Alibi V.26 No.36 • Sept 7-13, 2017 

Steam Genius

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight

In the world of indie games many titles are often forced into one of two categories: strong game play at the cost of narrative and immersion, or powerful immersion and storytelling at the expense of traditional, snappy game play mechanics. Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight subverts this trend with one of the most rewarding and atmospheric gaming experiences of 2017.

As an unnamed miniature hero behind a mask, the player picks up their trusty nail and descends into a forgotten kingdom, long abandoned by its ancient insect architects. The world below is filled to the brim with toxic fungal spores, infected husks of once intelligent bug-folk and emboldened fellow adventurers seeking a challenge. A rich, dark fantasy veneer lies on top coloring the world in grey tones as a seamless classical soundtrack guides the player through the chaotic depths.

Upon discovering a new area, the player is not offered a map. Instead, they must use their simple skill sets to navigate the dark in search of a friendly cartographer. Using a finely tuned in-game economy, the player spends “geo” to acquire new abilities, items and aforementioned maps from many colorful vendors scattered throughout the tunnels below. In between these destinations lie a series of combat and platforming challenges designed to push the player to the limits of their ability.

Hollow Knight strikes a careful balance between punishing difficulty and relative accessibility. Any newcomer can understand the protagonist’s move-set, without ever feeling overwhelmed, as new abilities are carefully granted over the course of the adventure. With practice and determination, no challenge is too much for the player, though the game’s most challenging segments are reserved for optional sections and bosses. This creates a window for less hardcore gamers to enjoy Hollow Knight’s dynamic offerings, while more skilled players may find themselves bursting through the game’s skill ceiling, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges.

As with every metroidvania worth its weight, powerful bosses pop up from time to time to take center stage. A horde of more than 30 such creatures lie between the player and the game’s true ending, each one designed to push the player to their limits. While these fights are at times controller-breakingly difficult, they never feel cheap or unfair. There is always a solution to the opponent’s move-set resting in the player’s arsenal of abilities and spells. Through the careful use of soul, (Hollow Knight’s answer to mana) the player is expected to manage their own health and projectile attacks in search of ultimate victory over their mighty foes.

Each one of these tests of skill carries with it a sense of absolute satisfaction. The feeling of accomplishment which follows a successful boss fight is the game’s greatest offering, and an absolute high for challenging game enthusiasts. Hollow Knight belongs in everyone’s Steam library, and is a steal for the price, offering upwards of 30 hours of challenging, finely tuned game play. Repeat play-throughs are naturally rewarded with new discoveries, easily missed the first time around, and an engaging charm system creates a collectability which is tough to ignore once you become invested in the game’s core mechanics.

Not only is Hollow Knight a strong contender for 2017’s game of the year, it is one of the best titles available on Steam today. A seamless experience full of rewarding game play, developer Team Cherry deserves a standing ovation for this brooding, whimsical masterpiece.