Not necessarily new
During my childhood, my best friend lived a couple of houses down the street.
He was lucky enough to own a NES, and after school we used to play many a game at his place. Because of the lack in computing power, the vast majority of these games were experienced in 2D. It is where my love for 2D games (and games in general) started to grow. The Mario Bros. and Double Dragon series for example, are burned into my memory. In retrospective, the first game that I played which closely resembles Hollow Knight was Capcom’s Gargoyles Quest. Gargoyles Quest wasn’t released on the NES (Gargoyles Quest II was) but on the monochrome Game Boy system. My two brothers and I adopted one of these systems along with Gargoyles Quest upon their European release back in 1991, and we used to take turns playing because we only owned one system (darn it I’m getting old). Good times!
Both Gargoyles Quest and Hollow Knight (the Metroidvania-style game from which I am about to share my experiences with you) offer 2D platform-action oriented gameplay, RPG-style leveling, and a mysterious and eerie musical score. Oh yeah, and there’s also a vast amount of content and good level of challenge to be found in both of these games. So, prepare to die a lot!
Did you feel repelled after reading this, or did it raise your curiosity instead? In either case, both of these games are superlative gems within the Metroidvania genre!
Keep on reading to find out our initial impressions on Nintendo Switch and discover how the game plays and feels.
Hollow Knight is full of bugs
The game starts off with a mysterious text. After that we see Hollow Knight, the main character, drop into a pit. This is where our adventure starts.
The quirky high-res art style, fluid animations (with lots of attention to detail) and tight responsive controls are the first things that come to mind when thinking back about playing the opening scene. Every time the Y Button is tapped Hollow Knight strikes with his ‘’nail’’, triggering a pleasant swoosh sound in turn. The nail is Hollow Knight’s main weapon and seems, seen our hero’s title and usage of the artifact, meant to be the equivalent of a sword. Team Cherry seemed keen on keeping things original however, because the design appears to resemble more of a jousting lance instead. Because of the satisfying sound the nail emits and some breakable environmental details around the cave, we found ourselves tapping the Y Button over and over again. We soon discover the nail can be used to strike above and (when airborne) underneath Hollow Knight too, simply by pressing down the Directional Buttons and tapping the Y Button. This should come in handy when surrounded by enemies! Venturing further through these grottos our inevitable first enemy encounters take place – a few crawling critters and flying insects that ooze colorful body fluids each time they get bashed. They die and curl inwards with a pleasing death-splat animation and sound after being slain. Speaking of which. The grim, bug infested kingdom in which Hollow Knight takes place is called Hallownest.
This didn’t strike us as a particularly interesting videogame setting at first, but we’re glad team Cherry proved us completely wrong. A lot of insects resemble their real-life counterparts, seem animated in a generous number of frames, and sometimes sport some black magic, weapons or armor to complement the setting.
Now back to the caves, where our journey starts!
When we get hit by an enemy, falling stalactite, or when we accidentally drop our hero on a stalagmite in the cave, we’ll notice that one of the little white alien head shaped icons in the upper-left part of the screen shatters and turns dark. Those icons are called life shards. We’ll be able to collect more of them later on in the game. On the left side of the life shards we’ll notice a round container. After killing an enemy, this container gets filled with a white energy called SOUL. If the container contains enough SOUL we can tap into the energy by holding down the A Button. It will restore one or (depending on how long we press down the button) more life shards. Further down the road we’ll even be able to employ SOUL to perform other actions to aid us in our quest.
The way in which consumption and regeneration of SOUL takes place feels really well balanced out. We were continually using the gathered SOUL to regenerate our health and it hardly ever happened that both all of our life shards and the SOUL container were full for a longer period of time. There’s some platforming to do and enemies to beat before you we are able to exit the first cave. After this we see Hollow Knight jump down a cliff and we fall down in a similar way as was the case in the beginning of the game, only to reach a village this time around.
There’s no dirt in your eyes, the village is called Dirtmouth! Founded by a mud munching millipede, perhaps? In any case, we definitely don’t mind Dirtmouth being a part of Hallownest because it functions as a safe haven. Non-hostile bugs live here, some of which offer goods or services in exchange for Geo. The inhabitants will also have a chat with us and might sometimes offer some advice.
As you might have guessed, Geo is the main currency used in Hallownest. It typically gets dropped after beating enemies, but sometimes we might stumble across a secret area (by bashing a brittle wall, floor or ceiling for example). In these secret areas we might find a pile of Geo. The pile will fall apart after hitting it a couple of times with our nail, allowing us to gather and acquire the Geo.
One of Dirthmouth’s shopkeepers is offering us, among other things, our first charm. A charm is an artifact that can be equipped by pressing the – Button. It will summon the Charms menu, which shows us the perk or ability our charm offers and it will allow for assigning it to one of our charm slots.
