This is an updated script for the Hollow Knight video. It is not 100% accurate but it’s close. The video has subtitles based off of this script that I’ll be adjusting the day of the video’s release, so you may want to use them if you like to read along. If you prefer to read instead of watch the video though, then here you go.
There are many ways that you can judge a game. That should be obvious because there are many ways that you can judge anything, but there are two big ones that I want to speak about. The first is looking at something as a product that’s available for purchase. The second is looking at it as art. Or, if you find that term too contentious, appraising it in regards to how successful it was in what it set out to do—whether that’s intentional or your interpretation.
In my mind, this is the difference between a review and a critique. A review sets out to decide if something is worth your money and time. A critique, on the other hand, cares very little about those things. Instead it’s about weighing the strengths and weaknesses of something, divorced from any monetary value. These are not hard, firm, or other erotic descriptions, to put in front of the “rules” for either reviews or critiques. My videos especially bleed from one to the other, although I think I’m more on the critique side of things and only like to mention value here and there.
Enough of that though: why am I bringing this up for Hollow Knight?
This game is exceptional in many ways. The biggest one, however, is its ratio of price to quality content. What I mean by that is Hollow Knight is such an outrageous bargain at its fifteen USD launch price that it’s pretty much flawless. It’s immune to criticism. If you like Metroidvanias, or just have an interest in 2D platformers, then you can’t really go wrong. I can’t explain this more clearly than saying I would have happily paid sixty dollars for the amount of enjoyment I got out of this game. At forty-five dollars I would have still thought it had great value.
Hollow Knight launched permanently on sale. And maybe this is irrelevant to a lot of you watching but that’s a big part of what a product review is. If, say, two office chairs are of equal quality in every way but one is a hundred dollars cheaper, then it’s easy to see which is the better product. Although you might be suspicious about where they’re finding places to cut costs.
That’s how I feel about Team Cherry. Not including the composer, only three people made this game. And it is a massive game full of lots of enemies, upgrades, bosses, and a world that keeps expanding outward with new levels long after you’re sure you’ve seen everything. It’s that kind of experience—the energizer bunny gamified because it just keeps going. And if this is the type of genre that you like, you’ll want it to keep going. Even when you are finally done with it, you’ll want it to keep going.
I just hope Team Cherry didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with their launch price.
And that’s my spoiler-free, barebones review of Hollow Knight, and my glowing recommendation to play it before watching this video. I can find a lot to criticize in this game despite everything that I just said, but that’s only when judging it as art.
As a product, Hollow Knight is a 10 out of 10.
So why did I just go through the trouble of explaining all that and making that big distinction? In part to act as a spoiler warning, but mostly because I want to make it abundantly clear that all of the criticism that follows may appear petty unless you separate it from the price. Much of what I speak about will be advocating more content. More work and development time, from a game that has outstanding value for money already. That may not seem right to some of you but that’s how this works. Hollow Knight is more than just a product.
Its biggest problem is pacing, which isn’t something that’s brought up much when speaking about video games. It’s hard to quantify what pacing even is when the player is often in control of most of it and therefore dictacting it. It’s made further complicated when you account for taste—movies and television shows that have a slow burning plot are a favorite for some, and are tedious for others. Books can show this even more if the author has a voice that benefits from a lot of observations and gradual, rich exposition rather than one explosive plot point after another. Some people can also appreciate many different forms of pacing and don’t want the same one in every single movie that they watch or book that they read.
Video games can also be viewed this way. The pacing of its story—sometimes even how that story is being told. If gameplay is constantly being wrestled away to show many long cinematics, then it can be viewed as poor pacing. At this level it doesn’t even matter what the story is about, just that the pacing of the gameplay is being interrupted. Just like some people who prefer the story in some games to the gameplay may view the opposite as poor pacing. I’ve heard that said about The Last of Us in particular: some people really like that story, but they don’t like the gameplay. And they wish that they could just have the story without having to go through all of that.
An overly long tutorial is another good example because it can feel like a really slow start. Neverwinter Nights 2 immediately comes to mind with its long festival scene that introduces so much and is pretty much necessary but still drags.
But what about the pacing of gameplay throughout an entire game? Its mechanics, complexity, and challenge?
