Reviewed on Steam
I absolutely adore Metroidvanias. To people who know me this should come as no surprise. The genre is also one of the most popular in the Indie scene, with hits like Ori and the Blind Forest, Dead Cells and more. Truly, it is my wish to play almost all of them before I die and so I will. I refuse to accept death’s scythe before that. One of my best friends knew (I think) about my love for the genre and gifted me Hollow Knight for Christmas. I had my eyes on this game for longer and took the opportunity immediately to play this game!
Hollow Knight was released on Steam in early 2017 by Team Cherry, a small Indie games developer consisting of three people settled in Adelaide, Australia. Hollow Knight is their first official game, which started as a Kickstarter in November 2014 and got funded the month after with huge success, including some stretch goals beyond the amount needed for the initial release. Even some stretch goals that were not met were eventually included in the game! Hollow Knight was met with high praise in the gaming community, so much so that later on, all 8th generation consoles also got their slice of the cake. Not only that, but the game kept being updated after release with four content packs, each improving the game even further as well as adding even more content. At the moment there is also a DLC pack in the work for fan-favourite character Hornet, with an unknown release date. To say that Hollow Knight got a good reception would be an understatement, and it’s absolutely amazing to see a small indie studio have such huge success.
You play the game through the eyes of a mysterious being called the Knight. We do not know a lot about him at first, and neither does he know everything about himself. A creature known as a Wyrm dies, but is later reincarnated as the Pale King. Hallownest, the world of Hollow Knight, placed their devotion in a being known as the Radiance. But a true king needs his followers so manages to convince most of the bugs to forget about their old beliefs and instead pick the Pale King as their true leader. To no one’s surprise, the Radiance wasn’t so pleased with this and corrupted some of Hallownest’s inhabitants through their dreams, spreading an infection as a result. This infection was eventually sealed away, yet Hallownest was not at peace.
The land of Hallownest is very much alike to its multiple themes, including bugs and dreams. Hollow Knight’s world is a beautiful one to explore, with many different areas having that bug- and forest-like feeling. It’s also inhabited with unique enemies and other characters with almost none of them having a recycled design. Characters have their own dialogue which can differ depending on when or how much you talk to them, being about the world of Hallownest and the problems currently happening, or just their own personal problems. Later on in the game you’re even able to see in the dreams of both enemies and neutral characters, just to see additional dialogue and check if they’re truly speaking the truth.
Not only is Hallownest a beautiful (and dangerous) place to explore, but it’s also filled to the brim with content and secrets. Every room you get to, you can at least expect something. Be it a new item, a collectable or a particular monster, every time you arrive somewhere it feels fresh. And that is what made me keep playing and playing; there is never a dull moment in Hollow Knight where I felt like I wasn’t making progress. I could choose whichever direction I wanted to go and even if I did not have all the upgrades to get everything in that area, I made progress and became stronger in the process. This was especially the case when I got upgrades such as wall jumping, where I knew I could continue that area and end up in a new one, but I could also go back to a previous area to end up.. in yet another level. This happened to me all the time, and I felt rewarded for going my own way with fun and entertaining new areas. The content made this especially clear, as there is so much to do. You could kill all monsters multiple times to fill up the monster book, or gather essence that will be of benefit to you later in the story. I never got tired of doing anything in Hollow Knight because I got rewarded in one way or another for whatever I did. The world is also easily traversable with Stag Stations in every major area, a form of ‘’metro transport’’ to quick travel to any visited area.
Of course, to explore more of an area you will need upgrades. They variate from abilities that will help you in just combat like magic, to abilities that will also help with platforming like double jumping and dashing. It’s not really that the Knight has the most impressive of abilities since most of these are a staple in Metroidvanias, but why fix what isn’t broken? The Knight controls very smoothly because of this, and if I did fail I never once had the feeling that it was the game’s fault. I messed up, I’m dumb and I hate myself for it. The Knight has a nail as weapon, essentially a sword to cut enemies close to him, and magic to use from afar. To use magic however, your soul gauge needs to be filled to a certain degree. You can obtain souls from attacking or taking damage, as well as random statues which are most of the time hidden. But souls have another significant feature, namely the ability to heal yourself. You can do this at any time given you have enough souls, but while focusing you are vulnerable to attacks which will interrupt your healing. Any soul used will disappear even if you were not able to heal yourself, so be careful and plan in advance when you want to heal.
Geo is the currency of Hollow Knight, also dropped by enemies or looted from chests scattered all over the world. Usually I don’t really have to mention what Geo is used for since we all have a functioning brain, but let me highlight a few exceptions. While you can travel to any area no sweat given you have the right abilities, the map will remain blank until you buy it from the Cartographer who is randomly found in an area. Not only that, but the shop in the main town also sells pins that are automatically added to the map, or pins that you can place yourself to note interesting places on a map you want to revisit later. For example, a high ledge which you need an ability for. They are handy things to have, but since Geo is limited early on in the game, you’ll have to think carefully about what or what not to buy. Especially with the amount of shops there are. Not only that, but Stag Stations also have to be unlocked with Geo, as well as some benches which function as a heal- and save point, as well as a point where you can equip charms. There is also another form of currency, namely Essence which is gained through multiple options with the Dream mechanic. Though its main purpose is advancing the story and getting rewards for every so-many collected amount, you can later on also use it to place one teleporter at a time.. practically anywhere. Every teleport costs one essence, but it’s very much worth it. You can literally almost place the teleporter anywhere you want, and you can teleport from wherever you want to it. This is singlehandedly one of the best abilities the Knight has, and it doesn’t even help him in combat or platforming.
