Hollow Knight was on my radar of games to play for quite a while, and I finally got the chance to really dive into it near the beginning of quarantine this year. With beautiful graphics and responsive gameplay, I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn even further in by its immersive story and game design. It does an excellent job cementing itself as an indie classic, and with Hollow Knight: Silksong still up in the air in terms of release dates, now seems like a great time to see how the first game stands on its own.
1 - Visuals
As I mentioned before, this game has some gorgeous graphics. The smooth animation and aesthetics of the characters and environments all comes together to create an atmospheric experience unlike any I’ve seen before. Each area has a unique feel and palette while still feeling connected to the larger world as a whole. And the game knows this, planting little moments and areas throughout gameplay to let the player stop and take in the view, feeling small in such a grand scene, even if that scene itself is in ruins.
This game gets a lot of use out of particle effects and visual design, making everything feel alive and breathtaking with acid-bubbling and little motes of light showing life (and death) across this ruined kingdom. Still images don’t do it justice, with soft particles of dust and ash adding a sense of depth to every moment.
The only downside of this is that the framerate suffers on lower-end machines, largely due to all the particle and glow effects. They look amazing, but when they start to interfere with the gameplay by causing a stutter between input and reaction, it can really add up. That’s the main reason for the decrease in stars… Even though it may just be my computer.
All in all, Hollow Knight gets 4.5 stars for visuals.
2 - Audio
Hollow Knight has a hauntingly beautiful orchestral soundtrack, adding a level of grandeur and depth to the game. It honestly reminded me of some of the classic Legend of Zelda titles, like Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, with specific character motifs and swelling music during dramatic moments. Depending on what version/ bundle of the game you get, you can buy both the main game soundtrack as well as the soundtrack of the DLC Gods & Nightmares. I would highly recommend it: 10/10 would add to my playlists.
And that’s without even touching on the SFX! The ‘swh’ of the player moving through grass, the ‘klang’ of hitting your Nail (in-game weapon) against enemies or objects, it all adds the right level of weight to every movement, every action, echoing across the ruined kingdom that the story takes place in. Just… *chef’s kiss.*
Audio is a perfect 5/5 stars mastapeece.
3 - Story/Progression
The Hollow Knight story is referenced everywhere in-game, from the environmental design to the sound design. You can feel and see the vestiges of the once-great kingdom of Hallownest in the worn pathways, the dripping water, and the quiet tapping of your feet over empty roads. The game reeks of lore and secrets, with plenty of hidden stories, dialogue, and missions to flesh out characters and past events, such as the story of the Grey Mourner, tucked away among the graves of bugs past. There’s also the stories unlocked by her quest of the Delicate Flower, with many different characters offering different insights and opinions on the precious gift when offered, with some routes changing the very endings of the game itself. Despite all this, the game does not wear its heart on its sleeve.
The lore of this game is… unclear. It never gives definitive answers, leaving open-ended questions for the community to try and decipher even close to four years after its initial release. This has both pros and cons, as it leaves some players feeling unsatisfied with vague endings. There’s not really a “good” ending, as it’s not really a game about happy, hopeful, things. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Story gets 4 stars.
4 - Gameplay
Let’s not split hairs: this game is hard. Maybe it’s not as immediately challenging as Cuphead, but it has a fairly smooth scaling of difficulty that ultimately, in my opinion, leads to more challenging bosses overall, at least in the endgame. The gameplay controls are slick and fluid, letting players feel light on their feet as they dodge corrupted husks. Mobility is a core gameplay mechanic as you dodge and weave your way around the environment, and aside from some minor lag issues (as mentioned before,) the game feels consistent.
For a consistent but not out-of-this-world experience, Hollow Knight gets 4 stars for gameplay.
5 - Context
This game’s main weakness is that it failed to grab the acclaim that other similar indie titles received upon release. While it has maintained a strong community, it didn’t get the initial hype that other titles released in the same year got, such as Cuphead (September 2017,) Night in the Woods (February 2017,) and What Remains of Edith Finch (April 2017.) It was a strong year for hit indie titles and, unfortunately, some fell through the cracks. Metroidvania is a strong, popular subgenre of games; Especially in regards to long playtimes and collectibles, Hollow Knight just had an unusual amount of competition. For a small team of 3, it’s a beautiful game, and the continued excitement and interest in Team Cherry’s future titles goes to show how well it holds up.
3.5 stars for context.
Hollow Knight is a beautifully designed metroidvania that has retained players’ attention even years after its initial release. The art and audio work in tandem to immerse players in a haunting world of bugs and dreams, and I look forward to one day playing Hollow Knight: Silksong.