Hollow Knight — A Big Step for Small Games
If you asked me to make a list of the most important indie games to come out in the past decade, Shovel Knight would probably be at the top, followed closely by Hollow Knight. I usually stay within the triple A space when it comes to gaming, but I can appreciate any game as long as it’s a quality title. Despite being made by a small team of developers, Hollow Knight is able to hang with some of the best titles in gaming when it comes to lore, story telling, exploration, and art design. Although Shovel Knight remains the more iconic game, Hollow Knight outclasses it when it comes to its scale and I believe that it is the better game, perhaps the most high quality indie title available right now.
As I’ve said before, my experience with indie games is limited, so I won’t be comparing Hollow Knight to other platformers or metroidvanias, simply because I haven’t played very many of them. In fact Hollow Knight is actually my first metroidvania experience. The gameplay in Hollow Knight is smooth and precise, a baseline requirement for any platforming game. The game plays like a classic platformer with a few interesting renovations. Killing enemies will net you soul, which can be used to cast powerful spells or spent on getting back a lost life. Reclaiming a life leaves the knight motionless and vulnerable, making the act a very strategic affair. Special charms can be found around the world. Each charm has a different effect, such as providing a longer sword, increasing the amount of soul you gain, allowing you to dash more often, etc and can be mixed and matched depending on the situation and your playstyle. The combat in this game is about as deep as it can possibly get for a 2D platformer. Team Cherry should be proud of what they accomplished here.
Speaking of combat, I believe now would be a good time to address the difficulty level of this game. Hollow Knight has a notorious reputation for being a very hard game. People will often compare it to Dark Souls, so you know it’s definitely difficult. Playing through this game certainly brought some moments of frustration for me, but honestly it was not as bad as I thought it would be. The fact that I was able to beat this game should say a lot. I’m not really a fan of hard games, I’ll usually play a game on normal difficulty, so if I was able to beat it I’m sure you will too. However, beating a game is one thing, getting full completion is another thing.
Hollow Knight is a solid game in all facets, but I believe its art direction is what makes it special. The hand drawn characters in the game are adorable yet also carry this air of creepiness about them. Each area of the world has its own unique aesthetic making the discovery of a new area an exciting moment that keeps you glued to the screen for more. The soundtrack fits perfectly with the art style, adding a sad, dreary ambiance to the game.
Hollow Knight has a dark story to tell, which it drip-feeds the player through bits of NPC dialogue and lore found throughout the world. The general idea is that Hallownest, a once proud and powerful kingdom of bugs, has fallen victim to a strange disease which is turning its inhabitants into mindless killing machines and it’s your job to save everybody. While I found the story to be pretty interesting, it’s hard to get the entire picture just on a single play through. Most of what I know about the plot comes from looking it up afterward, not from playing game. Plot is usually supplementary for me when I play video games, so this was not a major disappointment, but I can see how others may not enjoy this style of storytelling.
The fact that this game was made by just three people is nothing less than a miracle. When I think about the size of the world, all the different character designs, the lore, the music, I could not imagine how Team Cherry managed to do all that work. If I were scoring the developers, Team Cherry would get a 10/10 no question. For an indie game, Hollow Knight is a masterpiece, but it is hard to mention it in the same conversation as games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3. Unfortunately, there will always be limits on how much an indie is able to achieve, even for a game as big as Hollow Knight.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10