Back to Hollow Knight

As many parents can attest, the final week of summer and first week of school is a non-stop adventure. Time management is just at another level, not to mention planning. Everyone is back in class, and hockey restarted this weekend…now it’s about showing up. Looking forward to the first “normal” fall in a long time.

The hectic pace means that most PC gaming isn’t even an option, and the Switch takes lead. (It does make me curious about a Steam deck even further. A new version is due soon.) I’m on a good metroidvania kick now, which works amazingly well for short gaming bursts. Hollow Knight ranked as my #1 iteration of the genre, and given the recent playthroughs through Blasphemous, Dread, and Bloodstained, I wanted to see if it still held true.

No doubt in my mind, it still does. And a Kickstarter no less.

One of my kid’s teachers is a Harry Potter fan. Super fan I suppose. She loves the Philosopher’s Stone, reads it every year, and keeps finding new bits. I played WoW for longer than most, and still there were new bits to find. Hollow Knight has this as well, especially if you’re paying attention to the lore. Given the non-linear construction of the game, there is a ton that’s open quite early if you want.

There are 5 core abilities in the game. The dash is acquired early, followed by the wall jump. Those together are enough to do a good 80% of the rest of the game. The charged dash opens a few more optional areas, and the double jump is required to reach the final areas. Finally, the shadow dash is used for reaching the “true” ending. This big middle portion allows for a crazy amount of exploration options, and the scaling of enemies per zone allows for a higher or lower level of challenge.

This particular playthrough was focused on exploring as much of the map as possible early on, including unlocking the fast travel (tram) options. As a fresh player, the difficulty curve acts as a sort of soft wall to tell players “maybe not now”. As someone with experience, in particular as to how the downward slash (pogo) works, it nearly trivializes some content.

Taking out Hornet at the start was a breeze, where my first playthrough took nearly 30 minutes on that single boss. The White Tower’s buzzsaw challenges took me a couple days to get through prior, this time it was relatively smooth sailing. The last boss went down on the 2nd attempt this time… and that’s a full on bullet-hell experience the first time.

After having had this run through complete, I posit that metroidvanias have another defining feature – positioning. This was an absolute back in the old castlevania days, where single hits were enough to put you in a pit. It’s now morphed into a skill-based approach, where all bosses support a no-hit kill mode as well as the ability to completely wipe the floor with you. There are no bosses that have unavoidable damage, and Hollow Knight takes this to the extreme with the final Godhome boss – Absolute Radiance – where a single hit kills you.

It’s been an interesting summer of metrodivanias runs, and solidified my love for the genre. It has all the bits I enjoy about gaming, with a solid mix of exploration, challenge, and progression. Hollow Knight is a near masterclass in this design, and remains the bar which other games are measured.

One thought on “Back to Hollow Knight

  1. So you’re saying a single hit by anything kills you instantly in that boss fight? Spikes, light rays, anything?
    Oh boy, if that’s the case that fight looks utterly stressful. I’d never even try to beat that.


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