Metroidvania Perfection: Hollow Knight Review
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania platformer released in 2017 and developed by Team Cherry. It has become popular because of its critical acclaim. The success of the game has spawned an upcoming sequel titled Hollow Knight: Silk Song. What exactly makes it such a critically acclaimed game? Let’s find out.
The story of Hollow Knight is gleaned from bits and pieces given to you throughout the world. There are also very short cutscenes in the game, but these are few and far between. Overall you will take in the story from item descriptions and the few details about the world that NPCs will divulge to you. The basic story that is told to you right off the bat is that there is a city below the ground that has been corrupted by some sort of disease. The disease turned most of the citizens in the city into mindless husks who carried on whatever task they were doing before the disease struck. You have to venture down into the city and find some way to stop the disease from spreading. The story is a lot more complicated than that, but I think it is better to learn the details by playing through the game.
The world in Hollow Knight is beautiful, and I mean that in every sense of the world. From the character designs to the backgrounds, to the themes of the different areas. It all comes together to make one cohesive world that is full of variety yet feels familiar in every portion of the game. The lighting and particle effects are amazingly done. There were multiple times throughout my playthrough that I just had to stop and take in how expertly crafted it was. It is hands down one of the most beautiful games that I’ve played.
The music in this game, just like the art, is impeccable. From the exciting boss themes to the soft themes of the different areas, the game delivers in full force. Each track matches the areas and bosses beautifully. It transitions from melancholic piano pieces to explosive orchestral pieces seamlessly. The music perfectly captures the nature of the corrupted underground and the brief moments of respite within it.
The gameplay in Hollow Knight is what you would expect from a Metroidvania. It is a 2D action platformer with a semi-open world in which you will have to unlock different abilities to access different areas of the map. While Hollow Knight does not completely revolutionize the genre, it is an incredibly refined experience that shows off all the wonderful aspects of the genre.
The platforming and combat are tight and responsive. There was never a moment while I was playing that felt like my character did something I didn’t want it to. The combat flow of dodging and attacking felt very fluid and satisfying. Being able to bounce off your enemies with a downward aerial attack was a great ability that I thought added a lot of unique platforming opportunities and some interesting strategies when fighting some bosses. The combat really amps up when you unlock the dash ability. It allows combat to be more fast-paced and rewards taking some risks.
The game also gives you access to spells. These spells use Soul, the same resource that is used to heal. The spells vary between being used to traverse the world and attacking enemies, or both. I am the type of player who likes to hoard resources so I did not often use the offensive spells, but when I did they felt powerful and satisfying to use.
There are also charms in Hollow Knight that act as passive abilities that you can mix and match. You find these throughout the game and they act as some of the rewards for exploring optional areas. In my playthrough, I only discovered about half of them, so there is quite a bit that keener eyes will be rewarded for finding. There are not any charms that are absolutely needed for completing the game, so you are allowed to mix and match them to your heart's content.
The map in Hollow Knight is quite large. Towards the end of the game, I scoured the map screen for paths that I had not been down yet so I could progress throughout the game. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the game. Traveling all throughout the map to see what kind of surprises that unexplored paths held. This process of moving all around the corners of the map to find the way forward may frustrate some players, but I found it to be interesting enough to be enjoyable.
Your main points of progression throughout the game are upgrading how much soul and health you can have, along with upgrading and finding different techniques for your nail (your sword in the game). Finding the upgrades for these will often come from thoroughly exploring the environment. If you blaze through the game without going into optional areas, which might be near impossible on a blind playthrough, you will be weaker. I enjoyed this aspect of the game. It made the exploration of the world feel rewarding and brought a sense of improvement to both my stats and my prowess in combat.
Hollow Knight is an excellent game. While I was thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the game for this review I honestly had to think very hard about what problems people would have with this game. The music, the art, the story, the gameplay, everything felt perfect to me. For the $15 price point, this game blows most AAA games out of the water for how much quality is packed into such a cheap price. My playthrough was about 17 hours in total, and I only discovered 50% of the content. Not only do you get the base game, but the four DLCs that add quite a bit of content. Overall I feel that Hollow Knight is one of those games that feels almost too good to be true. If you are a fan of Metroidvania, play it immediately. If you aren’t a fan, play it immediately. I truly think that this game is a masterpiece and a true example of how great this medium can be.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10