Impressions: Hollow Knight

One of the games I have been playing in relatively short bursts is Hollow Knight.



I am usually skeptical about games with nigh-universal praise, because I’m fundamentally a cynical bastard at heart. But Hollow Knight is really pretty good. Amazing, even. It can also be frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and exhausting overall.

Basically, Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania minus the XP. There is side-scrolling exploration, a lot of backtracking once you unlock new movement abilities, and some fairly lethal combat with severe death penalties. Specifically, you drop all your Geo (currency) upon death, and if you die again before reaching your corpse, it disappears forever… until you get some special items. There are no particular “instant death” mechanics, but the number of invincibility frames available after taking damage is quite small, sometimes leading you to take more than one “hit” from the same attack.

I would describe the game overall as a mixture of Salt & Sanctuary + Ori and the Blind Forest, if you played either of those two. Or a melee-based Super Metroid.


Super Metroid vibes can get pretty strong.

What deserves every accolade attributed to it is the art and music of Hollow Knight. Beautiful, haunting, perfectly mood-setting. For a weird game about bug ghosts – at least I think that’s what this game is about – the visuals and soundtrack pull you in and makes everything… belong. Coherent. Even when there’s a lot of vague nonsense going on, you just let it slide right off as you go explore the new area or experiment with some new ability.

Like I said before though, the game is exhausting. When you reach a new area, there is no map until you find a specific NPC somewhere on the level. Then you have to find a Save bench before your map can be updated. Because reasons. This leads to play sessions that begin and end with Save benches, even though I think you can technically do a Save & Exit, as it’d be difficult to know where you left off. Plus, some bosses seem like total bullshit until you figure out the trick, and the game makes sure your face in rubbed in the carpet on the walk back to your corpse. Which can lead to behavior like backtracking all the way to a shop to spend all your Geo “just in case,” because Stiff Death Penalties are Good Game Design, Guys.

Whatever. Hollow Knight is fun despite its annoyances, but don’t assume you’ll be able to just play the game casually.

Posted on October 22, 2018, in Impressions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Entire genre seems like it only exists for masochists, but I guess there are enough people who enjoy that to make the genre the niche that it is. I’ve yet to read a review or see someone playing and come away with ‘gee that’s really fun’. It’s always degrees of ‘that almost made me jump out a window, but then I finally made progress’.


    • There does seem to be a recent trend towards making them super-duper hard. Ori and the Blind Forest had parts that were so frustrating I had to quit, though at least there was no death penalty. It isn’t necessary though: classic examples like Super Metroid and Castlevania SOTN really weren’t hard at all and honestly it was more fun that way.


    • I have a follow-up post planned for tomorrow, but the basic idea is that the first 75% of the game is fun. It would be more fun if the death penalty and the map situation weren’t dumb for no reason, but the exploring bits and everything are great. But once you run out of new areas/abilities, you are left with facing super-hard bosses and platforming, which is different from most of the rest of the game leading to that point.


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