Updated: Jan 25
by Andrew Wheatley
"The Knight," the protagonist of Team Cherry's 2017 offering Hollow Knight.
Hollow Knight is a metroidvania game released in 2017, developed and published by Team Cherry. In it, you play as a figure colloquially known as “The Knight,” but some characters in the game call you “little shadow,” “delicious,” and even “small.” As The Knight, you explore the ruins of the once great kingdom of Hallownest, which was ruled over by the Pale King, and which has since fallen victim to a disease that takes over the mind of its host and assimilates it into a hive mind, symbolized by a glowing orange liquid.
Over the course of the game, you learn this all in bits and pieces. In fact, when you begin the game, you know nothing about any of this. You’re informed about a basic summary of this by a bug named Elderbug in the town nearby where you start the game, who tells you that travelers often travel into the caves that make up most of Hallownest, never to return, that the air is “sickly” in Hallownest, and that there was a once-great kingdom that was there as well.
There is a lot more to talk about with regards to the lore of the world of Hallownest, but you don’t need to know any of it really. Sure, there’s a tall nonbinary bug you have to fight to beat the game, and possibly God too, but you don’t particularly need to know why those are there in the first place. For the purposes of this review, I won’t be touching on the plot or lore any more than I already have, which is okay because the story takes a backseat to the gameplay anyways in Hollow Knight. Most of the time, you’re just running around hitting things with your sword.
As mentioned before, you’ll be exploring all of Hallownest in this game, from the capital of the kingdom, to the defector spider tribe, to the howling cliffs that flank it. Obviously, you need to move around and navigate obstacles to do this, and there are three main kinds of obstacles in Hollow Knight: combat, platforming, and checkpoints.
Combat is simple at face value: enemies exist, and you have a weapon. In the beginning areas, that’s all you have to really know since the enemies are so simple, but once you get out of the beginning areas you’re going to have to start learning enemy attack patterns, learning how to exploit their AI and the ways they attack in order to score a hit on them without being hit yourself. Even in the beginning area, there are two bosses, one objectively harder than the other, that you can fight and, unless you learn how to maneuver around their attacks, you will lose against them.
None of the combat in Hollow Knight is particularly unfair either. Sure, when you first go against an enemy or boss they might beat you black and blue, but once you fight them for the 5th, 10th, maybe 100th time you’ll be breezing past them, expertly fighting them and taking little to no damage. Hollow Knight is challenging, but none of the challenges are simulated––it’s all designed. You’re not going to be taking damage because a boss’ attack wasn’t properly telegraphed or because you had no time to react, you’ll take damage because you’re unfamiliar with the attack patterns or you don’t know how to avoid the boss’ attacks properly. Once you learn these things, you’re golden, baby!
Platforming is the bread and butter of any metroidvania. No matter where you’re going, what you’re doing, you’re required to be jumping, dashing, and dodging. Are you traveling from the City of Tears all the way to the Kingdom’s Edge? Sure, you can do that, just start jumping across these platforms with gaps and falls that would severely injure any real person. Thankfully you don’t take fall damage in this game. A great example of this is actually the aforementioned City of Tears.
The City of Tears is a hub of activity. You can access three other major areas from it as well as get a new ability, open two fast-travel points (otherwise known as stag stations), and fight someone who had the audacity to go to sleep. There is much more you can do in the City of Tears alone, but these are the big, mostly story-moving things and they are all separated by lots of platforming. And it’s good! The platforming in Hollow Knight isn’t particularly challenging, I'd say, but when you have to do it everywhere you go I imagine making rooms you’ll be frequently traveling through difficult to navigate is a bad idea from a game design perspective.
There are, of course, platforming challenges, but they’re few and far between, saved for things that deserve a challenge, such as one of the many, many collectibles you can find in the game. Have you tried to pogo across a spiky crevasse while attempting, and probably failing, to ride a giant centipede? I have. It’s hard. But once you successfully do all those things and complete one of the many platforming challenges, you may be rewarded with such great things as: ¼ of an increase to your health, ⅓ of an increase to your SOUL, a trinket that gives you funky powers, a child, or lore.
Checkpoints are basically platforming challenges, but they’re really easy and only serve to make sure you have certain items that would require you to make an otherwise impossible jump. They aren’t particularly of any note. You could find a wall that you could theoretically climb up, but you can’t reach it in the first place because it’s too high up. That’s a sign that you need to find something that lets you jump that high. Again, these only exist to make sure you have certain items, as metroidvanias tend to do.
WAIT: WHAT AM I DOING?
Well the whole point of Hollow Knight is that there’s this big person, called the Hollow Knight, and he’s got a disease which may or may not be a god and you have to either get their disease or find a way to fight a god. Of course, fighting someone and stealing their disease from their body is a lot easier than fighting a god, and that’s gamified in this game. There are measures of progression you have to reach in order to get certain endings, and you can fight the Hollow Knight before you do less than half the things any normal person would do in this game.
Early on, you get the Dream Nail, which lets you read the minds of the living and dead. If you want to fight the Hollow Knight, this is all you need. In order to fight them, though, you have to unseal the temple which the Hollow Knight is inside of, which requires you to have the Dream Nail to walk up to the people who are sealing the temple and say “yo wake up” and read the minds of their sleeping bodies, because they’re all asleep.
If you want to fight a god, it’s a bit more complicated. Have you ever revisited the place you were born? Well if you do that in this game you get assaulted by beings made of a substance which is, apparently, the antithesis of life itself, and also you get a funky cloak that lets you do funky things. After that, you just casually ask someone for half of a nice little button, and then get the other half by maneuvering your way around a castle-turned-death-trap until you find the old king of Hallownest and steal it from him. After that you go back to your birthplace, discover your Origin Story™️, and turn the nice little button into a different nice little button. And then you fight a god, naturally. Of course, with the DLCs that came out after Hollow Knight’s release, there are other endings you can get, but they still involve fighting a god, just in a slightly different way.
Is Hollow Knight good? Absolutely. I love this game with all my heart, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. Even if you’re not particularly familiar with video games as a whole but have $15 to spend, or even if you don’t like platforming games, I still recommend it. When I first played it I didn’t like platformers either, and when I finished it I simply didn’t have an opinion on them. If you do purchase Hollow Knight, however, I recommend you buy it on the Nintendo Switch because the DLC for it is free on the Switch.