[Review] Hollow Knight – The best 2D Souls-like?
Developer: Team Cherry
Release: 24th February 2017
Review Key was provided by Team Cherry
Hollow Knight promises to be a challenging 2D game with a giant interconnected world and fast gameplay mixed with a beautifull artstyle! The wet dream of every 2D metroidvania Souls-like lover a la Salt and Sanctuary. So, let´s see if it can hold up to its promises! (I´m sorry in advance for the excessive comparisons to the Souls-games but its simply the easiest way to show how this game works)
Like other Souls-like games Hollow Knight doesn´t tell you much about itself. Instead you will learn more about the world, yourself and your quest by talking to the different characters you will meet during the game and read cryptic hints from old stones. You won´t know what´s your goal or why your there or what happened to the world, just one thing: Climb down to the ancient forgotten kingdom under the ground. I won´t spoil the story, since like all other Souls-like games it depends on your interpretation, on the hints you found, on the characters you spoke too etc.
Oh, did I mention that this game is very well written? Especially the dialogues really transport the personality of the different characters just by the way they´re written, the texts aren´t long but they say a lot.
To be honest Hollow Knight is as reserved with its story as other Souls-like games, placing characters, enemy descriptions and much more in the centre of it´s depressing tale of a fallen kingdom while presenting it with a writing that could even challenge some AAA games!
As mentioned above Hollow Knight is by far not an easy game to master or understand. While its base gameplay may be fairly standard it successfully adds some little features to it that change the whole gameflow:
For every killed enemy you get Souls, which you can use to heal yourself! If your Souls-bar is full you can regenerate up to 3 lives, on the other hand however you have to channel this heal, making you vulnerable towards enemies and leaving you in a bad spot in general, creating a mind game if you should heal now or not. After the first 2 areas you get the dash, which is maybe the most important thing in this game by allowing you to quickly dash and dodge enemy attacks, creating a very smooth and fast flow, which this game definetly aims for.
Oh, and let´s not forget the “Geo”s, the currency of this game, which will be dropped by every enemy. These are basically the Souls from Dark Souls, when you die you will loose them and have to recover them by killing your former self. I think the connection between those two games is pretty obvious, right?
These are the two most important things about Hollow Knight´s gameplay, even tho it has a ton more to offer, like charms that work like rings in Dark Souls granting you buffs or better movement etc. All these things add up to so many ways you can move in this game, alone the charms offer a surprising amount of customization that you can really build your own playstyle with them.
Additionally Hollow Knight offers a bunch of “hidden” actions, that won´t be explained but rather discovered by you, like the ability to parry. It works quite similar to Dark Souls or Metal Gear Rising´s parrying but since no one ever explains it to you, I discovered it by accident. Things like this fit in the mysterious setting of this game and enhance it even more.
All in all Hollow Knight´s gameplay isn´t revolutionary but the way it´s executed and the way every mechanic works hand in hand with the others create one of the smoothest experiences I´ve seen since a long time. I really can´t find any negative aspects of the gameplay, it´s just perfect and could even challenge Ori, if it would add more unique features instead of perfecting the existing. Nontheless Hollow Knight is one damn good playable metroidvania Souls-like.
I want to dedicate an own section to Hollow Knight´s world and its bosses/enemies because it´s all so well done and truly deserves some honour.
First of all, the world isn´t just a tunnel of different areas that you discover one by another. Due to the fact that it´s under the earth the developers could build a giant cave complex out of it. During the whole game you will find locked passages, areas you can´t reach with your current abilities etc. And during the whole game you will be able to open more and more of these passages, discovering more and more of these areas. Every area is connected and every area is unique on their own.
You have your standard cave for example but after the first 4-5h you will reach the City of Tears, which is maybe one of the best areas of the game. Imagine a cave-city in which it´s constantly raining. While this creates one hell of a depressing atmosphere along with the amazing Soundtrack it also comes up with an explanation that´s actually pretty reasonable for this game. The diversity and the connections between these areas is amazing and I´m really surprised they did it so well.
The only things that could be improved is the hub world placement, that can be found on top of the caves and will provide you with maps for the areas or other usefull items. While this design reminds of Dark Souls 3´s design, with the hub world seperated from the “real” world, I would have loved to see it in the middle of the caves. Like the Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls 1, this would have enabled an even bigger connection and make the fast travel not that important.
Speaking of fast travel, this won´t be explained to you either. Basically you will have to unlock the fast travel stations with your hard earned Geo, which can be quite though if you´re not really good at this game, given the importance of it, since the ways are pretty long, I would have preferred a free system with portals you have to activate.
Oh and it´s quite easy to get lost if you don´t have a map to the area since they often use the same textures over and over again making it hard to navigate and remember locations without your fellow companion, the map.
One thing I really like at Hollow Knight too is the enemy design and how it goes hand in hand with the boss designs. Every area tries to teach you a new thing of this game, tries to improve your skill and your understanding of its mechanics, like bosses in Platinums games or Dark Souls.
In every area you will encounter different enemies but they aren´t just randomly placed in there, often a lot enemies will use attack patterns of the boss of this area, like a big bug with a club (hehe), which needs the exact same tactic to be defeated as the boss. This may not be obvious but by doing this the game actually passively teaches you how to fight the boss. Things like this show that the developers really put some thought into this game.
Do I even have to say something here? Hollow Knight looks absolutely stunning, be it the enemies, the characters or the world, everything is beautifully drawn. During my 19h playtime, ye this game is really long, I constantly had to look at the world, the artstyle and how awesome everything looked. I´m still blown away by this sheer amount of details in the textures or the characters, the love they put into the design of every area … I´m in love!
Additionally this game´s Soundtrack is so damn good, it doesn´t just underline the atmosphere, it amplifies it and even adds it own touches to it, along with the art this could be a reason to buy this game alone. I just can´t describe how it feels to step into a new area, hearing the music, seeing how beautifull it looks, just amazing.
Presentation-wise this game is one of the best I´ve seen during the past years.
However it has some minor technical issues, it likes to stutter for example if you enter some areas for the first time or slay a bigger enemy, while this didn´t disturb me and never led to any deaths I just wanted to mention it.
Hollow Knight blew me away, I expected a good game with some flaws and what I got was a stunning looking game with gameplay that could even challenge Ori in some points, which I never would have expected but sadly just doesn´t do enough new to be considered a true innovation, like Ori was. And all this while offering a length of 20-30h, what else can you want?
To conclude, Hollow Knight would be worth it alone for the Music and Artstyle but combined with amazingely smooth Gameplay and one of the best world design I´ve seen in Indie games I just have to love it!
Go now! Go buy it!
(Ye I started Scores now, let´s see if I can like it)