PC - Xbox One - PS4 - Switch
Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Release Date: February 24th, 2017
- Visually unique, with wonderfuly hand drawn animation and environments
- Gameplay is simple to get the hang of, but timing makes it an art
- Loads of hidden content tucked away
- Difficulty that is challenging but fair
- Updates still pouring out with quality of life changes
- No ability to change charms on the fly makes experimentation a bit of a hassle
- Tram locations feel inconvenient (better with update providing teleports)
You begin Hollow Knight by dropping into a dark abyss, void of any real contact aside from the creeping bugs out for your soul. There are no real characters save the last remnant of a local village, and even he seems hopeless. You dive deeper into the darkness and eventually come across a particularly happy map keeper, the first real glimpse of pleasantness as his melodic hum draws you toward his pile of papers as he scribbles away. He offers you a map for a few geo (the game's currency) before you dive back into the unknown and push forward, conquering a towering armored boss before finding yourself in the lush forest of the Greenpath.
You guys need more lamps
That is the tone of Hollow Knight; A dim, broken world with a sealed room that you are destined to open without a real reason, but amidst the dreary setting you find little glimmers of life and hope that urge you to press on and see what else lies ahead. A breadcrumb trail of information litters each world; a cast of characters that you bump into as you dive deeper into the unknown, prophecies written upon stones in each stage, and backdrops that allude to some horrifying occurrence. Each piece fits together to shape the general puzzle of who you are and what awaits you, but even with a lot of the information there is a so much more to the story that is entirely brought about by player speculation. The world is a massive variation from the secluded and tucked away bee army to the honor bound mantis village, you begin to piece together tribes and entities that make up the crazy world you inhabit.
Despite the darker overtone, the style and unique look to Hollow Knight is standout. The second world you visit makes a stark contrast as you emerge from a dark dreary like cave to this lush, vibrantly green forest with cheerier background music. Luminous crystal caves, desolate pitch black undergrounds, rain soaked skyscrapers; there is a continual sense of wonder when entering a new area as new enemy types and daunting back drops hint at the sheer scope of events that shaped this world. Each hand crafted frame gives life to the slew of foes you contend with, and gives combat the finesse it requires in timing jumps and dodges. The soundtrack is nothing short of wonderful, intensifying boss fights and bringing a melodramatic feeling to certain scenes.
The clearly telegraphed wind up
It took me a while to get into, but as the gameplay continued I began the appreciate the little things Hollow Knight does to keep the game simple but challenging. The game starts you off with the basics, you can attack with a short range swipe and attack while in the air, but each hit has a slight bit of recoil. You then are introduced to Soul, the magic bar, which can either be used to launch an offensive ranged attack or charged to restore one sliver of health; a tradeoff of sorts. But as you continue on you unlock a wide array of moves that can be used in conjunction with this; dashes, wall jumps, double jumps, charged attacks, and even the ability to pogo over spikes and enemies. The game slowly reveals the limits and uses that your kit can provide, and by the game's end I felt like a seasoned expert in platforming and dodging enemy attacks that always managed to hit me before.
The Metroidvania feeling really takes hold around an hour into the game. You hit barriers, and must find an item or ability to get past that area so you can see what the blank spot on your map holds. Usually this means overcoming one of the plentiful bosses in each area, some optional, some necessary; but each providing its own challenge. Because of the hand drawn animation moves are typically telegraphed well so each hit can only be blamed on your own bad timing, and some of the dream realm bosses took quite a bit of observation and multiple attempts to overcome. You may get the feeling of "okay now where am I suppose to go" especially in trying to achieve the true ending, but for every roadblock I hit I was able to find a new area or item that opened up other possibilities.
Don't just stand there, aim for the jelly parts!
Working with your basic moves, you will also gain a slew of charms and items to give you the upper hand. Expected upgrades are all here; ore to strengthen your main weapon, collecting items to extend health and soul, even map upgrades to help clarify where everything is located. Your main customization comes in the form of charms. These items provide a special ability of some sort, from increasing damage to increasing health or even allowing you to fire more projectiles. Each charm takes up a certain amount of slots so you are limited in what you can choose, but it allows you to strengthen areas for certain fights if something is not working or create a custom loadout for traversing the map quickly. The only issue is you cannot equip these on the fly and must be at a save point bench in order to swap them, which makes experimentation a bit of a hassle.
I played two runs through Hollow Knight, the second taking multiple tries for the game's Steel Soul difficulty with permadeath, and on that second run I was still finding areas and characters I had breezed by on my initial playthrough. The few gripes I had with the game were actively being addressed and patched with the Lifeblood update; fast travel spots spaced a little too far? Here's a warp gate that you can use. Find something on your map you wish you could remember for later, here are some map markers. Team Cherry is still fine tuning an already fantastic game with another DLC on the way, and for only fifteen bucks its hard to argue not putting this at the top of your must play lists for the year. Hollow Knight is a beautifully dreary tale, and one that encourages the player that peeks around every corner.