Hollow Knight

released on Feb 24, 2017

A 2D metroidvania with an emphasis on close combat and exploration in which the player enters the once-prosperous now-bleak insect kingdom of Hallownest, travels through its various districts, meets friendly inhabitants, fights hostile ones and uncovers the kingdom's history while improving their combat abilities and movement arsenal by fighting bosses and accessing out-of-the-way areas.

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"A mask! A face! Does it need one? Does it not? To define. To focus. To exist"
The bugs of Hallownest are not really bugs. They may share some attributes but underneath each hood and every shell lies a purpose greater than the sum of its parts. The Maskmaker tells me to don this visage. A Collector hides in the Love Tower, jealously hoarding grubs, while somewhere far beneath the earth, where the underland itself has grown stale, my knight came back from the grave. In this tale, we all have our part to play.
The people of Hallownest, then, are archetypes with hopes and aspirations much like ours, pushed to toil even as their kingdom crumbles to dust, minds going with it, stuck in the vast network of formula. Pray, do scurry little one, in the nooks and crannies of this Wyrm's body ; through dream your desires become manifest, so do not hesitate to fashion yourself in the image of your father, the King.
Unfortunately for us in this instance, the King is dead. The King was always dead - that's when games come alive after all and we can only go full-circle from here ; having dragged ourselves out of the pit we drive back down, in remembrance of a time when Metroidvania meant something which is to say never, the term never meant anything - or, if anything, the meaning was ahistorical, misdirected, imprecise, it doesn't really matter anyway because the language of play was built on approximations and half-truths and there was always a dark, wide gap in-between us and old Samus. The sense that this world was not ours to tread, that this architecture belonged to "others", a hostile plane that could suddenly snarl with tendril-teeth, lost in this "labyrinthian airport" with a creep.
Hollow Knight is built on the absence of such emotion. Its insects have gained sentience, the ability to dream themselves and therefore communicate to us in this game language that is both sanctimonious and devoid of any mystery, each of their purpose clear from the start and destined to unravel the deeper we venture towards the heart of Hallownest. The knight - our vessel - functions the other way ; below is where its loose focus begins to coalesce, below is the place where power starts to make sense for It on the level of lore - the accumulation of charms and trinkets aiding us in mending the broken order of the world. In other words, we make our own purpose in this web of reward nodes through swift exploration and world-building but mostly devour at the expense of everyone else. Reason matters little. Aren’t we the most honest of creatures, down here where everything tries to kill us ?
Interiority is what moves us through these cavernous tapestries as players compared to the rest of the bugs - the bubble that refuses to burst in Samus’ air-tight silence - but interiority is also what the knight fundamentally lacks as an operator so obviously designed with hallways in mind. Its reason for existing in the world never quite aligns with ours nor veers away from it, into violence, or hurt, or hypnosis, or whatever other reason one could find to not do exactly what the game demands from us.
Interiority - or lack thereof - is interestingly what also makes the knight a prime candidate as protagonist ; in the story’s true ending - Godmaster notwithstanding -, it is revealed that our sibling vessel (the titular Hollow Knight) was tainted by an “idea instilled” - that an offspring, even one manufactured such as us, could take affection for its progenitor the King ; this half-filled glass in turn made the Hollow Knight into an impure seal for the god on which Hallownest was built, resulting in the progressive decay of every lifeforms within as they returned to their initial hivemind state called Radiance.
We, on the other hand, are one of the experiments who did not made it onto the King’s lap and as such harbour no fruitless desires - we’re a cavity without purpose, therefore being the only one able to fulfill the game’s. What TeamCherry seems suggest here is a form of cynical abandon; divest yourself from the dream and embrace the stakes for what they are - a challenge, a boss rush, an undeath. This world’s a little too paper-thin and we both know it - the only way to put an end to Hallownest’s endless wrestling with the cycles is to void one’s heart of any desires, to only go through compulsory motions and follow the nervous system towards its natural conclusion : The percentaged map.
Hollow Knight can’t help itself, though, because dream is the location - it always is - and as part of our attempt to acquire this pure empty soul the game throws upon you one penultimate challenge in the form of the White Palace, a paranoid delusion inside which the King hid himself to die at the moment of failure.
In there everything about Hollow Knight begins to make - late - sense ; instead of a classic “genre” piece, the White Palace unfolds as a series of encroaching platforming challenges designed with a deliciously cruel twist - whereas most other regions of the game emerged from the natural world, this vault was trapped and fabricated with one intention in mind : to kill the player as mercilessly as possible, squeezing it tight spots after tight spots, impaled on razor’s edge in accordance with the flight system, what once seemed like generous windows and wriggle-rooms now beating me into submission. I couldn’t get enough of it. Five hours of Hollow Knight’s truest attempt at discouraging a player from ever finishing it, and in doing so, finally, a crevice filled with the most videogame, with less-than-precious designer intentions finding parallels in what the space expresses as character, about one of its characters. My stakes, at last, aligned with the knight’s. But then you do find the King. Of course it’s dead. Surprise. Hallownest awaits, again. Down I went, and in this movement, I think, lies the beautiful exegesis of Hollow Knight :
It tells us exactly who we are, what we are, yet through the world is incapable of offering its players a way out.
The Stone Sanctuary of Greenpath contains an epitaph that once singed to me in prose and poetry. Bullshit. I banished the ghost and claimed the Essence for myself.
The next time I visited it simply said :
A face carved from stone.

The map consists of blue hallways on top of more blue hallways.
I will never understand the appeal of this game, it bores me to tears.

another overrated indie game
not bad. not insanely good. just good. people give it too much credit. it's a combination of some good elements from metroidvania and souls with the same problems as them and without some of the core strengths of those games. i just don't get it

Stunning. Endlessly replay-able. My favourite games, hands down.