Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Platforms: PC, Switch (TBD)
Genre: Metroidvania, Adventure Platformer
I love adventure platformers like the old Castlevania and Metroid games. Journeying across a large world battling foes and collecting tools to unlock and traverse new areas has a sort of addicting quality to it. When I heard Hollow Knight promised that and more, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Now, with around 20 hours logged, I feel comfortable saying adventure platformer fans have a new contender for their time…and perhaps a spot as one of 2017’s first true indie darlings.
Like most games with a fantasy element, there are spirits and magic in the Hallownest. When you die, you leave a floating spirit behind that you’ll have to return to and defeat or lose all your currency. You enter the dream world, talk with seers, cast spells, and more. There is one character that can summon your spirit back in exchange for a rare currency.
The violence in Hollow Knight is fairly muted. There is no gore, viscera, or dismemberment. When you defeat foes, they tend to pop (for lack of a better term) and their shells lie on the ground for a bit before fading away.
There is no foul language or salty content in my entire recollection. Like a Dark Souls game, characters are reverent and focused, which not only keeps things clean, but prevents breaking the immersion the game is building.
Perseverance, endurance, and sacrifice. Your character has a task he (or she) must carry out and you pursue it without stopping to consider any other path. Despite overwhelming odds, you journey deeper into the darkness to conquer evil and unseat a great foe.
Every few years, a game will seemingly sneak out of the shadows, only to strike without warning and drag you into its shadowy realm. Hollow Knight‘s launch was largely uneventful. It wasn’t until weeks later when, by word of mouth, I heard of an indie metroidvania (which I now dub an adventure platformer) game that I began to clue into Team Cherry and their inaugural release. I’ve now come to see why this title deserves the groundswell of support it’s garnered.
You are the Hollow Knight, a horned insect wielding a weapon known as a nail. As you journey from the town of Dirtmouth through the Hallownest, you’ll come upon an eclectic cast of characters and tenacious foes. While there are a handful of cutscenes, much of the narrative unfolds through atmospheric world-building, where you’ll happen upon characters in the wild before getting the whole story. It’s a style that works well for the game, giving players just enough breadcrumbs to follow while encouraging exploration. The game also makes excellent use of the beastiary to provide additional information on defeated bosses and more.
In this day and age, good 2-D adventure platformers seem to be somewhat of a rarer commodity. Last year we graced with Seasons After Fall and Song of the Deep, but Hollow Knight is handily 2017’s first notable entry for the genre. You start out with only a basic attack and jump. As you work your way through the Hallownest, you’ll gain upgrades and abilities that will have you feeling like an overpowered beast late-game. Every upgrade is necessary, though, to progress through the world. This gives the game a breath of fresh air every few hours with new places to explore and new ways to maneuver. On top of advanced traversal mechanics, you can earn charms that augment a wide variety of stats and skills. They can do everything from granting you extra power or defense to summoning creatures or extending the reach of your weapon.
Unlike most modern games, there are few autosaves here. More often than not, the onus is on you to find a bench to rest on (the game’s “save point,” as it were). As you defeat enemies, you’ll earn money that can be used to buy charms and other helpful items on your journey. Again, like a Dark Souls game, when you die you’ll have to make your way back to the area where you were killed. Here, however, you’ll have to defeat your specter in battle to win your cash back. Failing to do so will result in the loss of all your money (a sting I suffered more than once that cost me substantially). You’d also do wise to remember that, while resting on a bench restores all your health, it also causes enemies to respawn.
The world beneath Dirtmouth is tremendous. To the game’s credit, they took that into account by designing a fast-travel system to get you around quickly. They kept discovery intact by obscuring map data from you until you can buy one from a roaming cartographer and, even then, you’re only getting the general guidelines. You can purchase map pins to unveil things like bench and transport spots to ease some of the burden, however.
Team Cherry has nailed the game’s controls. Every jump, slice, dash, and heal is responsive and buttery smooth. The end result is one of the best feeling 2-D platforming experiences I’ve had since Ori and the Blind Forest with better atmosphere and boss encounters. Speaking of the boss encounters, they provide an excellent sense of variety to the game, even if only a handful of them really present much challenge on your first clash. It is worth noting that you can double back and fight a much harder version of each boss once you unlock a certain item….
The game is not without fault. Despite markers on my map, I occasionally found myself wandering aimlessly, trying to divine how to reach key points on the map. There were times I felt like I got lucky and stumbled across a boss that would grant me the upgrade I needed to reach those points. There was no real form of guidance to assist and it became a point of frustration. On top of that, losing money (especially early game) can be pretty disheartening. Hallownest has a bank where you can store your funds, but I rarely found myself near it, and purchases don’t automatically withdraw from your holdings, requiring you to manually withdraw the funds in person.
In terms of aesthetic, Hollow Knight excels both visually and aurally. Though it maintains a darker palette almost entirely, the hand drawn artwork is fantastic. Everything has been lovingly illustrated with an art style reminiscent of Castle Crashers or other Behemoth fare. On top of that, the animation is crisp and responsive.
The sound design stands up entirely on its own. The soundtrack is full of songs that drive the action, even standing up on its own as a worthy album to enjoy when you’re away from the game.
Overall, Hollow Knight is an excellent adventure platformer with fantastic atmosphere and plenty of meat on the bones. It has a beautiful, hand-drawn art style complemented by excellent sound design; the combat and traversal are crisp and responsive, and the boss encounters offer great variety. Unfortunately, the lack of guidance when navigating the world can be frustrating and recovering your currency upon death can be result in soul-crushing loss. Otherwise, this is a game fans of the genre should absolutely pick up. Switch owners should keep their eyes peeled as this will handily bolster their library. For the price, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value for your money right now.
Review product provided by Team Cherry
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