Some 17 hours into the game, I’m way past sizing up Hollow Knight. This game is excellent in nearly every imaginable way.
Why I Love is a new series on the website dedicated to discussing what we love about specific video games. Thanks to the support over on Patreon, we are able to bring articles like this to you. If you’ve played Hollow Knight, tell us what you enjoy about the game in the comments below. We’re super excited to have another article by Micah up on the website. Enjoy! GG & Amen! – Logan, Editor
Upon first sizing up Hollow Knight, one would be forgiven for dismissing the 2D action-adventure title. Another pretty looking indie metroidvania utilizing the Unity engine in 2018 is nothing spectacular. The sub-genre has been enjoying an inundation of quality titles of late from Dead Cells and Chasm to Guacamelee 2 and Death’s Gambit. Everywhere you look there appears to be some new hot shot kid, or promising indie team, who has taken their latest stab at the classic formula. And while Hollow Knight is aesthetically pleasing enough to draw you in on it’s own, it stands as a hard sell in a cluttered market. Some 17 hours into the game, I’m way past sizing up Hollow Knight. This game is excellent in nearly every imaginable way.
Your own adventure into this forgotten land will test your reflexes and bring sure death to even the most hardened player.
Hollow Knight’s premise is vague and mysterious. You play as a little bug wielding a small nail who travels to the outskirts of a forgotten kingdom – to a town called Dirtmouth. The inhabitants of Dirtmouth have all descended into the derelict underground kingdom in search of wealth, glory and enlightenment. Your own adventure into this forgotten land will test your reflexes and bring sure death to even the most hardened player. In-game death brings with it a high price. All geo, Hollow Knight’s currency, will be lost and can only be recovered by venturing back to the site of your death and toppling the ghost you left behind – a mechanic that any Dark Souls fan will instantly recognize. You’ll begin to realize that death plays a large role in Hollow Knight’s overall narrative…something I’m still piecing together and don’t claim to have fully figured out. Thankfully, there are numerous NPCs which provide scattered glimpses into the fallen kingdom of Hallownest. The NPCs, including bosses, are thoughtfully conceived and brought to life with good writing and fantastic, hand-drawn animation.
The two man combo of Ari Gibson and William Pellen who make up Team Cherry, Hollow Knight’s developer, have crafted something truly special in terms of artistic achievement in video games. The immediate striking attribute Hollow Knight brings to the table is it’s gorgeous hand-drawn art style. While most characters have a mixture of cuteness and simplicity, they blend with haunting environments which breathe life into what once was a bustling kingdom. There are over a dozen unique burrows found throughout the underground labyrinth. Each one brings not only it’s own look and feel, but also a new assortment of enemies to learn. The sheer variety in enemy design, both visually and mechanically, is very impressive and keeps the game feeling fresh and dangerous. There were numerous times that I would pause just to soak in the visuals, the atmosphere and the music. And oh! That music!
It’s safe to say that Hollow Knight’s music plays as much of a role in the game’s success as do the graphics or controls.
For Hollow Knight, Team Cherry worked with an independent musician and composer named Christopher Larkin. The dark caverns and abandoned halls of Hallownest are accompanied brilliantly by Larkin’s beautiful, melodic score. Driven primarily by piano and viola, the haunting soundtrack adds weight to each atmosphere while simple melodies add whimsey to already well-written NPCs. Larkin employs a technique called leitmotif, which is a short, reoccurring musical phrase associated with a particular person, place or idea. These create memorable and identifiable cues to certain areas or persons which help relay the atmosphere of any given section of the game. One such example is found with the games cartographer, Cornifer. This jolly bug can be found once in each burrow and provides the player a map of the area. He’s extremely helpful. He also hums a leitmotif that can slowly be heard more and more as you get nearer to him. It’s simple, catchy, and is a recognizable light in a world that is more often strange and dark. It’s safe to say that Hollow Knight’s music plays as much of a role in the game’s success as do the graphics or controls. It’s a standout soundtrack that could easily be consumed on it’s own.
So while the setting, character design and music are all top notch, what ultimately keeps bringing me back to Hallownest are the tight controls mixed with tried and true gameplay loops. The game makes no effort to conceal that it’s a metroidvania at it’s core… you’ll explore what will turn out to be a massive map and come across countless obstacles that will require an upgrade of some sort. I want to emphasize exploration in Hollow Knight because Team Cherry has struck a great balance of making you feel lost, while offering glimmers of hope in the darkness. “Maybe that one tunnel I forgot to go down has something I can use” I’ll think. Or right when I’m getting discouraged with a new area, I’ll start to hear Cornifer’s aforementioned humming and make a bee line for my friend. The mystery of not knowing just how deep any particular rabbit trail goes is both infectious and rewarding as there will be several secrets buried in the nooks and crannies. Combining this with an intriguing lore and unique characters help drive the player deeper and deeper into the mysterious, once forgotten kingdom of Hallownest.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, I’m only about 17 hours into Hollow Knight. There’s plenty I haven’t discovered. The game keeps adding fun layers that spice things up either mechanically, graphically or musically, and it’s been a joy to dive into this world. I keep being surprised at just how large this game is and still, I’m not bored… quite the opposite in fact. I can’t wait to jump back down the Dirtmouth well and see what creatures and mysteries await.
To see Hollow Knight in action for yourself, check out our Let’s Play!