Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight

Of all the games on my to-play list, Hollow Knight was the one I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. It’s one of the best Metroidvanias I’ve ever played, and it’s definitely the best Soulslike I’ve ever played. It’s occasionally referred to as Dark Souls in 2D, which does it a massive disservice to my mind. In fact, the worst thing I’ll say about it is that it can’t quite escape the shadow of that inspiration, in both reputation and design. That said, unlike FromSoftware’s exercise in fetishized inconvenience, Hollow Knight features acrobatic movement that makes travel tolerable at worst and actively engaging at best. Furthermore, blatantly unfair bosses and level design are the exception here rather than the rule. Most importantly, players heal using a resource that regenerates with successful melee attacks, allowing for mistakes without diminishing the skill and practice required to advance. The result is a largely hassle-free way to experience the strengths of both of its genres.

This is possibly the most I’ve seen a Metroidvania embrace its exploration component. Maps are only updated at save points, so you’re often striking out into truly unknown territory, and progression can be extraordinarily non-linear. The amount of fascinating and original content here is astounding, and the world just oozes atmosphere from its highly interactive environments and its haunting, expertly-layered score. Combine this with the high but not unreasonable difficulty, and the sense of wonder and fear becomes indelible. Actually, the openness is part of why the difficulty is reasonable, as postponing troubling sections until you’ve tackled some of the other 15 available routes is a viable tactic. The sense of wonder also arises from the narrative. The ruined insect kingdom of Hallownest is a captivating, thoroughly-detailed setting. Most interestingly, in addition to standard environmental storytelling techniques, a mid-game item gives the ability to read the dreams of every NPC and enemy in the game. And unlike some similar narratives, the basic plot is engaging even if you don’t track down every scrap of lore available.

9/10
9/10

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