Hollow Knight Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado purchased this game for the purpose of this review.
By now, most people agree that the “Souls-like” label is extremely overused. I was already aware of that last year when I started working with video games journalism, but the problem became more relevant than ever with the release of the highly anticipated Cuphead. Games such as Dragon’s Dogma and Titan’s Souls, to anyone who played them, have little in common with From Software’s hit franchise. Cuphead itself only has its difficulty to fit the sub-genre, which isn’t a good enough reason.
That said, the “Souls-like” comparisons weren’t what drew me into Hollow Knight, a Metroidvania that relates to Dark Souls in ways other than gameplay.
Developed and published independently by Team Cherry as their debut title, Hollow Knight is a Kickstarter success story released for PC in February 2017. It is mainly a Metroidvania due to its side-scrolling perspective as well as exploration and progress philosophies. Its story, however, plays very much like Dark Souls in the way it starts, how it develops, and how the world of Hallownest is setup.
Players take control of a little bug drawn to this fallen underground kingdom. As he explores the decaying tunnels for no specific reason, he meets peculiar characters who slowly reveal the plot through disconnected conversations. The storytelling of Hollow Knight is akin to that of Dark Souls, with Hallownest being a bug-like version of Lordran. Though the two have their differences with Dark Souls being far more complex and difficult to piece together, the history of Hallownest is almost identical to that of Lordran.
If you’re familiar with Dark Souls lore, understanding Hollow Knight’s sparse storytelling structure and its preceding story will be a walk in the park. If not, this might be a good starting point to better understand the journey of the Chosen Undead since Hollow Knight is easier to comprehend. Whereas Dark Souls gives some basic objectives and directions right out of the gate, however, Hollow Knight struggles to find its ground past the opening cutscene.
Though the slow-paced beginning and the disperse storytelling might be a turn off to those looking for unique characters and an engaging plot, the Metroidvania aspect introduced right after the player reaches the overground town of Dirtmouth is on point. The lack of direction and purpose is similar to how Axiom Verge is structured, although in Hollow Knight it’s far more difficult to get lost mid to late game thanks to a distinct map layout and a variety of fixed markers.
Much like other games in the genre, Hollow Knight holds players back by placing paths that require certain abilities to be traversed. Finding such abilities and exploring the vast open world is part of the appeal, something Metroidvania fans surely understand. Whereas Dark Souls provides direction through its lore, Hollow Knight is much like a sandbox from beginning to end with no major story elements driving the knightly bug from one tunnel to the other.
At times, newly placed markers will give an objective other than exploring for the sake of it or to find new abilities to help with progress, but their deep connection with the lore does little to distance the game from its roots.
Visually, Hollow Knight is a mixed bag. With hand-drawn graphics, the game’s environments and characters are fluid and coherent. The art direction is, again, something that calls back to From Software’s franchise. Cherry Team’s take on gothic themes is a welcomed change of pace, but the muted tones spread across a limited color palette may not be to everyone’s liking.
While some environments are gorgeous and diverse, others feel too similar to one another due to their intended designs and how that dictates their color range. For instance, while the very first area has some unique landmarks, it’s quite similar to later areas, especially in the most cavern-like rooms.
The lack of variety isn’t as broad and tedious as many other games that try their hand at a coherent world, however—especially because of the Forgotten Crossroads and the Deepnest, for example, have discerning elements. While the crossroads has signs of elaborate architecture, the Deepnest is a dark set of rough tunnels which requires a specific item to be properly explored. The crossroads is also a very safe environment at first, but the Deepnest is always dangerous with its twisting pathways and hordes of aggressive insects.
Although it doesn’t take that many risks, Hollow Knight is unique enough with its Metroidvania elements and its own take on Dark Souls lore. Its gameplay is tight and fluid, its art direction is on point, and it provides more than 30h of enjoyment if you consider the multiple endings—which are more engaging than a couple of choices right after the final boss fight—as well as the free expansion packs, all of which add enough.
- Tight Metroidvania gameplay
- Draws heavy inspiration from Dark Souls lore
- Gorgeous art design
- Beautiful soundtrack
- More than 30h of content with multiple endings and free expansions considered
- The limitations imposed by the art design may be a turn off for some
- Doesn't take risks with its Metroidvania elements and lore, both of which are very familiar
- While the initial lack of direction might be pleasing to Metroidvania fans, it might be a difficult aspect to those seeking a more involved story