Hollow Knight - One of gaming's modern classics
Hollow Knight is a masterpiece of modern gaming and one of the best if not the best Metroidvania ever made. That might be a bold statement to some people but for real I adore everything about this game, it might be perfect. I have a personal list of all the things I look for in a video game and Hollow Knight just checks off every box. I've seen a lot of people draw comparisons to the Soulsborne series for this game and typically I dislike when people compare every game with difficulty and third-person combat to Dark Souls which this game doesn't really have exactly but I do understand and agree with the comparisons being made this time around. I think Hollow Knight takes all the best mechanics and gameplay ideas from that series and puts them on display while leaving the more frustrating shortcomings on the chopping block.
When it comes to game difficulty and accessibility its very much a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation for me. I like that grey area in between too easy and too hard and unafraid to explain how things work but not hand-holding and Hollow Knight excels at this. It's not a soul-crushing game that will make you regret the day you were born but it's not without its fair share of challenges. It's also very subtle but perfectly informative when it comes to teaching you about its mechanics and systems. It does this by having each area primarily focus on one ability and/or attack so you learn how to use said things without really even realizing it which helps the pace of gameplay. Now if a game is too easy to learn and get into it probably lacks depth and complexity which can result in a boring and mind-numbing experience but on the contrary, games that have too steep of a learning curve and take too long to get to a point where you can play the game how its meant to be played can be very discouraging especially when you come to find that how a game is meant to be played just isn’t all that fun. So instead of throwing an insufferable amount of information at you from the get-go Hollow Knight takes its time and gets more complex at your pace, not it’s own. It doesn’t throw you straight into a pit or drag you though by your arm the entire time. This is good game design in my eyes because you never feel overwhelmed and consistently feel a sense progression and forward momentum which means that you always feel like you’re doing something worthwhile and your time spent playing has not been wasted.
Combat in Hollow Knight is also very balanced. Never at any point did I feel like I was at a disadvantage when facing a new area, enemy or boss nor did I feel like I was handed too much power and was dashing through parts of the game with minimum effort or challenge. It’s a system that is simplistic without a doubt, your nameless knight can only attack in the directions a console d-pad will allow but it requires timing, pacing, and a good memory. Systems like this are my favorite and infinitely superior to a lot of the combat systems plaguing a lot of first-person shooters on the market nowadays (especially the online multiplayer ones) that mostly reward players who have inhuman response times and can click buttons faster than another.
Hollow Knight also excels in the art and atmosphere category too. Each area and character is hand-drawn, rich, highly detailed, and oozing with personality. It’s sad, gloomy, and mysterious but there’s also a nice contrast with the character and enemy designs being very cute and innocent looking like the encapsulated caterpillars throughout the game or the cartographer who makes his presence aware by humming a sweet tune. The game’s lack of violence and gore also contributes to this, they create a very good balance in tone and never allow the depressiveness and ambiguity of its world and narrative shroud you in discomfort. The music is also great, the background tracks are tender and beautiful and the battle themes are heroic and triumphant. I never value these things over the quality of game design and core gameplay loop but they really add to the experience and can really push a game to the next level of enjoyment and memorability.
Game length and scope is also very much a grey area type of situation for me. A lack of content is never a good thing but if your game is too large and expansive it can be a daunting task to explore everything a game has to offer especially if there’s not much incentive to do so. If a game is this large it can occasionally be good for longevity but hurts the replay value of a title. But once again Hollow Knight has no problem overcoming this, it’s a long and content-packed game but it’s not over bearably long and its core gameplay loop is so fun and rewarding that it gives enough incentive to beat every boss, get every upgrade, free every caterpillar, get all the different endings, and fill out your map by discovering every nook and cranny of Hollow Knight’s world.
I’m going to go full circle back to my original statement and say that Hollow Knight is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s one of the few games that I want to achieve a one hundred percent completion rate on just by my own will and desire instead of an arbitrary reason. It’s fun, rewarding, perfectly paced, beautifully animated, masterfully designed, and a solid reminder that not everything has been turned corporate and there is still plenty of hope for the gaming industry coming from these indie game developers whose passion for gaming shines through in their products. Hollow Knight is without a doubt in my mind one of those projects.