In Hollow Knight you are a Hollow Knight—a vessel. Since it’s a Metroidvania, it has many upgrades and abilities that you find throughout the game that unlock access to new areas. Which, in turn, have more upgrades and abilities that unlock access to new areas. It’s a snowball rolling down a hill. Or an anthill would be more appropriate for this game.
This also means that at the beginning, your options and abilities are strictly limited. This is something that many people love about the genre: the difference between where you start and where you end. My issue is two-fold: that your ghost-type bug Pokemon could have started with at least one more ability, and that the game can’t capitalize on the potential of the full moveset you’ll have by the end of the game.
Except for one fight, at least.
At the start of the game, you can move left, right, and jump. You can hold the jump button for higher jumps—which can allow for some precise control when doing a series of differently spaced jumps without stopping. Similar responsiveness can be found in mid-air control, and the acceleration you have when you move from a resting position. Or rather the lack of it. You go to top speed instantly once you start moving from a full stop.
Without playing the game, this can be difficult to understand because it has to be felt. I’d like to draw comparisons to some of the older 2D Nintendo games and I’ll have to risk the video getting copyright claimed to do so. Although there’s at least one alternative I can think of right now.
Shovel Knight has a tiny delay from resting to moving. Same for when you change direction. His mid-air control is just as responsive as Hollow Knight’s though, at least from what I can tell from playing it a little. On the opposite end you have Samus in Super Metroid, who has the air control of a pregnant cow who miraculously discovers she can fly for a few seconds and then just as quickly loses this ability at the peak of the jump. She also has a sharp focus on vertical movement rather than horizontal, which feels like trying to throw an empty plastic bag across a room when you’re trying to make any horizontal jump in the game.
This level of responsiveness in Hollow Knight’s controls does not automatically make it a better game. In fact I’d say most of the great 2D platformers that I’ve played have at least a small amount of acceleration delay when moving, and nowhere near this level of mid-air control. However, it does suit Hollow Knight specifically, because it has a much more involved combat system than most 2D platformers. Especially when it comes to bosses. Enemy attacks come at you relentlessly and with very quick telegraphs, so you need to have a movement system that is just quick and non-committal with its jump arcs. This is more true later on in the game when combat becomes more aerial in nature.
In terms of offense, your options start out just as light as your movement. Your weapon is a nail, which I will from here on out refer to as a sword because that’s functionally what it is. You can slash in four directions: left, right, or up when you’re on the ground. And the same when you’re in the air plus a downward slash.
I think there are two things are important to note here: unlike Zelda 2 and Shovel Knight, Hollow Knight’s downward strike isn’t automatic if you press down on the D-pad—or analog stick depending on what you’re using. This means it’s something that you have to time in order to hit your enemies—it also means it’s something you can mess up and land into them, taking damage instead.
This may make it seem like Hollow Knight makes more demands on you when it comes to landing attacks, but the other difference here is that every slash in this game has a wide arc to it. Whereas in Zelda 2 and Shovel Knight, you have a slower stab that can be trickier to land. This is very clear in Zelda 2, which has many enemies with shields that can shift to block your precise stab attacks—which is something you can also do and creates a simple dueling system in that game. Shielded enemies in Hollow Knight, on the other hand, block your whole arc no matter what. You have to wait for a total opening or get above or behind them instead, or use magic.
You also start the game with the ability to heal. You have a resource called Soul, which can be used to replenish your life by getting to a safe position and holding down the B button. To me this shows that Hollow Knight was already willing to break the soft-Metroidvania convention of starting you with as basic a character as possible. I wish they had gone one step further than this and included the dash from the start too.
I don’t know this for certain, but I’m fairly confident that if you’ve played Mega Man X—and then played it again sometime later—that you do Chill Penguin’s stage first. How Chill could he be if he’s trying to take over the world though? Never mind. The Penguin is an easy boss but his stage also has the dash power up capsule sitting out in the direct path you’ll travel. I don’t think it’s possible to beat the level without using it and acquiring this upgrade.
The dash is a core mechanic in Mega Man X. So much so that returning to the game with a new run feels off. Something is missing, like you left the house with only one shoe on. I’m never comfortable playing this game until I have that dash again to zip around levels. And it would seem that Capcom agreed because they made it baseline in X2 and, I believe, every other X game after that.
