For a game called Hollow Knight, the game’s setting, mechanics, and extras are incredibly dense. Originally launched in 2014 from Australian Team Cherry, I finally had a chance to play it on the Switch after it released earlier this month. I will save you the trouble of reading the rest of this post: Hollow Knight is, to me, equivalent in quality to the masterpiece Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and worthy of equal veneration.
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania game. If you are unfamiliar, it is a genre of games that mimic classic series like Metroid and Castlevania. The genre is known for having an equal blend of platforming and action combat, as well as environments you constantly have to retread as you unlock newer ways to explore and progress.
I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy Hollow Knight, but it hooked me quickly. The controls are phenomenal. They feel as smooth as Mega Man II or Megaman X. Like other games in the action-platformer genre, I found just navigating the Hallownest (the game’s setting) was pleasant. The combat is also tight, complete with great animations, and a variety of attacks and spells to unlock to spice combat up a bit as you go.
As much as I enjoyed exploring (both platforming and fighting) my way through the game’s dark and dreary setting, I wish there had been a bit more story. The little information you do get comes secondhand from a cast of strange characters you meet or through rare tablets you find hidden. I am still piecing it together even though I am at a 103% completion rate (thank you DLC).
Despite lacking story, Hollow Knight firmly establishes its tone and never lets go. All of the characters are bugs of one kind or another. The art is fantastic and the level variety is incredible once you start finding new areas. I also really enjoyed the music, especially the extra boss Nightmare King Grimm’s theme. I learned to hum it over the two hours of practice it took for me to finally vanquish him.
Now, to address the elephant in the room: is Hollow Knight challenging?
I am not the type of person who actively seeks out challenging video games. If a game is hard, then it is not automatically good. I tend to avoid especially hard games because they often frustrate me and I hate being frustrated.
Hollow Knight challenged me but I never got frustrated. The game does a good job of not punishing the player for a loss (outside of potentially losing geo, the game’s currency). Rather than a game over, you wake up at the last bench you sat on and they are relatively plentiful. Certain boss fights take place in the dream world and if you die in those, you wake up at the start of the fight, no money lost and your health restored.
I have heard Hollow Knight compared to games like Dark Souls. I have long avoided that style of video game since I rarely seek out challenge over other things. While I cannot share my opinion on the comparison, I think Hollow Knight is a fun, engaging, and sound game that doesn’t try to cheat you of overcoming its potential difficulty with cheap tricks.
Furthermore, I really liked some of the additional late game areas. The White Palace in particular contains some very serious platforming that I would easily compare to a platformer-only game like Super Meat Boy. It even has the bouncing on saw blades that you see in hardcore Super Mario hacks. It was entirely optional, but I think it speaks a lot of what Team Cherry has managed to do with the controls in Hollow Knight that they executed a pure platforming area so well within a game that typically focuses on combat and exploration.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night holds a special place in my heart. It is one of the few games I have beaten multiple times on multiple platforms. Elevating a game like Hollow Knight to be its equal is a huge honor in my book. Deservedly so because the nearly 40 hours I have already put into Hollow Knight isn’t nearly enough even if I am running out of things to do. I cannot wait for more with the game’s next DLC!