I mentioned Charms earlier, and they are an important mechanic to Hollow Knight as well. Either found hidden in places or bought from the shops, Charms are equipable buffs for the Knight. Ranging from more invincibility time after damage to a longer nail and much more, there are many varied Charms out there to make your adventure a bit easier. Your placement on the map is also a Charm, which honestly was kinda unnecessary but I’ll roll with it since almost every other Charm is meaningful. There is a limit to how much you can equip however, shown by the amount of notches that are filled. But the great thing about charms is that they can also interact with other charms to enhance both of their benefits. A good setup of Charms is essential and for every other situation, a different combination of charms will be of benefit to you. This especially applies to enemies and bosses, which all require different approaches and strategies to beat. Your regular monster won’t be too much of a trouble, but having a Charm combination during a mini-boss or actual boss can make the difference. Bosses in Hollow Knight are an excellent challenge, with many different telegraphed attacks and in some cases even multiple phases. Once you’ve learned their attacks and manage to dodge them, you will win eventually. I really enjoyed fighting them, and it was great to see them return in the Godmaster content pack on their regular or even higher difficulty.
My Discord server, as well as other friends, have mentioned that this game in particular is pretty difficult. Then there are the elitists who say the game is pathetically easy and everyone who complains should just git gud. Today, I am here to give you the final answer of Hollow Knight’s difficulty. Every other answer is incorrect, as I speak the unswaying truth. Playing the game regularly from start to finish is a perfect challenge in my opinion. It is not too easy that you can blaze through it without breaking a sweat, but it’s not too difficult either. You might struggle at some platforming challenges or bosses, but by staying calm and with some trial and error, you’ll eventually succeed. And if you do die, a shade in the form of the Knight will appear at the place you died. If you manage to win the fight with him, either at the place you died or through a specific ritual in the main town, you’ll get all your lost Geo back and suffer no consequences at all except for lost time I suppose. For bosses, the right charm combination can make your life a whole lot easier. I would even say getting to the true ending is not too difficult, albeit having an out of place area at the end that was.. frustrating. Truly, it is the DLC where things get real challenging and honestly where I gave up, probably for another day. New bosses, an even more ridiculous path in that beforementioned area and more. The DLC is where the true challenge lies, and only the gamers who have mastered Hollow Knight will succeed here. The main game might challenge you a bit but is very much doable.
The time to beat the game is highly variable and depends on how you play a Metroidvania. When I first beat the game, I was at 90% completion and 20 hours total, but for you that might be lower or higher depending on if you want to explore as much as possible or go for the final boss straight away. How many hours it takes to complete the game well, I can’t say. There are multiple modes and if you’re in desperate need of achievements, one single playthrough isn’t going to do the job either. That however, is the beauty about Hollow Knight—or Metroidvanias in general: the multiple playthroughs that will never be the same. The world will not change, but you can visit an area you previously went to early on quite late in the game instead. There are also multiple endings and a few missables including dialogue and achievements.
The presentation is also excellent. The game follows a completely hand drawn style, which also fluids really nice into the animations. Though the colours used are minimalistic to represent the dark underground world of Hallownest, everything is still greatly visible. The map is also easy to understand, and the menu is easily traversable. The beautiful soundtrack fits the atmosphere the game is going for very well. I don’t think it’s a soundtrack I will remember long after the game, but I am sure it will give me the nostalgic feelings whenever I return.
If I could sum up my experience with Hollow Knight briefly: I’ve played it for six hours straight and I just could not put the controller down. The days after were the exact same story; that’s how much I love this game. Whichever way you decide to go, it will only reward you because of the huge amount of content Hollow Knight has. Not to mention the interesting areas bundled together with the Knight’s mobility, making the game an absolute joy to play. The Charm system also gives that degree of variability in gameplay style, tuning the Knight to your preferences and giving you a lot of new strategies. A fair difficulty for people who just want to beat the game, while completing requires mastery of the game. I don’t know if it’s my bias or if this game is just that good—but it’s probably both. I can’t help but give this game a very high recommendation to beat, and eventually complete depending on if you can handle the difficulty provided by the additional content. And with that, here is my final verdict for Hollow Knight:
Hollow Knight is playable on all 8th generation consoles as well as Steam. There isn’t really a best version to pick as all versions have the content packs and run very smoothly. It mostly depends on your preferred console. The Nintendo Switch would probably be a good option since taking a Metroidvania on the go is always great. You can’t go wrong with that, there is never a time you can’t play a Metroidvania. Trust me on this.