Hollow Knight starts off with our tiny hero dropping down onto an abandoned town with nothing more than his cloak and his trusty Nail (that’s what bugs use instead of swords). You are limited to two basic actions, jumping and attacking. It’s good then, that these two actions feel so good. Every swing and every jump is accurate, you can hold down the jump button to increase the height of your jump, and therefore are always in control. This accuracy is important, because this game is hard.
The basic mechanics of the game are as follows. If you so much as briefly touch an enemy, or a part of the environment that you’re not supposed to, the Knight will receive damage. However, for each hit you land on an enemy you will fill up your Vessel Fragment, allowing you to either heal yourself, or later on, use abilities that can damage enemies or the environment.
As you traverse the once-glorious kingdom that is the setting of Hollow Knight, you will find enemies, platforming obstacles and all manner of nasty things. This means that death will inevitably find you. Hollow Knight takes a Souls-like approach to death, punishing you for your incompetence by taking all of your money and locking it behind your own ghost. For every death, should you want to get back your hard-earned coin, you will have to go back to the place where you perished and fight yourself. The hard part, as I have found, is actually getting back to your corpse, as the ghost itself takes no more than two hits to kill.
Each death is painful, and I have often had to hold myself from throwing the controller in frustration. However, the reward for getting back your coin and finally passing that obstacle, whether it be a boss or a platforming challenge, is often worth the pain it took to get there. Instead of leveling up, the game offers “Charms”, which are modifiers you can equip and which grant different abilities. One may increase the range of your Nail, the other may grant you more souls for each hit. In addition, you will receive special skills and abilities as you progress, such as a double-jump, a dash and so on.
It should be noted that this game is huge. There are not only many distinct and unique areas of the map, but there are also a ton of secrets and challenges within each area. The atmosphere and music in each zone is different and makes each one highly memorable. You will find yourself missing certain zones that had a more cheerful tone while traversing the grimmer sections of the map.
Hollow Knight is a special game, it is not often that a 2D platformer manages to hold my interest for so long, and especially pique my curiosity with its story and lore. I cannot recommend this game enough, whether you’re a fan of old school Metroidvanias or are just looking for a challenging and rewarding game to sink your teeth into.
Available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.