HOLLOW KNIGHT: VOIDHEART EDITION
This brave litt le knight will capture your heart and soul
On the face of it, Hollow Knight seems like just another Metroidvania game. Sprawling cavernous playground? Check. Secrets to discover? Check. Unreachable locations that are only accessible once you’ve obtained the correct equipment or ability? Check. It contains all the staple elements of the genre but if you peek below its surface it reveals itself to be much, much more.
This enchanting and surreal 2D adventure places you in the tiny boots of an unnamed insect knight in a world full of strange and wonderful creatures. Your introduction to the game comes from the first non-player character, the Elderbug, who you meet in the desolate town of Dirtmouth. He sheds some brief details about the kingdom of Hallownest that resides beneath the town and how this once prosperous place has fallen into ruin and is now crawling with monsters and reanimated insect husks. Beyond this you’re told little to nothing about who you are or what you’re supposed to be doing in this dark and sorrowful place. But that’s precisely where the game shines. The drip-fed narrative encourages you to explore and discover these answers for yourself.
Navigating the world is such a joy. Every area you visit is distinctly different from the last in its terrain, mood and atmosphere, and they’re so densely populated with secrets to find, interesting NPCs to converse with that flesh-out the narrative, as well as creatures and environmental challenges to face, that every direction hides something of value. And thanks to the beautiful art style it’s always visually stunning.
Wielding your Nail, an upgradeable bladed weapon, you’ll cut down a huge collection of enemies and bosses as you explore. Doing so rewards you with Geo, an in-game currency used to purchase items and upgrades, but also Soul. Each hit on an enemy produces a wispy essence, which you absorb, and is crucial to your survival. Filling up your Soul meter will allow you to do two things: you can either consume it to heal a portion of your health, or spend it on any of the spells or abilities that you’ve acquired. This adds an interesting tactic during combat. Do you back off to recover your health, or do you make a gambit and attack with a powerful blast with the risk that you could die from the next blow? Healing takes a moment to charge which adds further risk if poorly timed and the enemies do not have health bars, so it’s difficult to know how many more times you need to attack. This makes it imperative to learn each of the enemy’s attacks and abilities as you come across them. Learning their routines through trial and error is rewarding in itself. You’ll gradually gain more skill and confidence and before you know it you’ll be dancing around large powerful foes with an elegance and grace that make you feel like David versus Goliath. The similarities
with FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series are apparent, so it’s no surprise that you’ll die a lot.
You’ll see no game-over screen during play. Instead, when you die you’re transported back to one of the benches scattered throughout the world that allow you to rest, recover and save your progress. Any collected Geo will be lost but thankfully you have an opportunity to reclaim it. Upon death you leave a ghostly apparition of yourself, known as a Shade, behind. You’ll need to retrace your steps to the location of your death, avoiding all the dangers leading up to it and do battle with your shadowy self. The more powerful you become, the more powerful your Shade will be. Any ability that you’ve acquired will naturally become part of your Shade’s repertoire. These confrontations aren’t the most challenging, but if you happen to die before defeating the Shade your collection of Geo will be lost forever.
The soundtrack, composed by Christopher Larkin, is a beautiful and fitting touch that elevates the game’s mood and tone. The sombre score adds an extra layer of melancholy to proceedings and you may find yourself lingering in certain areas just to enjoy the sights and sounds.
Through its combat, exploration and narrative, Hollow Knight respects the intelligence of the player. When you initially gain control of the knight there are no instructions as to how to play. Only when you acquire new abilities will it tell you how to use them and let you move on. The narrative is revealed over time and you’re required to piece information together to gain a better understanding of the story.
To dismiss Hollow Knight as just another Metroidvania game would be to rob yourself of one of the finest examples of a 2D adventure game. It’s proof that when done right it’s possible to breathe life into the most worn-out genres. Hollow Knight may be anything but original, borrowing heavily from many different games, but it’s how it combines these influences within a mysterious alchemy of game design that makes it thoroughly entertaining and rewarding.
“You may linger in certain areas just to enjoy the sights and sounds”
Left Every location has a beautiful art style. A real feast for the eyes.
Far Left Many of the bosses you go up against will have a second combat phase.
right Some of the stange creatures you meet will offer you rewards for your deeds.