The Joy of Gaming: Hollow Knight

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Over the past year, I’ve played through a great number of new games, and been able to truly discover a diverse range of video games that I’ve truly been able to enjoy to help keep me afloat during these “unprecedented times.” Since I’ve been given the platform, I’m going to be writing about each of these games, and what specifically I love about them in: The Joy of Gaming, or TJOG, since I love acronyms that I can say aloud.

2017 was one of the best years for video games in history. The Nintendo Switch came out of the gate swinging with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, ARMS, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (we’ll get to you!). The PlayStation 4 carved its name into history through the one-two punch of Horizon Zero Dawn and Persona 5. Even the Xbox One would get a win with the release of Cuphead, whose unique handcrafted style would almost make you forget how brutally difficult the game was. Other studios, such as Ubisoft, SEGA, and Capcom, marked a return to form for years of mediocrity, with instant classics like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Sonic Mania, and Resident Evil 7. The battle royale genre had begun to skyrocket with the massive success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but by the end of the year, it seemed that another game – Epic Games’s Fortnite: Battle Royale – had taken control of the field. In a year with such massive, era-defining titles ,you’d almost be forgiven for not really noticing an indie Metroidvania about bugs. 

At least, that’s how I justified skipping out on this amazing game for years. 

I’ve known about Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight for years, but I only bought it when it went on sale last November. On that Black Friday, I bought Final Fantasy XII, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, and Xenoblade 2: Torna the Golden Country as well. Hollow Knight, unlike the previously three listed games, is very much not a JRPG, so once I finished up the base game of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I dove into the world of Hallownest to detox from the genre. I played it on Switch for 90 hours and finished most of the game’s main content (98%) getting all three main endings and beating 40 out of the 47 bosses strewn around its world. For a game I purchased for $7.50, I got intense amounts of value from this game. 

On paper, a Metroidvania is exactly what the name says – a game in the style of seminal works Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. These two games both relied heavily on backtracking and side scrolling platforming, while slowly unlocking abilities as progression. lWhen discussing what defines the genre with some peers, I ultimately decided that a great Metroidvania is one that celebrates the player when they visit a new location due to abilities they have acquired. New environments and spaces are the reward provided for defeating a boss and acquiring a powerup. Hollow Knight succeeds wildly in this regard. Every single sub area of the interconnected map feels distinct, and every new room entered feels like an acknowledgement of what you had to accomplish to get there. The world is gorgeous, the music is beautiful, and the movement itself flows. 

This map is sprawling, and every room feels distinct. 

The beauty and genius of Hollow Knight doesn’t stop with the exploration, though. The boss fights are a thing of spectacle, with punishing but fair patterns. Despite its difficulty, I can proudly proclaim that there is no feeling like winning when the odds are stacked against you. There’s an early game boss fight known as the Mantis Lords, who you are encouraged by the game to return to after receiving significant upgrades. However, given the game’s open and nonlinear structure, I felt motivated to fight them with just the equipment that I had. The Mantis Lords are a group of three praying mantises sitting upon a throne, and the fight starts by one of them jumping down and beginning to attack. Being accustomed to the game’s difficulty,I thought I’d stay one step ahead and asked my peers who had already played the game if the next two would have the same attack patterns. They said yes and laughed a little, so I asked if it was because they “hit twice as hard, or whatever.” As it turns out, you fight the other two mantises at the exact same time, a Phase 2 I was not expecting in any capacity. This segment of the fight revolved around fighting the two other mantises simultaneously, which compounded both the patterns I had learned from Phase 1 as well as a set of new patterns derived from that. The Mantis Lords are one of my favorite boss fights in video gaming due to how uniquely they’re structured, and how you juggle both using old patterns and learning new ones. Finally overcoming the fight was the most accomplishment I have felt throughout all of quarantine. 

Hollow Knight is a game based on freedom and flexibility. Throughout the entire game, there are always a variety of routes that you can take that test different parts of your ability and acumen. Hollow Knight is a rare case of a relatively linear game that allows for near-boundless opportunities. There’s no right way to play, either – each of these paths are difficult in their own right, but test different skills and give different rewards. Hollow Knight is dangerously unforgiving at times, but with the sternness of a teacher that does it because they genuinely care about you learning. Hollow Knight is designed around a focus on what you personally can’t accomplish – yet. That magic is why I believe that Hollow Knight has firmly earned its place among the pantheon of 2017 video game releases. 

Hollow Knight is available for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Image Source: Team Cherry

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