Gamers that are accustomed with how the materia system in all-time classic Final Fantasy VII works will feel right at home in Hollow Knight – the Charms menu operates in a very similar way. Just like in Final Fantasy VII we can boost abilities even further when certain charms are simultaneously equipped. Hollow Knight differs from the latter though in that it only allows for Charms to be equipped when we are at a save point. These save points come in the form of benches, and our first bench is waiting for us right in the middle of Dirtmouth.
Dirtmouth is one of few areas located above the soil.
Once the village’s elevator takes us underneath the ground, we will discover the hostile environment that awaits us there…
And this is the part where we should write about all the things that we did in Hallownest in order to appetize you for playing the game. But we choose not to do so. We consciously choose not to so in order to leave these adventures untold, for yourself to experience.
What happens underground, stays underground!
The path of pain
One of many reasons why this title has a special place in our gamer’s heart, is that it made us face (and almost conquer) the most difficult challenge we ever faced in any videogame, appropriately called the Path of pain…
After accidentally locating it, we discovered how to get access to it. This stuff is hard as nails!! And it turned out, that its purpose was only meant to serve as an introduction on what to come. We repeatedly got served small but incredibly difficult segments of platform action. Each completed section activates a checkpoint, and we died many hundreds of times before making it to the end. A boss was waiting for us patiently at the conclusion of the last section and it was clearly deprived from food for too long, as it managed to slay us in less than two minutes. After that, we discovered team Cherry blessed the boss’ weapon with the ability to send us back to the beginning of the Path of pain (it was only then that we realized the true meaning of this levels’ name). Brain activity reached an all-time low as we kept staring powerless and discouraged at the screen for a couple of minutes without ever blinking our eyes. Disbelieve got briefly replaced by hatred during the course of a few minutes as we vowed never to try a shot at the path of pain again. We decided that the Path of pain is the most sadistic and brutal thing we almost conquered in any videogame (and despite getting killed by that boss we also decided to count reaching the end of the Path of pain as our biggest game-related achievement to date, period).
We clearly remember our first thoughts on the game prior to its release, as we checked out one of its short official video trailers. Hollow Knight initially left us rather unimpressed. The protagonist with the big head, big eyes and weird little horns had so much action crammed into its short debut-trailer that our guess on the game was ‘’Probably another one-in-a-dozen eShop titles screaming for attention’’. But instead, we came to the conclusion that the saying ‘’Do not judge a book by its cover’’ never lost its relevance.
Whenever we descended deeper in the countless tunnels of Hallownest’s kingdom, the lack of means to navigate them efficiently led us to become disoriented quite a few times. Taking the already challenging difficulty level into account, we can imagine that some people might feel a bit discouraged early on in the game. We are happy to let you know however, that the process of navigating that world will become increasingly efficient.
Our thirst to explore Hallownest’s beautiful handcrafted 2D world kept being fueled by the challenges of each new world and non-stop Geo drops. We barely had to deal with loading times and when they were there, they were usually short. We found the (limited) use of colors throughout the game to stimulate our imagination while adding a layer of eccentricity to the game.
After reading some of the other online reviews we occasionally found ourselves baffled with the mild praise that some of our colleagues had for the game (we’ve read understatements like ‘It is worth its 15 euro’’ or ‘’An enjoyable title, we would recommend it’’).
There are numerous unique bosses and enemies to encounter, all with characteristics and fight patterns that have to be figured out in order to advance in the game. And when we venture deeper in the kingdom of Hallownest, more reasons are added. The sheer number of unique enemies (think 100+!) and moving details in the foreground and/or background makes the game feel vibrant and organic, not to mention challenging.
Although the game can be labelled as highly challenging, it is clear from the get-go that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Evidence in this is found in the graphical style and subtle use of humor throughout the game. What can be taken serious however, is how Hollow Knight’s no-bullshit gameplay, responsive controls, enormous variety in enemies and the both huge and detailed Metroidvania-style world blend together. After 56 satisfying hours of exploration and waging battle, we proved able enough to make it to the final boss and see the end credits roll (game completion rate 78%).
It’s not hard to imagine that it might have been a daunting task for team Cherry to capture the game’s essence in a short trailer. It’s an incredible entertainment product that’ll reserve a place in your long-term memory after completion – with as cherry on top of team Cherry’s cake its 15 Euro price point (sometimes even a dwarfing 10 Euro when it’s on offer).
👍 Tough but fair – platform and battle aspects are equally challenging and satisfying
👍 Highly atmospheric due to exceptional piano, violin and sometimes rock infused score and tasteful high-res art-style
👍 Unique setting and huge number of different bugs to battle
👍 Tight controls and absence of lengthy control and game-mechanic tutorials
👍 Rich in content – insane value for money
🐛 The game’s story was so cryptic that we couldn’t figure it out
🐛 Occasional screen lag while playing in undocked mode
🐛 Gamers looking for a casual experience might want to look elsewhere
Hollow Knight, the equivalent of what honey is to a bee (or dung to a dung beetle):
Review by Dion van Oeteren
on 31 Jan, 2019
Originally released 12 Jun, 2018