When Nintendo and Konami put Metroid and Castlevania on ice in the 2010s, indie developers were very quick to pick up the ball and play themselves. Hollow Knight is the wonderful work of Team Cherry, a three-person team based in Australia, who grew up on the greatest Metroidvania titles and wished to give others the joy they experienced. Hollow Knight, released in 2014, would garner critical acclaim and become known as one of the greatest indies ever developed. I wanted to see what it was like myself.
Hollow Knight has a very basic set-up. You, a knight, stumble across Hallownest and set out with some sort of goal. You’ll begin in the lonely town Dirtmouth, explore the Forgotten Crossroads, and then be given just about no direction. You will be teased by the mysterious character Hornet, and given information from NPCs exploring the world, but Hollow Knight mostly leaves the player to their own devices. You don’t even begin with any sort of map. You have to buy a map from the wandering cartographer, Cornifer, and have to buy upgrades from the map to fill it in yourself. The Metroidvania genre is defined by the player’s sense of discovery, but I’d like the option to be guided just a bit further.
The knight themselves were rather fun to control. Fighting enemies felt genuinely rewarding, and earning power-ups and upgrades after defeating bosses was extremely satisfying. Basic physics threw off my entire journey. I feel the character is just a bit too weighted. Recoil after hitting an enemy was something I never got used to. It did a lot to sour my experience overall. Hollow Knight doesn’t hold your hand or pull any punches. It even takes a note out of Dark Souls’ book, having to collect your corpse after death to regain all of your lost money and skills. I felt this system often discouraged me from wanting to explore, and I just wish it wasn’t here at all.
Most people play a Metroidvania for the world, and Hallownest might be one of the best in the genre. Every area is distinct and has dozens of secrets to offer. Each area, with an exception, has at least two ways in or out. Fortunately, Team Cherry forces few upgrades. Even if you’re lost wandering in the dark, you’re extremely likely to come across something important. Hollow Knight is beautiful. It’s not on the level of Cuphead, but everything is fluid and creative. Sound design was crunchy and left me lost in the world. Each and every area is visually distinct, and I never found myself lost in repeating labyrinths with the same repeating tiles.
I don’t see one of the greatest indies ever, but I do see the potential for a developer to become an all-time great. That’s what kept me going in Hollow Knight. There were dozens of minor setbacks and design flaws that left me annoyed and tired but seeing the potential for the game and developer kept me pushing through. I certainly have my eyes on Hollow Knight: Silksong, the sequel, and everything Team Cherry will pump out!