Never get bored with Hollow Knight

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Hollow Knight’s protagonist; other characters follow a similar style. Image courtesy of Steam.

Cyrus Burton, Reporter

I spent almost four hours a few weeks ago repeatedly playing this one painstakingly difficult platforming area in Hollow Knight. However, unlike my experiences with similar games, playing the same area over and over in Hollow Knight didn’t leave me angry, bored, or frustrated. Instead, it left me wanting more. Team Cherry’s 2017 metroidvania 2-D platformer follows a nameless knight exploring the underground insect kingdom of Hallownest. Games in this narrow action-adventure sub genre see players explore at their leisure interconnected maps to acquire treasure and gain character upgrades.
The player controls the knight and is thrown into the setting with little explanation. Gameplay starts off simply with the knight only able to move, jump, and make a basic attack. This allows the player to get a feel for the game’s controls, an important part of any game that combines elements of Metroid and Castlevania. Then, once the game feels a player is comfortable with the basics, it adds more complexity, including different kinds of movement like double jumps and casting spells like Vengeful Spirit. Hollow Knight paces itself well, adding each new element individually so the player isn’t overwhelmed but not so slowly as to leave the player bored until the next upgrade.

Run away! Some Hollow Knight enemies take several tries to defeat. Image courtesy of Kotaku Australia.

The game doesn’t require the player to learn what’s actually going on in Hallownest, but playing the game as just a race to the end means missing out on the game’s surprisingly rich setting. The setting’s secrets are most often revealed when the player completes challenges that are entirely optional. The player’s rewarded with short cutscenes, tablets of ingame text, and conversations with other characters that combine to tell a cohesive and complex story about Hallownest’s dark history and the source of its infection. Players don’t have to explore, but uncovering the secrets of Hallownest is well worth putting in some extra time.
If learning more about Hollow Knight’s setting seems an insufficient reward for exploration, each area has different environmental features and new enemies, and each area is so big that it’s possible to assemble an arsenal of upgrades and a significant treasure horde completely by accident.
The game’s visuals combine incredibly detailed backdrops with cartoonish enemies that are sometimes almost too cute to kill and sometimes so weird that the player just wants the knight to hurry up and get to another screen. For example the Tiktik, a small hedgehog-like creature would make a great plush. But the Nosk, a spindly shape-shifter that, until you reach it’s dwelling, takes the form of your character and mirrors your movements is the creepiest part of the game.
Christopher Larkin, best known prior to Hollow Knight for his work on Pac-Man 256, composed for Hollow Knight a unique soundtrack of ambient piano and strings for each of the game’s 15 areas. The music’s solemnity evokes an atmosphere of despair and loss with just a glimmer of hope that’s perfectly suited for venturing into a forgotten kingdom. I’ve played a lot of Hollow Knight, and I’ve never once considered turning off the music. Hearing a new Larkin piece gives players just one more reason to explore the game further.

Aww! Hollow Knight makes you kill even the cute things; stay distracted by the beautiful backgrounds. Image courtesy of IGN.

The game isn’t Fortnite or League of Legends violent, but players should be prepared to find the knight dying. A lot. Bosses are tough, and end-game bosses are ridiculous. It can take 10–20 times to figure out a boss’s attacks and patterns, and each failure means a dead knight. However, finally defeating a boss that for an hour has been kicking your ass over and over is one of the most rewarding parts of Hollow Knight.
The metroidvania subgenre sometimes gets a bad rap for short games. A skilled player can exhaust some metroidvania games in a couple of hours. I’m not that skilled, but I know how these games work, and Hollow Knight has occupied me for over 50 hours, and I’ve still got plenty to do before I beat the final boss.
Although the current big deals in gaming are shooters and battle royales, Hollow Knight demands your attention. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not a great introduction to gaming due to its difficulty—especially in the game’s later areas—, but a player with moderate skills should find Hollow Knight challenging enough to be entertained. And it’s a perfect game to play if you’re trapped at home and tired of exploring your house.
I recommend the game’s Voidheart Edition that includes all four downloadable content packs for $14.95 from Steam for the PC and from the app stores for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. A sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, has been announced, but no release date is set.