Hollow Knight has a dash ability that functions near identically to Mega Man X’s. For most players, it will be the second major upgrade they find, and the movement system feels neutered to me until that moment. I’d argue the ability to wall jump is also essential to the experience, but that might be too extreme of a suggestion. Much of the world opens up after you get that one after all. But having said that Super Metroid has the wall jump available from the start, although many might not realize it since it’s tricky to learn how to do it your first time through.
So let’s hammer this point down by fastforwarding to the end of the game. You can still attack in four directions and you have the same movement and jump as before. But now there are three different charged melee attacks, three spells that spend Soul, a dash that functions on the ground and in the air, an even more powerful “super dash” type ability that rockets you left or right until you cancel it or hit something, a wall jump, a double jump, and finally an upgrade to your dash which gives it some shadowy invincibility frames on a short cooldown. This is without mentioning a large assortment of charms that can further tweak some of your abilities—the speed and size of your sword slash being the most impactful for my runs.
The double jump acts as an uplifting force that you can control just like a regular jump—you can hold down the button to go a little higher or let it go early to not jump so high. This is different than the double jump in Ori and the Blind Forest which is like a spring with a set distance no matter how long you hold the button down. Curiously this is a change from the first jump you can do in that game, which does have some height you can control with the button press. This makes the double jump in Ori feel more bouncy which suits that game in my opinion, compared to the more precise control you have in Hollow Knight.
In fact all of Hollow Knight’s abilities follow the idea of quick responses and a great amount of player control. Spells activate and deal damage near instantly. Heals can be cancelled if you realize you’re going to get hit before it can finish. The only exception is the dash, which has a set distance and cannot be cancelled once triggered. You can’t even jump out of it halfway through, which makes me wonder why it’s different to the rest of your moves. The set distance on the dash can make platforming challenges a bit more straightforward, especially those that require you to dash off a wall or some other platform. Maybe that’s why it was chosen to function the way it did and that carried over to combat. Or they found that holding the dash trigger down to control the distance was too unwieldy during testing, although Mega Man X allows you to cancel its dash and it feels fine. That game doesn’t have the same sort of platforming gauntlets though.
As the game progresses, and the areas you can explore and fight your way through gradually expands, so does the complexity of the enemies and bosses. Mostly. It’s more true of the bosses than the smaller enemy types. Dashing and double jumping become effective tools in avoiding damage and, whether you choose to favor magic or sword arts or a mixture of both, you have more offensive options at your disposal to deal with each situation. Instead of just hacking away with basic swipes.
My preferred way of playing was to take advantage of the brilliant decision Team Cherry made with downward strikes while in the air. Hitting an enemy like this resets your double jump and air dash, meaning that you can “juggle” yourself in far more creative ways than simply timing the same strike on one enemy on the ground. I found this combat system, particularly in the Colosseum of Fools challenges, to be deeply satisfying. You have a lot of movement options to get around, something akin to a combo system when trying to keep yourself in the air for as long as possible, and an invincibility dash that requires a bit of timing to use between cooldowns.
Once again though, there are two main issues here.
Up first is that it takes far too long to go from this:
<clip of hitting a bug in Crossroads>
<clip of aerial attacks in Colosseum>
On your first playthrough, from the initial projectile upgrade all the way to the double jump, you are likely looking at around twenty hours. This can be cut dramatically down if you know where you’re going and all of the hidden routes between levels. But hey that’s any game really. The first run is what matters the most for these kinds of balance and pacing problems. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some people finished the game without finding the Shade Cloak upgrade which grants immunity during dashes. This isn’t required to see the end credits. It is required for the “real” ending and to fight the “real” last boss which is, incidentally, the only boss that requires you to have all of the movement upgrades in order to beat it without taking damage.
This means that there is a long stretch of game time wherein the player has very few options during combat compared to the potential you have at the end. Things don’t stay quite as simple as they are right at the beginning, but they don’t get really interesting until you’re close to finished.
The reason that the Radiance boss can have much more demanding abilities is because, of course, you can’t get to that boss without having all those abilities to unlock the way. And that’s the key to understanding the other problem. Because the dash, super dash, and wall climb are the only three abilities you truly need to see almost every part of the game, bosses and enemies couldn’t be designed around the player having all of them. You can still take advantage of them and fight most enemies in new ways if you do have all of these options, but there’s clearly a limit on what they can do.
