I’ll happily confess I’m a huge fan of platformers, especially the Metroidvania kind. Even though they’ve been around for decades, they just never seem to get old. This made Hollow Knight an easy choice for me to want to play. But how does it compare with all the other games of the genre?
A Haunting Experience
You play as a nameless and voiceless Knight on a quest to investigate the abandoned kingdom of Hallownest. Along the way, you’ll encounter many dangers, memorable characters, and interesting locations. The very first thing you’ll be blown away by is Hollow Knight’s visuals.
The entire game has a hand-drawn aesthetic and looks absolutely beautiful. Everything from the environments, characters, attack animations are all visually designed so masterfully. It’s real eye candy, despite the gloomy atmosphere.
Speaking of which, the atmosphere is truly something else. It’s incredibly grim and contains a very sad and grim tone. I can’t think of too many games that do it better. As you explore this beautifully haunting world, you just sense this sadness everywhere you go.
A lot of the enemies you fight look a lot like you and other friendly characters, making you feel something for them as you slay them. To add even more to the sadness, every enemy you kill just lays there motionless.
Most enemies you defeat in games, they’ll end up disappearing and you just forget about them. In Hollow Knight, I actually felt bad for each enemy as they just lie there dead, reminding me that I took the life of this character. Since when do games make me feel this bad?
Hollow Knight’s Combat
Speaking of defeating enemies, the combat in Hollow Knight is great fun! The controls are responsive, your attacks have weight to them, and even when you get hit, you really feel it. There’s this slight pause, both in animation and audio, from when you get hit to when your character reacts.
You’ll need to play close attention because each enemy has their own combat style. Some will simply charge at you at varying speeds, some having multi-strike attacks, and some can fire projectiles. Your timing and reflexes will need to be in tune if you want success in battle. There’s a great variety of enemies and the attacks they do, so no battle will ever really feel repetitive.
Hollow Knight is actually a challenging game and you will need to understand each enemy and their range of attacks. You can only get hit a small number of times before you die, and even though you can heal yourself, it is time-consuming and is too risky in the middle of battle.
Hollow Knight’s Exploration
Being a challenging action platformer, it would have been nice to have more RPG elements. You can still upgrade your health and weapon, but it’s very rare that it happens.
I think earning XP, leveling up and increasing stats would have benefited this game greatly, but I guess the challenge may be lost and gamers might start to breeze through if they get overpowered.
If there’s anything you can upgrade, it’s actually your map. Your map is initially very bare-bones, but you can buy ‘upgrades’ for it so it can be utilised better. That way, it makes Hollow Knight feel like a game more about exploration and navigation.
Despite this, as I played further into the game, it was the navigation started to annoy me. Exploring new areas and uncovering more of the map was great fun, but when I more or less finished an area, I had no choice but to start re-exploring older areas to figure out what to do next.
I know this is commonplace when it comes to Metroidvania games, but because of the slower-paced gameplay and higher level of challenge, it wasn’t that much fun to backtrack. The fact I had to re-explore entire areas all over again (and they are decent sized areas), it eventually became quite the chore.
Once you get into the later stages, it does feel like the game lacks direction. Even though there are clear symbols as to where you need to go, you can’t access those areas so I felt completely lost with no idea as to what to do next.
When you combine this feeling of being lost, and the overall challenge of the game, I did feel a little discouraged from exploring. Even if you manage to finally make your way to an unexplored area, there’s no guarantee you’ll even have the right ability to access it.
There’s still a high level of replay value if you can muster up the motivation to thoroughly explore the whole map. There’s plenty of charms (which give you certain perks), there’s characters to rescue, and treasure chests to smash open.
Hollow Knight Review Summary
Compared to other Metroidvania games, Hollow Knight is a fairly big game with plenty to explore and discover, as well as many collectables to find. But the highlights are undoubtedly the visuals, atmosphere, tone, and combat.
Hollow Knight just feels so satisfying to control, especially when it comes to combat. You really need to stay focused otherwise enemies can finish you off quickly.
But it’s the games lack of direction that lets it down for me. It’s frustrating to explore a game when it takes so long to get around the map, even with ‘fast travel’ locations.
There are elements of Hollow Knight that really makes it stand out from the pack, but on the flipside, there are elements that detract from the overall experience. It just depends on how motivated your are to let them deter you or not.