Do you like exploration? Do you enjoy devilish bosses? Does the simple thought of a ruined society teaming with secrets excite you? Do the terms metroidvania and souls-like perk your ears? Well then let me be the first one to invite you into the depths of Hollow Knight.
If all you are looking for is a yay or nay then here it is: This 2D, side scrolling platformer dashed out in 2017 and has had a place on my ‘Top Games’ shelf ever since. So get it, play it, love it! If you want some more then keep on reading though let me warn you some of the fun of the game is figuring out just how deep the bugs can get and I know my first blind playthrough is something I wish I could play again. Anyways, on to the rest.
First things first: this is a world of bugs. You are a bug swinging a nail like a sword. The other inhabitants are bugs. Your enemies are bugs. Most of the hazards and even some of the platforms are bugs. And yet the art has this charming, cartoony aesthetic that gives Pixar’s ‘A Bug’s Life’ a run for its money for top media that takes the creepy out of the creepy-crawlies. Don’t get me wrong, some of the abominations you run into at times will drip, roar, and claw their way into a nightmare or two but luckily you can put most of them down with some well placed strikes. There is a striking range in the feel each character gives off, from the poised nobility of the Mantis Lords to the haggard existence of Elderbug. Each of the separate zones has its own unique personality that is echoed in every aspect from the color pallet to how the enemies move and attack.
And attack they will! Hollow Knight has been accused of bringing the difficulty of ‘Dark Souls’ to the 2D realm and that is no understatement. Nearly every inhabitant of this once great nation now has one purpose to its existence and that is to kill you. Starting from the relatively simple controls of move, jump, and attack, you’ll soon be dashing, blasting, striking, flapping and scrambling to keep the last mask that represents your health from shattering. If you have experienced other platformers, the upgrades will be very familiar in use but the polish to which Hollow Knight implements them gives is a ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ aspect. And nowhere does this shine brighter than in the various boss fights scattered throughout depths as they range the full gambit from baby town frolics to controller smashing hard. And when death means dropping all of your cash and losing up to a third of your power, each fight holds a tension all its own. Luckily the open ended exploration allows for the player to ratchet the difficulty up or down to some degree especially in the later game. Having some trouble with one guy and instead of throwing yourself at him over and over again you could just as easily slip around to a new area, grab an upgrade or two then come back and put him in his place. Another lever the game has in lew of a difficulty setting are the charms scattered throughout the world. With over 40 to choose from, these little bonuses can easily stack on top of each other culminating in a variety of play styles. Want to hit harder? Want to sling spells like a drunken wizard? Or do you want to put Wolverine’s healing to shame? Depending on which charms you equip it’s all possible and so you’ll be driven to explore every inch of the map to fill out your collection.
And that exploration will yield more than upgrades as that’s the only way to sleuth out the secrets of Hollownest as the story isn’t so much told as it is found. One of the few hindrances, especially in the early game, is the lack of motivation the game gives to move forward. Why are you here? What are you working towards? How do you fit into this world? Do you even care? The player’s involvement in the plot is very much up to you to decide. But for those that peel back the layers and dive fully in will find a rich kingdom lost in the fight against a force of corruption and insanity that slowly devoured it from its very foundation. This corruption echoed in every bugs soul, driving them to madness. So in a last ditch effort to stop their regression, the leaders came together to seal the source of corruption in a living vessel. Unfortunately the one they chose was impure and soon the corruption began to leak out once more. As the true Hollow Knight, you are tasked with unraveling the seals and confronting the source once and for all. Will you be able to contain it as the old Knight could not, or will you find a way to overcome it completely? It all depends on how much strength you attain on your journey.
Overall each of the elements do everything to reinforce each other and come together into an incredibly solid game that will have you spending hours finding every nook and cranny of the map and perfecting your play to take on every challenge. Easily 5/5 stars.
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- February 13, 2020