The White Palace challenge is another example of this but for platforming instead of combat. You can’t unlock access to this place without having the big movement upgrades. So these challenges can be safely built around all of those options, making them by far the most complicated and intensely designed platforming in the game by a gigantic margin. The only thing that comes close to this are the short jumping sections in the Queen’s Gardens because, once again, you need many of these upgrades to access the area.
There are a number of solutions to this problem. The simplest, but most timeconsuming one, would be more areas in the game that are gated like the White Palace. More endgame areas that can incorporate all of your upgrades. I’m hopeful that this will actually happen in the future with more DLC and a paid expansion.
The other possibility, which will never happen but it’s interesting to think about, would be starting Hollow Knight with the dash and wall jump abilities as a baseline. The first upgrade you find would be the double jump, and that would hopefully be a good enough foundation for a different set of upgrades to add more optional complexity to combat and platforming, with early areas being able to incorporate the fundamentals much sooner.
At the very least, combat could become more interesting a third or so into the game, instead of close to the end. And every boss could be built with dash and double jump in mind. This would still have a lot of optional complexity at the end, but more room to design more interesting encounters much earlier.
This is more of a problem in Hollow Knight than Ori and Super Metroid because combat in those games isn’t a focus. Super Metroid has a clunky combat system and knows it. That’s why it gives you so many energy tanks for more health so you can tank your way through every encounter. Ori doesn’t even let you aim your attacks. You spam them instead while avoiding enemies, because the game is more about platforming and movement, which is clearly seen in the bash ability, the gravity gimmick, and how the “bosses” in Ori are movement-based escape sequences instead of combat.
Hollow Knight has the combat right there at the top, next to exploration. An equal partner. It gets good, but it takes too long to get there.
While we’re speaking about Super Metroid and upgrades, I want to point out how much better I think Hollow Knight handles new abilities and unlocking areas. Super Metroid has something like locked doors blocking your way, and a specific upgrade is required to open it, or to hook onto it. And then required to open the next one like it. Not all, but many of these upgrades don’t do much outside of that functionality—they only have one real purpose.
Some of Hollow Knight’s upgrades also function in this way, but I felt that the majority that are used to unlock areas also expand platforming and combat. So as you’re opening up the possible routes around the game’s world, you’re also gaining new tools to fight with and making it easier to get through earlier areas when you return to them. This makes backtracking more interesting and convenient since you’ll be exploring many areas more than once to find the previously inaccessible paths.
Ori and the Blind Forest functions in a similar way, but I was surprised when I returned to the game again for this video that there’s a lot less backtracking in order to complete the main questline than I remembered. It’s a lot more linear compared to the freedom that Hollow Knight can provide after you get the first few major upgrades. That’s not a bad thing but it’s atypical for a Metroidvania from what I understand.
Let’s talk about that now because we can finally be positive for a while. I played Hollow Knight four times. That may sound excessive but, just like with Prey, I felt that there were enough decisions that the game warranted the multiple runs—decisions in gameplay though, not in the story. Plus one of my playthroughs doesn’t really count since it was a steel soul, perma-death, Fox only, Final Destination, speedrun that I did just to see if I could do it. It does help illustrate how efficiently you can get around the world once you’re familiar with it though. I think I did it in less than three hours, which is kind of slow.
The decisions that I wanted to see and replay primarily come from how you explore the world. I believe this can start off right at the beginning, if you’re willing to farm up enough Geo—the currency that Hollow Knight uses—to buy the lantern to light the dark tunnel to Crystal Peak really early. You’ll be grinding out currency for a while, and I don’t think you can do much when you get to Crystal Peak without some of the other movement upgrades, but you can do it. I think.
The same goes for the order in which you go through the world once you have the dash and wall jump. I believe the intended point for the world opening up to most players is after they get the dive ability from the City of Tears. I think this because there’s a boss you can fight shortly after acquiring the wall jump called the Mantis Lords. If this boss kills you, an NPC will appear during your corpse run and suggest that you head to the City of Tears to upgrade your sword nail—suggesting that the Mantis Lords are out of your reach at the moment, and you should go do something else and come back later.
If you go to City of Tears and clear the boss there, then there are a lot of potential paths open to you all over the world. I’d guess that this is the point that most players diverge into the next area they visit being very different from others: from Crystal Peak, to the Waterways, then to Ancient Basin, the Kingdom’s Edge, or thinking of going back to the start and finding the Howling Cliffs, and so on. There are a lot of possibilities and most importantly, there isn’t one that’s clearly telegraphed as the next one like the game has functioned so far. You start off in the Crossroads, go to Greenpath, then go to the Fungal Wastes, and then to the City of Tears. I think that’s the progression path that most people are going to follow.
