In a year when the top spot of everyone's GOTY list is in strong contention between several strong, hard-hitting big names, finding a game from the tried and true formula of the metroidvania genre as a top nomination might seem a bit surprising. After all, it is one of the oldest genres of video gaming and a quick look at the Steam Store's metroidvania listing shows us an abundance of games trying their own thing. So how can a game in 2017 try to make an approach that still feels fresh, fun, and original when indeed only last year Ori and the Blind Forest surprised us with its beautifully artistic take on what such a game could accomplish, while crazily original games like Guacamelee, Owl boy and Shadow Complex have aggressively bent the themes and gameplay mechanics of what is normally expected. It looks like originality is the name of the game. One would think that there are no more angles from which to approach this kind of game, yet every year we're in for a surprise. And that is very much what makes Hollow Knight so special.
The game itself is in fact not that ground-breaking. Quite the contrary, Hollow Knight cherry picks the absolute essentials of Metroidvania gimmicks, and relies instead on refinement of these elements, combined with a pleasing setting; a morose aesthetic that tells its on story not so much with overflowing words, but with exploration. Exploration, after all, is the very key element that makes any metroidvania game fun and exciting. As you delve deeper into the dark unknown, you slowly grasp what is going on, and what this grey, forlorn world once was.
The abilities you unlock serve a double purpose of enhancing your combat abilities as well as extending your exploratory reach. Even unlocking a simple sideways dash feels wonderful, for both combat and accessing that plateau that was barely out of reach minutes earlier. Accruing currency to further strengthen your characters, not entirely unlike an exp system, as well as finding major ability upgrades behind tough bosses are by no means new ideas, but rather a unique coalescence of them. A slight element of Souls flavoured risk, makes death a very real fear rather than a nuisance. Simplicity is what makes this game so extraordinary. The jumps and slashes that our knight performs are smooth, easy to control and visually easy to interpret. There is no clutter or overflow of visual input which would make the game hard in its own right. Instead, speed and attack patters is what makes the bosses challenging. It is very well a game that controls excellently, and any death or fall to your death is entirely your own fault. The only exception to this is the true last boss, which is fucking bullshit and I'm so fucking mad that I haven't beaten it yet. Other than that, no complaints. 5/7.
Jokes aside, I'm in love with this game, and for me it is the best game that I played in 2017. That is not to say that other games aren't deserving of GOTY. It is in fact a crazy year for GOTY, and I'm almost sad that so many great games will come just short of acclaim simply due to the abundance of excellence in gaming this year. Rather, what this game did to a tough, competitive genre, for a very reasonable price, as well as how it resonated with me in setting, storytelling and gameplay simply makes it the game that I enjoyed the most, and I wish many people play it so that the studio will get the recognition they deserve.
Would love to hear from you others whether or not this game should be contender for Goty. Peace.