Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania platformer with a dark, yet beautiful aesthetic. Explore the ruinous Hallownest, fight challenging bosses, utilise various abilities to traverse challenging platforming sections and soak in the beauty of the world that Team Cherry has created. And yet, where this game truly shines is in its presentation.
Story / Setting
Hollow Knight presents its story with subtle storytelling methods that never forces itself on the player or overstays its welcome. The story unfolds through interactions with NPCs which occur organically as well as awe-inspiring cutscenes that are surprisingly well produced.
The dialogue is incredibly well written, with poetic charm that flows just as well as the game. There are witty scenes that are worth a chuckle, but they never go so far as to detract from its dark and melancholic theme.
Hollow Knight features multiple endings that allow for different playthroughs. This enhances the experience and can provide its money’s worth for the many hours of gameplay that can be had with it. Hollow Knight’s story is also enhanced by its fantastic art design, but we’ll get to that a little later.
Explore Hallownest, a civilisation buried deep below the city of Dirtmouth that has fallen to chaos and ruin. There are many different areas to explore, each providing their own unique aesthetic and range of enemies.
Half the fun of Metroidvanias is the exploration and uncovering the map, and Team Cherry realised this by implementing this system in a unique way. As Hollow Knight enters a new area, there is no map to view until you find the map salesman and purchase one from him. However, he doesn’t sell you the entire map, only what he has documented so far. The rest is up to you to uncover and travel through uncharted territory, only to rest on a bench in order for Hollow Knight to chart the areas on the map with a quill that you purchase from the map shop. This process of exploration makes the experience feel that much more authentic, providing a sense of natural progression that is spurred on by a sense of curiosity and adventure.
The platforming itself is very well thought out, providing an epic sense of exploration and at times, similar moments of challenge that you would find in games like Celeste or Super Meat Boy. Each avenue has something new to discover, rarely making a stray from the main path feel pointless or unrewarding. The benches to rest on provide a checkpoint mechanic. As you need to recover your shade upon death in order to retrieve your geos and soul, these make the benches incredibly valuable.
There is rarely ever only one objective to do. Hollow Knight is quite an open game that lets you explore at your own leisure. With many side challenges, collectibles and optional bosses (especially since all previous DLC is included), Hollow Knight allows you to take the game at your own pace and enjoy everything that it has to offer.
Team Cherry has provided a solution to almost every recurring issue that most Metroidvanias face, making what should be a tiresome 25-hour experience into one that has great pacing and rarely leaves you frustrated or confused.
Combat and movement must be fluid and enjoyable in 2D Metroidvania platformers, and Hollow Knight succeeds on all fronts. Not only is the combat enjoyable, but it can be very challenging at the right moments. Utilizing attacks, jumps and dashes are crucial to combat against bosses and challenging enemies.
Hollow Knight is tough but fair. It requires you to win on your own merits and preparation, taking necessary precautions before going in headstrong. There are some enemies and bosses that may seem impossible to defeat at first, but they all have tells that allow for you to learn their patterns and overcome them (and the feeling of accomplishment is that much stronger when you do).
Upgrades can be swapped in and out by the use of charms in place of notches that can be earned throughout the course of the game. The upgrades range from convenience to enhancing combat, forcing you to spend your notches wisely and think about the path ahead. Buying and collecting all of these upgrades adds to the essential collection aspect that is a staple for any Metroidvania game. Geos can also be used to unlock certain shortcuts and areas throughout the game, making it devastating when you die before you reach your soul and lose all of your hard earned geos. However, the implementation of a bank, as well as a way to retrieve your shade if it is too difficult to retrieve, shows that Team Cherry wished to provide a solution to every potential issue.
Graphics / Art Design
Where do I begin?! I have a certain fondness in my heart for hand drawn animation, and Hollow Knight just ticks every single box. The art style, the lighting, foreground, background, enemy designs, character designs – it is all just simply stunning.
I’d like to say that this is where Hollow Knight truly shines, but that would be a discredit to everything else about this game. That being said, I have to give credit to where it’s due.
The hand drawn animation breathes life into this dark and melancholic world, providing a sense of pure fantasy and euphoria. The character and enemy designs are holistically unique, and even cute sometimes. There are even small touches that add a sense of endearment to Hollow Knight’s character, such as when you bring up the map, he looks down and walks slower. All of this provides an emotional attachment to the protagonist, which is the aim of any great storyteller. The enemy designs also have such a unique flavor about them as the fluidity of the game itself (running in 60 fps) makes them truly stand out.
Scattered throughout the game, there are subtle visual effects that you wouldn’t notice at first glance (and arguably wouldn’t even need to be there), but it just goes to show how much of a passion project this was for Team Cherry.
Quite commonly with indie titles, there will be one cutscene at the start and another at the end. However, with such a small team, Team Cherry were able to sprinkle in a few more cutscenes that just add so much depth and personality to the overall narrative.
Music / Sound design
So much about Hollow Knight stands out in many ways, but the music and sound design are not so obvious. This isn’t to say that it’s bad, on the contrary it perfectly encapsulates the mood and doesn’t make itself too obvious.
The music is mainly focused around simple arrangements, providing light touches that fits the theme. The soundtrack won’t ever get stuck in your head, but that is not its purpose. It provides a profound sense of emotional weight that carries throughout the entire experience. And sometimes, the use of no music at all in certain sections provides an even more powerful experience.
Sound effects are also utilized well, such as the use of reverb for Hollow Knight’s footsteps in dark and spacious areas. Little audio hints are dropped throughout the game signifying where a map can be purchased or where a worm can be found in order to collect, so I encourage everyone to plug in headphones when playing in handheld mode.
There is no voice acting, yet each character speaks in a very Simslike fashion (which is always charming and quirky). These sounds add a touch more character and brings further life to the beautiful world that Team Cherry have created.
Final Score 100%
This is our first ever perfect score that we have ever given a game, and Hollow Knight truly deserves it. This game is a love letter to Metroidvania classics whilst mixing up the formula and cementing itself as one of the greats within the genre. Hollow Knight’s beautiful aesthetics and smooth gameplay makes exploring the desolate Hallownest an absolute pleasure. At the time of this review, Hollow Knight is a Switch console exclusive and is a must-have for any fan on Nindies, the Metroidvania genre or just of great games in general, and at the price of $15USD (that includes all previous DLC), there’s just no excuse not to own it.