However I’m a stubborn asshole. So I gave that friendly NPC beetle the finger and kept fighting the Mantis Lords with my unupgraded nail. After I killed them I went to the left of their boss arena into a different area and a different progression path. A place called the Deepnest.
Now not only was my sword nail still at its base level, I also hadn’t purchased the lantern upgrade yet. Which means that dark levels in the world were barely visible. I kept pushing down here because I was in love with the oppressive atmosphere of the place. Look at the introduction: this horde of dead bugs that the mantis warriors have fought back and kept from invading their village. It just screamed to me: this place is infested and you are not welcome here. Even the spiked pits are replaced by writhing masses of killer centipedes. Enemies continually emerge from burrows in the ground to ambush you. The sound design is phenomenal too—the grinding, chirping, and rumbling drowns out everything else and I don’t think there’s any music here either.
Somehow I made it to a very long drop at the end of a dark maze of jumps and enemies. I landed in an oasis in the heart of the infestation. There was a bench, which is the game’s checkpoint system, and I used it without thinking what I had just done. Because now I was stuck in the Deepnest with my raggedy nail and no lantern. With no way out because I couldn’t climb back up the long fall that got me there.
And so began one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had all year.
It took me a while to get out of the Deepnest. Some areas were too dark without the lantern that I had to leave them. Others were too confusing without a map. Hollow Knight makes you earn a lot of things that other games just give you. So the map system and even the pins to mark key things on it have to be purchased. Same for unlocking the bestiary for information on all of the enemies you’ve killed. Everything is measured in some way—collect enemy encounters, kills, spirit for your dream nail, upgrades, geo, fill in the map of each area, find relics, increase your health and Soul capacity.
To draw a map of an area, you first have to find the cartographer in the area itself. He’s usually in one of the first parts of the level, but sometimes he can be tricky to find or surprisingly deep into the zone. This became a little ritual: when I found a new area I’d go hunting for the map beetle guy and be really happy when I heard his humming from far off. There are discarded pages you can follow like breadcrumbs too. It also meant that I didn’t overly rely on the map either, because I’d learn a bit about each area before I found Cornifer. And then I’d enjoy the completionist urge of drawing in the map.
In the Deepnest, however, Cornifer is scared and hiding near the entrance. He’s not humming. There are no pages to find. So I missed him. I was also stuck in this area with no map. Not only did I have to figure out how all of these parts of the Deepnest fit together in my head, I also had no reference for knowing how close I was to finding a link back to another part of the world.
Now that I’m familiar with the area, I know that I came close a couple of times to getting out. But on my first run, I was stumbling around in the dark for at least an hour before I found an abandoned tram station. Here I fought my way through some tough enemies to find a tram pass, which would grant me access to a tram that was still functional near the bench that had become my new home.
You may think this is where the story ends but Hollow Knight is more special than that. I went to this tram expecting it to take me back to the first proper area in the game—because I remembered a sealed tram car there in a station that I knew I’d come back to eventually. So when I rode this tram and it took me to another new area I had to stop for a minute while my perception of the game’s world grew even larger.
So I rode the tram again to the next station, expecting that this time it would be the starting area. And it was yet again another new level. This tram line wasn’t even connected to the one near the beginning of the game.
These places seemed more like endgame areas to me than the Deepnest. That was the slithering evil that I already knew so that’s where I went back to, eventually climbing my way out of a deep pit and to a familiar area. I ended up going to a few other places before reaching the City of Tears because of this, and so my progression path through the game was very different than what I went through on my other playthroughs. I consider myself very fortunate to have stumbled my way into this route, because it made the game feel, quite frankly, magical. That there were still several new areas to discover after this pushed the game’s world from impressive, to ridiculously so.
My guess is that most people will have a similar experience after clearing the City of Tears, and it’s helped by how every area after the first introductory zones has multiple entrances. Even something as remote as the levels that sandwich the map—the Howling Cliffs and the Kingdom’s Edge—have more than one way to discover them. As you can tell by my strange journey through Deepnest, some of these entrances can be more difficult to find than others but they still exist.
