I’m what one might call a console gamer. It’s what I grew up with and where I feel the most comfortable in my video game excursions. I have a PC of course, but generally speaking I tend to stay away from playing games on it. It could be that my current computer can barely play the simplest games if they feature so much as a polygon, but for the most part it’s because I like my big screen television and using a controller. That’s right I said it! I know that the PC supports controllers, but I choose to ignore that!
Another thing I very much enjoy is collecting physical games, but in this day and age it’s becoming much more difficult to do so if you want to experience everything that’s out there. Unfortunately, on PC there are hundreds of great games exclusive to the platform, but they’re all digital and… well, all on the PC. That’s where the IndieBox swooped in and stole my heart with their limited physical game releases!
I followed this PC gaming loot box subscription service for a while, but I could never bring myself to pull the trigger and try it out. Mostly due to the fact that the games they distributed were on the “you know what”. Then one fateful day, knowing I love collecting anything limited edition, my wife surprised me with a subscription. I have no problem accepting an elaborately assembled box of exclusive collectible goodies as a gift, even if the fancy game included is only for the ole ‘puter. I joke of course, as I was overjoyed to receive my first IndieBox and literally couldn’t sleep for a straight month while I waited for it.
Finally, the day came and my first box arrived on the doorstep. Inside this wonderfully designed green and white box was a game I’ve never heard of, Hollow Knight. Now, before I continue about the game, I just want to mention that I was blown away with the quality of items included in this box. Everything from the amazing plushie of the grub to the box the game came in it was all worth the subscription in and of itself. It’s really too bad the service stopped a few game releases after this.
The real crown jewel of this treasure trove though was the game. Not knowing what it was before testing it out was actually the best part. Discovering it was an exploration based action platformer or as some may call it a “metroidvania” had me excited. The fact that it also featured beautifully hand-drawn and expertly animated graphics was icing on the cake and instantly made it a must play. As beautiful as it is and as excited as I was to play it, it took until now for me to swallow the “playing it on the PC” pill. So let’s go organic pesticide on these bugs and dig our way through to Hallownest!
Everything about Hollow Knight exudes style! From the box art included with the physical release, to the extremely well made and beautifully detailed environments it was the complete package. The hand-drawn graphics just tie everything together in an atmospheric and engrossing insect world. I love the character and enemy designs as well, all of them obviously insectoid, but also faintly humanoid mixed with a little mysticism. The more you explore the game the more varied you come to discover this world is. The detail found throughout the game is spectacular. I was actually surprised to find that each area you encounter was distinct and easy to tell apart.
I say this because for the most part Hollow Knight’s color palette consists of mostly blacks, whites and grays. Occasionally though, you’ll run into sections of the map with real, honest to goodness colors! And when that happens these areas really pop and accentuate the beauty of the game. Every time I laid eyes on one of these stages my mind was bottled up and carbonated! I couldn’t help but sit, stare… and take screenshots.
The Dark ambient sounds that surround you as you jump and slash your way further and further into Hallownest fit the gloomy grays and whites of the world perfectly. You can hear enemies skittering around or the occasional NPC off in the distance mumbling to themselves in their insect language. The little charming voices these characters have are honestly one of my favorite things about the game’s sound design. I found myself smiling each and every time I encounter one. The music on the other hand, while good, wasn’t exactly memorable. It certainly fit each area and scenario, but try as I might I couldn’t repeat a single note.
Really what impressed me most about Hollow Knight’s presentation was just how cohesive each of the design elements really were. At no point did I feel anything was out of place and you could really tell that this was once a living, thriving world. It’s also what adds to the mystery and entices you to keep pushing forward to discover what happened to Hallownest and why it’s in the state it’s in.
Right out of the gate, let me just get this off my chest. I’m a huge fan of action platformers especially when they are in the same vein as Castlevania and Metroid! And the fact that Hollow Knight followed this formula was a wonderful surprise. The act of exploring the maze like world is thrilling and the sense of discovery as you find new abilities, bosses and items is enthralling!
Hollow Knight starts with you falling into a seemingly desolate and abandoned bug kingdom. It’s very possible I was too distracted by the graphics, but I honestly can’t remember why we are tasked with diving into the depths of this world. You find yourself exploring the husk of Hallownest trying to collect various artifacts in order to progress and conquer the entity that left the kingdom in this desolate state. In many ways the game channels a Dark Souls vibe where you initially know very little about your motives, the world, and why it is the way it is. Yet it’s also this lack of information that makes you want to travel to each and every corner of the map to uncover it’s hidden treasures. The more you discover and the more characters you encounter, the more interesting the world becomes and I love that!
The action in Hollow Knight is solid and fun and the controls are for the most part responsive. I say for the most part because occasionally I would hit slow-downs or delayed inputs, but I’m unsure if this was the fault of the game, my controller or my lemon… I mean PC. There are definitely some frustrating mechanics that don’t help, like knock back when hitting enemies, but you can alleviate many of these problems by equipping items called charms.
If I was to knock the game on one thing though it would be it’s exploration. Now earlier, I mentioned that I Ioved the exploration of the game, and you may say “what the hay bale bro?!” but cool your britches random voice in my head. The exploration IS fun but it can be frustrating. It takes much more effort than I think it should. You have a map to help you orient yourself, but you need a charm equipped to actually show where you are in relation to it! All of the areas on the map are also clearly marked, but it’s not always clear where you need to go for your next objective. Unlike Metroid, Castlevania or any other game of this style the “correct” way or new paths aren’t always telegraphed and easy to see. Many times I found myself re-exploring the entire map just to find where I needed to use my new ability! There are “fast travel” point on the map as well, but they seem to be spread really far apart and far enough away from points of interest that they don’t save you as much time as you would hope. Rant complete.
It’s not all bad though, remember that time I said it was fun? Well that’s all because of the progression system. Although the items you find may be haphazardly scattered all around the world you’re rewarded for your exploration by acquiring some fun and unique abilities. That and money which can be used to buy the charms that will add perks or stat enhancements to those abilities. The game also features NPCs that can be used to acquire new skills or upgrade your weapon. They’re scattered in out-of-the-way areas of the map as well, so they can be a pain to get to sometimes, but a help nonetheless. The one ability that really stands out though in the game is the one you are given access to from the beginning. And that’s the ability to heal yourself at will. It requires you to have energy in your soul gauge, but that’s easily acquired by attacking enemies. It saved my life countless times during boss fights! All you really have to get down is the timing.
Another mechanic Hollow Knight borrows for the Dark Souls franchise is that when you die your shadow is left behind with all of your collected money and some portion of your max soul energy (used for your abilities). In order to get it back you need to seek out your shadow and defeat it. If you happen to die again before defeating the shadow through your money’s gone for good. You’ll still be able to get your soul energy back, but still! I can see the appeal of such a system, it adds challenge and makes deaths much more devastating. Unlike Dark Souls though it’s never really that difficult to find and defeat the shadow, so instead of being challenging it ends up being annoying and frustrating.
I truly enjoyed playing Hollow Knight and with the added swag that was bundled with it’s physical release from IndieBox it’s one of my favorite pieces in my PC game collection. Although it has its problems, the atmosphere and art direction made it a fun and surprising adventure. I highly recommend anyone who is a fan of this style of game give it a try. You may be surprised as well!!
Want to check out more of my reviews but don’t know where to start?? Well, you don’t need a cumbersome map to find them because here they are!!!