Developed by a small group of people, the project that started as a Stencyl game, quickly gathered support on Kickstarter and moved to Unity, with a final launch price of 14.99. A game that can deliver at least 50 hours of gameplay for such a price, is clearly a fantastic deal, but even with such a friendly price tag, Hollow Knight may not be enjoyed by all, due to the difficulty, ambiguity, and relentless 2D action.
We play as the Knight, a bug-like creature, in a kingdom long forgotten by most of its inhabitants called Hollownest. Once a populated place, filled with busy roads and bug-life at every corner, Hollownest is now just a shadow of its former glory, a desolate place made of ruins and memories. Only the promise of knowledge, treasures, adventures, and many other wonders that the mind can imagine allures one to make the dark descent into this kingdom. There's one catch though: many goes there, but none comes back.
The narrative is portrayed, with unconventional unambiguous ways, that set players to fill the voids of the storyline, by either guessing or digging up the truth. Nonetheless, this marvelous way of storytelling, is not for everyone, and can put you off to this adventure. Visuals can also tell you quite a bit about the lore, and the events behind the game plot. Paying close attention to details in the environment may uncover more surprises than you’d expect.
As mysterious as it can be, Hollow Knight is not unique to this writing, as Dark Souls did it before, and plenty other works, but when comes to video-games, it’s still a refreshing approach. NPC’s have their own agenda, interests and memories, their will may not reflect what they remember, and as for their actions... well, it’s up to you to judge. The story of Hollow Knight is a sad tale, but also a wonder mix of mystery and drama. The most efficient side of the game’s story, is not the events themselves, but how they are painted, and characterized along the game.
Completely in 2D, Hollow Knight is a beautiful hand drawn action platformer that features quite the vast environment, covering diverse and unique lands, as you descend to find the truth behind your quest. Each area feels and looks different from everything, and the art direction surprises anyone delivering unexpected changes, from dark, gloomy rocky hills to beautiful green magical areas, or a mushroom based fungal underground area. The wonders of the game’s design are not entirely visual, as it’s also mechanical, with areas exceptionally well constructed, and shortcuts waiting to be unlocked.
There’s a conjunction of traces that define Hollow Knight, and a strong one is the gameplay, as it’s just not another action platformer, instead, it takes a classic genre into another level. A pure metroidvania, delivering the structure, placement and length to be consistently proclaimed as one of the best metroidvanias. The gameplay alone, delivers entertainment for all sorts of players, and that is something that I came to realize after 100 hours. Speedrunners can push themselves at every run, adventures can explore freely across Hollownest demystifying its secrets, and the hardcore ones can push the game to its limits, leaving a trail of devastation when completing the hardest challenge.
Understanding Hollow Knight and to completely beat it, requires a mental discipline that not everyone is willing to mutate into their minds. Decide if the time you want to apply is worth your efforts, yet, without such time, you can’t simply become good enough. Finishing the main path is possible for the majority, nonetheless, the game tends to teach more than it punishes, if you pay close attention that is.
Across Hollownest players will unlock new abilities, skills and magic powers that become part of your character, to progress, or go back and unlock new passageways, secrets or gather collectables. Skills such as a Dash, Double Jump, or magic spells become instantly familiar and useful against all sorts of treats, alongside a very solid and fluid gameplay. It's not flawless, as I would personally like to be able to cancel moves such as the Dash, and have I-frames when picking up objects, so I wouldn't take damage for just collecting a Charm while being attacked.
Bosses can quickly become the most important slice of the cake, you either love them, or hate ‘em. Some are incredible well telegraphed, with animations that anticipate behavior and attacks. Yet, others use projectiles which quickly became almost as an excuse to dictate a necessity to inflict damage on the player, such as the absolute last boss, that was heavily criticized due to that. Another well justified critique is how a couple of bosses read your inputs way too soon, and I totally agree.
Several buffs and extra stats for both types of attacks, as well as defense can be used through Charms. These special items can be used to increase stats. To use them, players must buy or unlock Notches, and the more you have, the more Charms you can equip. It’s a really nice way to add major strategic combos depending on the challenge ahead.
Even though the base game is already considerably cheap, released DLC costs nothing. Yes, on top of everything, a lot of new content was added for free. I personally think this was an act of goodwill, but also arguably easier to deliver a consistent experience, and equalizing the content structure. Aside from content that delivers new bosses and areas which were later integrated such as The Hive, players have The Grimm Troupe that includes new quests, NPC’s, and a boss. The infamous Godmaster DLC is where you truly put your skills to the test, fighting every enemy/boss in a very arcade challenge to reach a True Ending.
The soundtrack was composed by the Australian composer Christopher Larkin, and the choice was right. With very melodic waves of neo-classic and simplistic chords, the music of each area creates the perfect atmosphere and momentum. Definitely one of those soundtracks capable of creating nostalgic waves immediately as you hear the epic symphonic tunes, without even playing the game. Highly recommended to be purchased separately.
There are endless game studios, but only a few can develop something such as this. Hollow Knight is clearly one of my favorite games, even though I recognize I lack the radiant willpower to finish the toughest challenge, I also know this game will continue to teach me. An amazing experience, unique and made with passion, Hollow Knight is a must you absolutely have to try.