Hollow Knight is side-scrolling action-adventure featuring a amazing atmosphere, evocative world, fluid action, wonderful boss fights and difficult platforming.
What I enjoy most: Exploring and getting to know the lively & evocative world
You play as a nameless “knight” armed with a metal nail, who arrived at the village of dirtmouth atop the former kingdom of Hallownest.
Exploration has always been one of the main characteristics of metroidvania games. The kingdom of Hallownest is huge and filled with varied biomes, and many nooks and crannies to explore. In addition, the game offers an added feeling of being lost.
Instead of the totally clear automaps of the Castlevania series, or the map without doorways of Super Metroid, you do not have access to any maps when you first venture into any areas. Rather, you need to find an NPC called Cornifer the cartographer somewhere in that area (through sound cues, visual cues, or blind luck) in order to purchase a preliminary map. You can then update this map as you explore the area - but only if you can find a bench (i.e. save point) to sit down. The time between setting foot into a new area and you finding Cornifer is one of the magical moments of the game - but can also be the main reason one might dislike the game.
movement & Platforming
The fluid movement of your character is another highlight of the game. Throughout the game, you would also acquire air-dash, double-jump, super-dash and other movement abilities. Your nail can also be used to bounce on (or off) metal spikes, mushrooms, and enemies.
There are many side areas where you need to traverse using all the movement abilities in order to obtain extra HP or MP or other abilities; and there are a few main areas that seriously test your platforming skills. In fact, in order to achieve the true ending, one needs to go through the White Palace, which is basically a long platforming challenge.
Combat & charms
Movement is of course also extremely important in combat - as you cannot really out-damage any bosses or mini-bosses. Your nail is your only melee weapon in the game, but its damage output can be upgraded throughout the game, and you can also learn a few special melee attack (e.g. spinning attack). On top of that, special effects can be added to your melee attack through charms.
Charms are the main ways you customise your character, and is one of the main aspects of progression in this game (apart from killing bosses and exploring places). Your character can only equip a few charms at a time, and thus you need to decide what to equip among the dozens of charms. Some charms help with navigation and collecting money, some charms make your nail hit harder or further, some charms enhance your magic attack, and some charms help you survive better. Some charms are found around the world, and some charms can be bought. Without any XP system, money is the one thing you can grind for in this game - but purchaseable charms can only help you so far.
Speaking of magic, you have a MP meter which is refilled by you hitting enemies with your melee attack. The MP can be used to cast either offensive spells or a healing spell. Offensive spells are extremely powerful, but your HP is also very limited throughout the game, so it is a fine balance between the two.
All these combined into a very fluid and tense combat system, and wonderful boss fights. The design of the bosses are fantastic, and they provide many challenges. Identify their attack patterns and tells is of course very important, but so is quick maneuver and deciding where and when to heal. There are also dream version of some bosses, a colleseum for fighting waves of enemies, and a boss rush mode added with a free DLC.
Plot & NPC
You control a silent protagonist, but there are many colourful (albeit white) NPCs in the world of Hallownest. Hornet, who you will fight a few times during the game, is the protector of Hallownest’s ruin; and Quirrel, who you would encounter up to ten times during the game, are the main ones. They not only make your adventure less lonely, but also further the plot of the game.
Although you start aimlessly at the surface ot Hallownest, you will eventually find out the history of the kingdom, the memories of the previous King and Queen, the Dreamers who protect the Vessel, and many fellow travellers, explorers and villagers. And you will also find out why you are in Hallownest in the first place.
Hollow Knight is one of the most wonderful metroidvania games I have played. It has a mesmerising world, engaging and difficult combat, memorable NPCs, and a fun and customisable charm system. If you do not mind getting lost, and do not mind some difficult platforming, I strongly recommend you to give it a try.
List of metroidvania elements
Name of game: Hollow Knight
Designer / Publisher: Team Cherry
System: PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBox One
Year of publication: 2017
Style of combat: Melee & Ranged
Use of magic: No
Combat-focus versus Platform-focus: Both
Death mechanics: Respawn
(Fall damage): No
Levelling / Farming for XP: No
Farming for Gold / Item: Yes
Skill pick-up: Yes
(Stats allocation): No
Gated by movement abilities: Yes
Gated by bosses: Yes
Type of world map: Single map
World generation: Fixed map
Additional game modes
Steel soul mode (one life)
Godseeker mode (boss rush)