Hollow Knight (2017)

Map based exploration and platforming games instantly make me not want to play them, maybe because of it’s more common title, Metroidvania. Maybe it’s because I absolutely despise backtracking in games, and it makes the game have an artificial buffer of time added to it that serves no real purpose. So, I initially tried playing Hollow Knight a couple years after it came out, after my friend Sean kept telling me how good it was, and I was only able to get about 20 minutes into it. After finishing several games, and not having much that I wanted to play, I tried playing it again, and I got hooked.

Hollow Knight got looked over by myself, and a lot of other people, just simply because of the title, as Shovel Knight became the mid 2010’s indie darling, and with Shovel Knight receiving multiple updates all the way until 2020, I confused Hollow Knight with a shovel knight spin off, that I just didn’t want to play. Luckily, this game has nothing to do with Shovel Knight, and is just an unfortunate title.

When Hollow Knight begins, you start off as a little bug that travels around this dark and dreary world, filed with emptiness and foreboding. Something just feels off as you battle your way through mass amounts of bug like creatures, until you stumble upon the hub town of Dirtmouth. There are a couple characters that you interact with and have some conversations, some just offer a bit of advice, some setup shops that you can buy things with. One shop is run by a map makers wife, She’ll sell you items that will help you traverse through the games extensive areas, and the Map Maker himself is found in each area.

As you travel around, and enter a new area of the game, you won’t have any idea how to navigate around, unless you just create a small map in your mind. You will eventually hear the quaint hum from the Map Maker, luring you toward him, like a siren’s song. Once you stumble upon the map maker, he’ll sell you a map of the area, and you can finally get your bearings again.

Currency is a huge deal in the beginning of the game, as it will allow you to buy certain items to allow you to navigate the game world easier, or even buy charms that you can equip to make battles easier as well. But at a certain point, you will buy everything in the game, and just have loads of money that you can’t do anything with. Even the game’s bank will only hold 4,500 geo (the game’s currency) and I had triple that amount when I completed the game.

When you die in the game, you lose all your geo that you were holding, and early points in the game, as I was trying to make my way to the top to go buy something, I’d die. For the first couple hours of the game, I didn’t realize that even if you die, you have a chance to fight your soul that stays where you die (think Dark Souls’ and it’s bloodstains). If you go and grab your soul, you can pick up your dropped geo. But if you die a second time while trying to get back to where you were, you lose your money permanently. And this frustrated me into rage quitting the game a couple times. Coupled with some infuriating boss encounters (ones of which were hidden bosses that I came across a dozen hours earlier than I should have), there were multiple times I quit out of the game exclaiming “I hate this game, I am never playing this again!”

Luckily, that was just the anger talking, and I picked the game up a day or so later and continued to make progress. Although, I will admit there were probably close to three hours of me wasting time, wandering around, looking for a new area, or someway to progress. Which did become frustrating, as the game, again taking a page out of the Dark Souls playbook, doesn’t tell you anything about where to go, or what to do. It is purely self taught exploration and a bit of trial and error.

Luckily, the game is interesting enough, and the combat is more than enjoyable to keep me coming back till I completed it. Most enemies just require some extra tact, as going in, guns blazing is a hap-hazard approach with will lead to death over a victory nine times out of ten. Learning the enemies behavior and patterns, and knowing when there is just simply too many to tackle all at once is something that is required to keep your life. Even the bosses have pretty easy to recognize patterns and should only require a few tries if you are patient… which admittedly I am not.

The world of Hollow Knight is grim and upsetting, but also hauntingly beautiful. It has that uneasy familiarity to it. And the abandoned nature of the areas, all overgrown and forgotten from a time long since the past, really made me keep going, even when I didn’t want to.

Even though you rarely interact with characters, they are all charming and you want to get to know them and the world you are in more than the game lets on. So much of these types of games require you to either put it together yourself, or go outside the game, and go onto the internet to learn more about the world. Which is ok, but not my preferred way of playing a game and gleaming that information.

The platforming and combat was well done, and even getting things to upgrade health, armor and weapons all added to making the game feel much more fleshed out than a simple hack and slash game. With a new sequel to the game either coming later this year, or next… I am extremely excited to see more of what this three person team from Australia has to offer.