Words About Video Games

Early Thoughts on Hollow Knight

I try not to talk about games before I've beaten them because I don't know if they stick the landing, but 24 hours in, Hollow Knight is damn good.

It oozes atmosphere and nails the kind of piecemeal, poetic worldbuilding of games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. If you want a lot of direction from your games, you won't find it here--in true Metroidvania fashion, the only directive is to explore.

But the exploration is good: there are gating abilities, but this is one of the most non-linear Metroidvanias I've ever played. Stuck on a boss? Most of them are optional. Go explore somewhere else instead. Tough platforming section? It's probably optional too. But of course you want to see what's on the other side.

The other thing that absolutely makes it is the sound design. The soundtrack is spare but evocative. The sounds of footsteps and the crunch of carapaces when your nail strikes an enemy echo through the lonely caverns. The mechanical clink and and clatter of old elevators being activated and the skittering of the stag beetle as it approaches the station are perfect. The boss music raises the tension without undermining the mood.

It's a tough game, but most games in this genre are. You don't level up your character for the most part; you just get more tools. This progression design suits the game well. On the one hand, this means that if you're hoping to make the game easier by outleveling a challenge, you're out of luck. On the other hand, this is exactly what makes the "go anywhere" design work. You don't need to worry that you're not properly leveled for the area you're in, but you might find it easier with different tools.

Could it all fall apart before the end? Sure. Would that be extremely disappointing? Definitely. But even if it did, the stupidest thing about it would still be its 15 euro cost. A game this beautifully crafted deserves a higher price tag.