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10Q Reviews: Hollow Knight – A beautiful exercise in frustration

Videogames reviewed in 10 straight-to-the-point questions, every Wednesday

Game: Hollow Knight
Platform:  Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PlayStation 4, XBOX One
Time to beat: 25 hours

Q1: Who’s this videogame for?

  • Hollow Knight is a game that falls in the “Metroidvania” genre (named after the Metroid and Castlevania series, which pioneered the gamestyle), so if you are familiar with this kind of game, this is for you.
    • At its core, this means this is a 2D platformer in which a single map can be explored up, down, left and right.  Due to the freedom the game gives you to explore at your own pace, there will be areas you discover that won’t be accessible the first time you visit them. As a result, there is a lot of backtracking involved
  • This game is also what we can call a “collect-athon”, with plenty of items, areas and chareacters to find.  To complete the game, you actually need to reach 112% total completion (similar to how the Donkey Kong Country series used to do back in the SNES days)
  • Finally, this game features a very refined, yet challenging combat system, so if you enjoy games that require precise jumping, attacking and dodging, this may be an interesting challenge for you. Some of the bosses are particularly tricky, and there actually is an arena event that will put your skills to the test. I confess I actually was not able to complete it, because it almost seemed unfair at times, and I don’t have the time and patience for that sort of thing

Q2: What’s the story like, and does it require any pre-existing knowledge?

The story is actually pretty vague, as most things in this game, which is a bit of a gripe I have with this game. It’s ok to keep things misterious and vague, but when it means getting easily lost and not having a clue what to do next, I feel takes away from the experience.

You will eventually be able to put some of the pieces together as you travel through the world, but you’ll never get a complete picture of how all the characters in the game come together.

This is a standalone game that does not requrie any prior knowledge.

Q3: What’s the learning curve like?

Even if the game is challenging, the learning curve is quite fair. You will rarely find an enemy that is too powerful for you to face. Those that are difficult at first will help you hone your skills and actually  make you better at combat. I think this refined approach to the combat is one of Hollow Knight’s strong points. It never feels cheap, and whenever you die, it generally is because you let your guard down.

Dying in this game has little repercussions. Once you die, your spirit remains in the place you died, and you will re-spawn at the last bench (used as savepoints). If you manage to reach your spirit alive, you will have to fight it to then recover your full strenght and Geo (the game’s currency). If you succeed at this, there will be no repercussions on your overall progress, but should you die on the way to your spirit, you will lose all the Geo you’ve collected at that point.

Q4: What are the controls like?

Amazing. One of the best things about Hollow Knight is how tight the controls feel. Between jumping, dashing, attaching and jumpin off walls, your character feels very responsive and rarely does something you don’t intend him to do. It controls as well as any Super Mario 2D platformer.

Q5: Does it have split-screen?

No.

Q6: How’s the online component?

No, this is an exclusively single player game, no leaderboards featured either.

Q7: How’s the presentation?

Very unique and atmospheric. The art direction really is something else. From the greenery of Greenpath and the Queen’s Garden, through the Gothic artstyle of the City of Tears, to the mining fields of Crystal Peak, each area if beautifully rendering in a distinct style.

The music in this game is also a strong point, and really captures the melancholic and lonesome feeling of the game. It is a beautiful mix of classical tracks that enhances the journey to no end.

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Q8: What are similar games / alternatives you’d recommend?

If you are looking for an action-oriented Metroidvania title on the Switch, Axiom Verge and Dead Cells are very good alternatives, as well as any Metroid or Castlevania games, of course.

For challenging 2D platformers, you can try Celeste, Super meat Boy and Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Q9: Anything you wish you knew before going in?

I wish I had knon how much I’d need to reach for my computer/phone to figure out what to do. I know that the gaming elite will probably gasp and reach for the pearl necklaces, but I do believe that if you are stuck somewhere and you find yourself getting frustrated and demotivated, it’s ok to look for the answers.

At points it felt that the game was unnecessarily vague, which just added to this frustration of having to try absolutely everything (thinking of the nice bank lady that runs away with your money, and becomes practically impossile to find, with no clues whatsoever). I don’t know if this was meant as part of the design to extend the game’s life or actually make it more popular in game forums, but to me, it really took away from the experience.

Also, a tip I can share to avoid the frustration of losing your Geo should you fail to recover your spirit, just spend your money on whatever items you find. At the end of the game, you’ll find yourself with way more Geo than you need, so don’t carry it around with you, just spend it.

Q10: Should I buy it?

It’s a tough sell for me, due to the frustration I felt playing it. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great game, with a beautiful artstyle, killer soundtrack, and great controls. It just isn’t for me. It feels more like work than a past-time. Maybe I’m getting old, but I prefer games that don’t test your patience and require you to look up answers online.

If this is something that you’re OK with, then I’d say give it a shot. It certainly won’t leave you indifferent, one way or the other.

Final rating:

7 out of 10 charms.

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eduv77 View All

I've been a gamer since the SNES days and Donkey Kong Country was the first game I ever owned.
I currently work as a management consultant, and my console of choice is the Nintendo Switch, which I carry with me during my travels.

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