slowly make my way from the large overworld to new areas Hollow Knights’ brilliance starts to assert itself. The second area makes it clear that I am playing something special. Where until then I have been exploring gloomy caves I suddenly enter a lush green environment that is so incredibly detailed it regularly makes me stop in awe.
Each following area has its own distinct style and each one of them feels like a work of art that fits perfectly into the grander audiovisual scheme of the world. To help you understand the atmosphere the game is going for I advise you to take a moment to listen to some of the beautiful music, as featured below.
As you can hear Hollow Knights’ world is deeply melancholic, evoking a once-sprawling society of humanoid bugs that has fallen into decay. The intricately designed stages are given life by its actors: an impressive array of enemies and a motley cast of characters that range from funny and brave to self righteous and scared. What gives them life is their organic and almost Studio Ghibli-esque hand-drawn animation. The sound is on a similar high level as every enemy oozes character, from the gory death squirts of a mosquito to the grunts and growls of bushy creatures that are so cute that they are almost a shame to kill.
Anything but hollow
Hollow Knights’ audiovisual marriage seeped in sadness and beauty is powered by its mythos and lore. The game truly succeeds in evoking a mysterious crumbling world – even a universe – with an ancient history. Scattered fragments of text hint at cosmological events and its many godlike entities, and delusional dead warriors rave about long gone glories. Philosophical themes of greed, love and destiny are recurrently touched upon, which results in a more serious game than you’d first expect, with some characters exhibiting traits like a sense of irony or bitter nihilism. Although storyline progression is slow the presentation of the world it makes itself present as a dominant part of the story, as if to hammer home that the story is more than a vibe than a literal tale.
At times the size of Hollow Knights’ world can be borderline intimidating. It’s a game that demands your time and expects that you are willing to give it. More than once i was astounded by finding yet another area to explore, or to find unexpected new passages into older areas. For hardened discoverers like me there is an abundance of secrets to be found, and the game rewards curiosity to the point it had me laughing from surprise.
After about fifteen hours of play a sense of deep contentment came over me as I realized that as a fan of challenging and beautifully designed platformers Hollow Knight ticks all the right boxes for me. It boasts an artistic vision that is expressed so convincingly in all aspects of the game that it keeps you coming back for more. It’s a challenging joy to play, a marvel to listen to and to look at, and overall so well designed that it has to be regarded as one of the best platformers of its generation.
Hollow Knight: Voidheart review – I bend the knee
Getting immersed in the world of Hollow Knight has been a privilige. It provides exciting challenges for the seasoned gamer and impresses with its tight controls, lavish looks and magical music. Hollow Knight is not for the faint of heart and if you don't like a serious challenge you might want to consider a different game. But if you are well versed in the noble art of platforming than this is the ultimate game for you. I bend the knee for the Hollow Knight. It's a game of lordly caliber and one of whom I will sing its praises for many years to come.
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