What’s further impressive is that these entrances can have their meaning altered depending on how you approach the area. For the Deepnest examples: I had to climb out of this pit, wondering where the hell I was going and what was waiting for me at the top, before finally emerging to what felt like a safe place. For another player that comes from a different progress path, this pit is something they fall into without warning and serves as their introduction to this awful place that just swallowed them up. They get to fall all the way down this thing that I had to climb up and wondering where the hell they are all of a sudden. If they have the lantern already and travel to the path that leads to the Mantis Lords before killing them, then they would see a sealed tunnel with a bunch of corpses and be left wondering what kind of battle took place here so long ago. Who was responsible for killing them, and what’s hiding behind that door?
The Howling Cliffs are another good example, since you can get here either by returning to the starting zone with the wall jump ability and climbing your way to the place that your character leapt from in the opening, or you can arrive here via the stag station after discovering enough of the other stations in the world. You won’t know where you are yet and have a different click moment when you get the map or fall down to realize that you’re right back at the start of the game.
These moments work in multiple ways and I think that’s something unique to the medium. It strengthens the experience for players no matter how they may explore the world, instead of forcing them to go through only one introductory path between each level. Which players are more likely to miss if they’re hidden, or that they’re being guided too firmly to feel like they’re actually exploring if they’re not hidden.
The unraveling of the bottom part of the map was one of the best moments of exploration that I had in a game. You go from City of Tears and descend into its sewers. Then you find a long lost ruin that’s below that—below the sewers. Then there’s still more below that, a giant abyss that feels more open and vacant than the cliffs on the edge of the map. And, although it’s a smaller area, there’s even more below this if you come back here with the item required to unlock the true ending.
The game keeps descending lower and lower, long after you expected it to be done. Just like another one of my favorite games that will remain nameless.
Unfortunately, the design of these levels on their own isn’t nearly as compelling. Although they definitely do shine when it comes to atmosphere and presentation. With only one exception—the Greenpath and the Queen’s Gardens—they’re all visually very different from each other. In terms of structure and gameplay, though…
Look no part of this game is bad. The worst thing I can say about the levels is that some of them feel unfinished, even if they still got a high level of polish after content was cut or wasn’t developed enough. We’ll get to that in just a second but right now I want to point out how samey all of the levels are if you strip away their visuals. Initially I thought that some levels were more narrow and claustrophobic, but during my many playthroughs I realized that pretty much every area has a mix of wider, more open sections, followed by narrower paths and more maze-like routes. The game uses that basic structure and scrambles it in a different way for every level.
This results in a “soft-linearity” as you fight through each area. You can definitely feel lost, but once you understand each level you can see that there is a mostly direct path from where you enter the area to the goal—usually a boss or upgrade that you’re heading toward—and a bunch of optional off-shoots that have challenges and other items to find. These will be upgrades to your spells, health, Soul, mini-bosses, captured grubs, or more involved challenges for Pale Ore to upgrade your sword. The game also uses relics as a way to reward some of the more obscure secrets—these aren’t required to finish the game or achieve 100% completion, so they’re the perfect fit for secrets that many will miss. I know that I must have missed quite a few of them because I found new ones on every playthrough. They’re generally good to find because they’re worth so much geo when you cash them in and you don’t lose them when you die. Although there are some problems with that as well that we’ll talk about later.
Once you realize the fundamental structure that the game follows, it can feel a bit formulaic. Probably not on your first playthrough, but definitely after that. Or toward the end of your first one. What really made me realize this was playing Ori and the Blind Forest again. I don’t know why it took going to a whole other game to notice this, but Hollow Knight doesn’t have any sloped surfaces. There are no inclines or declines that you walk on anywhere in the game. There are some sloped ceilings and walls to prevent you from climbing, but everything else is a series of rectangles and squares. It’s boxy and grid-like in structure, which contributes massively to how familiar everything feels despite the visual differences in each area. I’d guess it was also something that helped Team Cherry put the areas together faster than they would have otherwise.
To put it into perspective, even Super Metroid has slopes. Way back in 1994. So does Mario 3 on the NES—you can slide on them to kill enemies.
Where the different levels do distinguish themselves is with some sort of overbearing enemy type or an environmental hazard. And I don’t mean the ratio of safe space to spikes, pits, thorns, or whatever else passes as a damage zone.
