Exploring the Depths
Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight is an incredibly rewarding action adventure with refreshing gameplay mechanics and a focus on exploration in a vast meticulously crafted world. Released during Nintendo’s E3 conference after months of promises and delays from the developers, it’s such a relief to finally be able to play this title on the Switch. It took some extra time to get this port up to scratch, but judging by the high fidelity of the graphics and the fluidity of gameplay it was worth the wait. It’s one of the prettiest and smoothest running experiences on the console and among the finest games to be released on eShop in 2018.
Hollow Knight falls in line with a recent string of titles taking pointers from the Dark Souls series in hopes to spice up or innovate gameplay, but where others feel like shabby and lazy clones, Hollow Knight uses just enough of the popular dynamic to exceed expectations and harvest a truly amazing experience. As far as Metroidvania titles go, it’s hard to beat the classic Castlevania : Symphony of the Knight, but like how their development team took ideas from The Legend of Zelda to create something great, Hollow Knight takes some of the concepts of the Souls Series.
The healing system is similar to an Estus Flask as there’s no health pickups, you can only replenish health by gaining something called ‘Soul’ from slain enemies, or sitting down at save points. The currency you pick up to upgrade your character, buy maps and items is called Geo. As you progress, your ‘Soul’ can be used for other things like spells or summoning a host of bugs to defend you from oncoming attacks. Upgrades for your little sword or ‘Nail’ as NPCs call them are difficult to come by, but you will find a whole range of equippable badges that can give you advantages attuned to your playing style.
The sheer size of this world will have you skittering through caves and swamps looking for all of their secrets for a long time. The combat is simple but tight and challenging with many different bosses and adversaries to defeat through the course of the game. Some will push you and frustrate you until something clicks and you somehow understand how to conquer it with ease, a feeling that almost makes you feel superhuman.
The OST and sound design is subtle but very memorable. It can give you chills one moment and make you feel disgustingly anxious the next. Composer Christopher Larkin uses piano and the viola at the centrepiece of the score with strange and beautiful melodies giving the atmosphere the final touch it needs to be engrossing.After the first couple bosses, paths start to branch out further and your new abilities can get you into new and secret areas. You’ll need to purchase maps as you go from a cartographer or risk getting lost in these winding caverns, and unlock rest areas and ways to spend your Geo wisely. Elements of the enemy design harken back to the original Metroid with twisted little alien buggers crawling around trying to gnaw your ankles as you bounce through the labyrinths.
Punishing but not unfair
The level of difficulty is evenly balanced in that deaths will mostly be down to the player’s own mistakes and misjudgements, but it can get frustrating at times. With Dark Souls getting a Switch port this summer, Hollow Knight is the perfect trial run to see how frustrated you get while playing a game in portable mode. It’s not beyond belief that a rage quit could push some easily triggered games to throw the console in anger, so if you’re one of those people I recommend playing it docked with a safe distance between you and the television in case you end up hurling a Joy-Con.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Hollow Knight for this review.