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EDMONTON, Alta./Troy Media/ – When I plan to review a game, I try not to take in a lot of media on it beforehand. I don’t want to build expectations that may influence my opinion. Occasionally that clean slate leads to a delightful and unexpected surprise, as it did with Hollow Knight.
In Hollow Knight, you play as a silent insectoid warrior. You’re small in stature but increasingly great in strength, especially as you unlock a host of new abilities. It’s a 2D sidescrolling action/adventure with an emphasis on fluid movement blended with fast-paced combat.
A lot of my fun with Hollow Knight revolved around its tight, slick gameplay. But the real standout was the seemingly endless exploration. You’ll regularly revisit locations, once you’ve gained an ability that lets you access a new area or something has happened that changes things there. The game has a way of making every new discovery feel rewarding.
In a game based largely on mobility and combat, the controls must feel tight and responsive. Team Cherry, the developer, nailed it. I felt I was in complete control, except for a few buggy moments when the game paused and jerked a little, or when I jumped in water and there was a small hitch. These moments were rare and hardly bothersome. The combat, which requires patience and timing, was never unfair. And every time I took damage, it was because I made a mistake.
Although the world is on a two-dimensional plane, you’re not just moving left to right across the screen. Much of your exploration is vertical and in some areas the hand-drawn background art works with the four-way exploration to suggest vast scope. Jumping around an open cliffside or leaping through the heights of a decayed city felt like I was exploring a fully fleshed-out, three-dimensional space. Never has a 2D game made me feel more like I was traversing through a full, deep world.
The audio goes a long way to immerse the player. Slow, sombre music permeates this world, setting a beautifully oppressive tone. Combine this with the cryptic, spare and engaging storytelling, and the delightful cast of bug-people, and you get a wonderfully vibrant world.
You’ll come across all sorts of characters, each with a unique and stylish look. Many have only a few lines of dialogue, but it’s written so well that it gives each its own personality.
The story is one of my favourite parts of Hollow Knight. It’s almost never directly told to you. Rather, it’s given to you in sometimes-puzzling snippets that you pick up from a stone tablet or a fellow bug. At the start, it’s unclear what your objective is – you must explore and slowly piece together the history of this place. But despite the lack of direct storytelling, there’s a rich lore with intriguing mysteries to solve.
You’re free to explore as you desire, barring locations that are blocked until you gain the ability to access them. You can frequently explore in various directions – feel free to poke around at your own pace or to look deeper into an intriguing mystery.
As you gain movement abilities – a dash move or wall hop, for example – you can reach new places. And moving through the places you’ve been before becomes much faster and you’re able to quickly bypass old enemies. You also discover ways to fast-travel, which will quickly ferry you between specific locations. Despite these options, I found that traipsing back through some places was tedious. Fast-travel sometimes lands you in a spot on the opposite end of an area you were trying to get to and the journeys can be a little tiresome.
The combat is a lot of fun. It often requires strategy and timing, and you’ll regularly learn new abilities that keep things interesting, although some are unnecessary. You’ll encounter all sorts of enemies and each one introduces something different. The boss fights are fantastic: each requires patience and quick reflexes. They often reward you with a new ability or item, and always reward you with a sense of accomplishment.
The exploration feels endless, making me want to dig deeper into every nook and cranny for the next secret passage. The game creates a rich world with its style, music, characters and story. I kept wanting to learn more. The movement and combat are perfectly tight and fluid.
In short, Hollow Knight is a joy to play, perfectly blending challenge with reward.
Troy Media columnist Sam Stewart, an actor, has a diploma in theatre studies and a degree film studies. He also works in the tech industry and loves to indulge his lifelong passion for video games, from the classics to new releases. He tries to look at video games from a broad perspective: as a gamer, but also as someone who wants to know what a game is telling its audience, how it’s advancing the genre and industry, and how it challenges the player.
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