I finally caved and bought a Switch. No going back now – and hey, I finally get to make my own Switch pun. I’ve not owned a portable system since the GBA. Times are certainly a-changing; I’m sad to write that I’ve put my CRT TV away in storage and a few less-used consoles are to follow. I still have plenty of old games to write about on the blog so no worries there. It’s just a bit of a bummer when life gets in the way.
Getting back on track here, even I have to confess that the Switch is very cool. It’s a slick piece of kit with a great gimmick of coming off the telly and into your palm whenever you like. To be honest the way I’ve used it so far is no different to off-TV play on a Wii U, but it’s always nice to have the option to take it out. Small as they are the joycon controllers are nifty too. I only have a couple of games, most notably Super Mario Odyssey – it turns out Switch games are expensive! – but I’ve put the most time by far into Hollow Knight.
Hollow Knight is genuinely excellent. I’m now going to try and talk about it without a) gushing or b) spoiling the experience.
With that said, Hollow Knight represents, to me, an incredible achievement and a testament to what videogames are capable of. And if that’s not clear enough, this game has made a deep impression on my psyche. It is genuinely thrilling to imagine what somebody without as much experience with videogames might feel playing this. I know a younger me would find it completely mind-blowing.
I really didn’t expect to love it this much. I’m not a huge fan of Metroidvania games. I liked but didn’t love Dark Souls. And yet, someway, somehow this Dark Souls-inspired Metroidvania is utterly compelling, far beyond any other game I’ve played in this genre. Thinking back on my experiences, I often find myself enjoying Metroidvania-type games until I hit a dead end. Then I start doing some backtracking, searching to try and find the next path that the developers want to me to take. More often than not though I get stuck, re-exploring familiar territory finding some bonus stuff, but not core material… not what I was looking for.
Hollow Knight is designed such that I have never gotten stuck, and never felt the need or even the inclination to glance at a walkthrough or map online. The world is enormous, which means there is almost always more to find in any given area. What is more, there seem to be multiple routes through the game – there is no rigid order to how things need to be done. It must have been a nightmare to balance and test, bless Team Cherry.
Mechanically, it all works exactly as it should. There’s a lot of combat, and a lot of platforming. Both are challenging, especially combat, but nothing out-of-this-world hard. Most importantly, everything feels good. It’s also visually compelling, and I have plenty more to say on that.
Hollow Knight’s aesthetic seems to have been lifted directly out of an acclaimed graphic novel. Just as with the layout of the world, Team Cherry have done a stellar job on the art front here. The characters and the environments are consistently beautiful, and the time and love that have gone into this world’s design is apparent all over. It’s cohesive and consistent in a way that few other games are. The aesthetics are a major contributor to this game’s atmosphere. The vibe is dark and moody, sometimes even frightening, but always intensely beautiful.
Lore is a popular term that gets chucked around a lot these days, and I have to confess it makes my eyes glaze over. I already mentioned Dark Souls, which didn’t click with me. Honestly playing that game at times was a tiring experience, with story that revealed itself only through incomprehensible dribs and drabs – I wished there was less lore and a more direct story. Hollow Knight takes a similar approach with its narrative: it’s largely environmental storytelling based on unearthing the past and exploring the remnants of a once-thriving civilisation. But for whatever reason this narrative has engaged in a way other games haven’t.
I actively don’t want Hollow Knight to end. Thankfully the game is doing a great job fulfilling my wishes, since it’s huge! Long time readers may be aware that I’m not a fan of basing a game’s value solely on how long the experience lasts. And yet even I have to say that £10.99 represents fantastic value for money given I’ve not completed the main game – in fact I’m still finding whole new areas – at a little over 30 hours in. (And if that hour number sounds intimidating, keep in mind that I’m deliberately taking my time to prolong the experience!)
Well, I’ve most certainly failed my stated aim not to gush here. Oh well. It’s a strong recommendation from me.