Do you want to play Adorable Dark Souls? Because Hollow Knight is Adorable Dark Souls.
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania game set in a grim underworld filled with bug-like inhabitants. It was developed by Team Cherry for PC in 2017 and was (finally) released for Switch in a surprise announcement during a Nintendo Direct in June 2018.
You play as the titular Hollow Knight, a tiny bug-like creature with antennas that resemble bunny ears. You’re clad in a tattered shroud and wielding a large sword. Your name is not immediately known, though various people you encounter refer to you as Ghost, Little Whisper, The Knight, and other cute nicknames to suit your cute countenance. Your identity, quest, and reason for ravaging this dying world are unknown. You are given hints about your background and intentions as you progress, but ultimately much of the story will be a mystery until you near the end of the game.
Let’s get right into it. This game was a joy to play. Hollow Knight is a deftly created Metroidvania that gives the player ultimate control over how they would like to play and where they would like to go. The way is not linear, and as if to set the tone for you from the start, your first main “world” is called the “Forgotten Crossroads”. As you drop into the abyss from above, without any map or compass to direct you, you can either go left or right. There’s no absolute right way to choose. The game is putting itself in your hands and letting you drive.
I say above, without a map, because maps are not pre-distributed. You must search the vacant darkness blindly for a time before you find the map maker for each “world”, a delightful little bug named Cornifer. When you do stumble upon Cornifer (often preceded by a distinct humming to let you know you’re on the right track), he will sell you his incomplete version of the world map for a small fee. It will be up to you to fill in his gaps. It’s a good idea to purchase a compass and quill from his wife in the world above (named Iselda). The compass shows your place on the map, and the quill will fill in the missing rooms you’ve discovered once you sit on your next bench.
An Ode to Benches:
Ah, benches. Your small reprieve in a world filled with unrelenting monsters. Here, you can rest, save your progress, and sit with some certainty that there is no immediate danger lurking nearby. Think the save rooms in Resident Evil or the fire pits in Dark Souls. You can also use benches to change out your charms, which are glowing items that you come across in each world; some are also available for purchase from certain vendors. Charms bestow small bonuses to your health, defense, battle, soul-power, basically anything that helps you to succeed. You can only have a small number of charms on you at any time, though there are up to 40 available to collect.
Benches are also used as a respawn location. When you die, you lose all of the currency you’ve collected and any soul power that you’ve accumulated during your progress. You start at the last bench you sat at, wherever that might have been (so it’s a good idea to sit on benches often, especially when in new territories). There’s nothing more soul-crushing than dying in a boss battle and realising that the last bench you sat on is two worlds away. However, your currency and soul power are not completely lost. Rather, they are contained in a hostile, dark version of yourself which resides in the place that you were killed. When you make it back to the room you died in, you face off against your “ghost”, and when you successfully slay it, you are given back your souls and currency. Unfortunately, If you’re killed along the way, your currency and soul power are lost forever. 🙁 It’s all very Dark Souls.
Soul power and currency are both gained primarily through combat. Your soul power is used to both heal and to unleash powerful attacks. With each successful blow to an enemy, you gain soul power. Upon your enemy’s demise, they will drop currency, which can be used to purchase charms or various upgrades.
I won’t lie. Some of the enemies in Hollow Knight are hard. And much like Dark Souls, every death is a lesson. Power-ups aren’t given to you at the beginning of the game. You must earn them, and fight your way through formidable enemies before you can proceed to harder stages. There is no hand-holding in Hollow Knight. You learn through trial and error. You pass over the same rooms over and over, combing through every nook and cranny to see what you might have missed. But you learn. The game is teaching you how to play it, what to look for, and how to find all of the hidden goodies you might have missed in the earlier worlds.
The platforming mechanics are downright fun, especially as you gain and build your jumping abilities. Once you learn certain power-ups, more areas become available to you. There are also plenty of tertiary characters and hidden bonuses locked away throughout the world. You just have to keep your eyes (and ears) open to find them. Speaking of ears, I haven’t even touched the soundtrack, but it is simply exquisite. Haunting, moving, and wonderfully moody. A real tone-setter for an already gorgeous game.
This is a great game, and well worth your time. You’re guaranteed to play through Hollow Knight multiple times, discovering new things each time you play. Team Cherry could easily charge more than the €14.99 price tag, so consider this game quite the bargain!