How Metroidvania is it? Perfect Fit. Hollow Knight has an incredible non-linear world to get lost in - boasting one of the largest of any of its Metroidvania peers.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~25 hours
Review Info: This game was played on Steam
Buy Hollow Knight if you like…
- Unforgiving challenging combat
- Deep chilling atmosphere
- Manually navigating through a maze of Metroidvania level design
- Precise acrobatic platforming
- Gorgeous artwork and animation
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I could spend this whole review making comparisons to other games, so I’ll just get it all out of the way right here from the beginning. Whether Hollow Knight’s mechanics are implemented from inspiration, or coincidence, the similarities are undenyable. The health system is straight out of Kirby’s Adventure. The Story, Narrative Structure, Death Mechanics, and slow/dangerous combat healing are a lot like Dark Souls. I’ve heard some of the platforming challenges compared to Meatboy. The Charm system is a lot like the Badge System from Paper Mario. You collect life pieces in quarters, like in Zelda. And of course, as a Metroidvania, you’re going to see abilities similar to what you’d find in Symphony of the Knight and Super Metroid. But ultimately all of these things are woven together to create a masterpiece that can’t be diminished by pointing out where it might have gotten its ideas from. Because inspired by other works or not, every game design decision that went into Hollow Knight must have been carefully considered.
The Knight controls very well. The physics and mechanics behind these controls are as intricate as a clockwork device. Your sword has a relatively long delay after each swing, and striking things causes you to recoil backward, making button mashing an act of suicide. Every enemy has a rhythm you have to draw out and exploit. Since your HP is so limited every point of damage you take carries weight and tension – and the game nails this feeling further by freezing the moment you got hit and blurring out the sound effects. Where and when to attack is a strategic puzzle rather than a series of combined button presses. Because of this, Hollow Knight has some of the best boss fights I’ve experienced in gaming in general. Even as the game progresses into teeth grinding insanity with bosses that rise in complexity with the new abilities you gain, every misstep I made felt fair and I knew what to do on my next attempt. And it’s not just the bosses that benefit from the meticulous polish Team Cherry put into this; the platforming is also just as challenging in the best of ways.
Hollow Knight isn’t a happy-go-lucky fun romp through a quirky ant-hill, even if the characters can sometimes be outright cute. The music and atmosphere appropriately brings a somber tone to the tragic Hallownest. There is a lot of lore and story to be found, and so often it’s found through showing rather than telling. NPCs all have personalities and backstories. The gorgeous hand-drawn art and backgrounds include details that give the Hallownest a definitive sense of place. I could spend a lot more time praising this aspect of the game, but it’s really something that has to be experienced.
One possible turn-off though is the game’s pacing. It has a bit of a slow burn, and because you have to manually map out each area – after buying a piece of paper to actually write on – the game’s hands-off approach to exploration might leave you lost for hours. A typical Metroidvania runs under 10 hours with the titular Castlevania: Symphony of the Night listed as “18 hours max for Completionists” on the How Long To Beat Website. While I’ve seen a guide on Steam that says you can speed run Hollow Knight in 5 hours, it took me 24 hours to see everything I wanted to see. Hollow Knight is like a great feast with multiple courses: difficult platforming, challenging bosses, and thoughtful exploration. Its meat has to be chewed slowly before it is swallowed. I for one really enjoyed its savor, but you should know that’s what you’re getting into.
Hollow Knight may be the best Metroidvania I’ve ever played. I think it sets a standard that will be difficult to meet or surpass. As a $15 indie title the value is insane. I give it a hearty recommendation.
Brutal, but incredibly nuanced boss fights you'll never forget
'Meatboy' level of difficulty that tests your limits
Vast open world with optionally challenging navigation
Lacks a puzzle focus, but not completely absent
Dark Souls style lore you'll likely need to read about online to fully understand
Beautiful hand drawn animations perfectly depict the game's atmosphere
Not particularly memorable, but always appropriate and well orchestrated
Numerous strategies and approaches to keep it fresh, plus a challenge mode