Almost every level has something that makes them standout, although not all of them are as developed as others. The Forgotten Crossroads begins this trend with the giant Goam worms that require timing to jump or bounce over. This area also benefits from changing later when it’s corrupted. Which is something I wish had happened to some of the other levels as well. I thought it was an unexpected twist and it was really interesting.
Crystal Peak has the conveyer belts that you can both run and climb on—which suits the theme of the area nicely since these crystals were part of an industrial excavation effort.
The Fog Canyon has the big jellyfish that demand either tight navigation to avoid them, or quick reflexes to not get blasted by their homing corpses after striking them.
The Fungal Wastes has some sort of bouncy mushroom and a separate village for the mantis enemies, where you learn to use the wall jump ability. This is likely also the first type of enemies that will give players some trouble if they don’t have a lot of experience with the genre.
We’ve already spent a lot of time talking about the Deepnest but it’s worth repeating how much the area commits to its dense atmosphere. Enemies appear to attack you from many directions, reinforcing that feeling that you’re out of your depth. Plus there are a few sections with massive Garpedes—more advanced versions of the armored worms from the Crossroads.
City of Tears has a focus on climbing and elevators and teleporting enemies at the end. The Hive has destructible platforms and rampaging bees that smash them. The Queen’s Gardens has platforms that collapse a moment after you step on them so you need to jump quickly from place to place.
Greenpath and Ancient Basin are a bit harder to fit into this trend. Greenpath does have a theme of ambushing you with—ah, well, literal ambushes. Kind of funny to realize that. There are the fly traps that appear as well, but overall this area strikes me as the more standard one in the game. Probably to provide room to use the dash after acquiring it without too much getting in the way. It is one of the first areas after all.
Ancient Basin on the otherhand only has the Mawlurks to set it apart, which are neat enemies but they only show up at the end. Which is where I can begin to point out some areas that don’t feel as fleshed out as others.
I think that having some standard, more mundane levels is a good idea. Not every place needs to be built around some core mechanic—but I’d be more comfortable saying that if there was more variety in how the levels were laid out so there was more contrast. The Kingdom’s Edge and the Howling Cliffs are both areas I like a lot but more for their atmosphere and the tease of what might be waiting on the outskirts of Hollow Knight’s world, rather than the gameplay they provide. Meanwhile the sewers below City of Tears is the level I consistently forget exists at all until I arrive there and remember I need to get a key to get inside.
The level design does succeed in one particular way that made me very happy: short cuts. Parts of Hollow Knight’s levels will remain blacked out until you find a way to get to them, or break your way through a hidden piece of the floor or the wall. This is cleverly taught to you in the starting area by placing a breakable wall next to a cluster of geo that you want to attack because you want the money, it’s really early on in the game. You’ll break the wall by doing so and learn how this works. And you have another chance shortly after this to notice another breakable wall to reinforce what you learned. There’s more than one instance of this happening throughout the game too. So if you miss this lesson or simply just forget, then the game has some natural reminders for you. I think it works really well.
My favorite result of these dark areas on the screen is that you don’t know something is there until you come back around after exploring. So there will be many walls that you can only break from one side—usually marked with wooden supports that you destroy—to unveil either a shortcut or an alternative route back to the main path without so much backtracking. Many levels will incorporate these types of surprise shortcuts to shorten the path between the checkpoint bench and the boss, with my favorite of all being this wall you can smash open in an elevator ride in the Soul Sanctum in City of Tears.
This type of shortcut is used really well throughout the game—perhaps it’s even used a little too much. But I really enjoyed this experience of connecting parts of levels together on a small scale, while I was doing the same thing on a larger scale with upgrades that unlocked connections between the broader named levels.
Where the game falls short is in places like Ancient Basin, the Abyss, the Hive, and to some extent: the Queen’s Gardens and the Deepnest.
There are two sides to this issue. The first is a return to that pacing problem that we mentioned way earlier. The other, while similar, is more about a lack of development in an area’s unique slice of gameplay. Nothing shows this better than the Abyss.
This is probably the final area that most people will find in the game. It’s either that, Queen’s Gardens, or Howling Cliffs. It starts off great with this massive fall through a chamber, and a mysterious surface to greet your landing at the bottom. To the left there’s only one room, which has an upgrade to one your spells. To the right is a straightforward path that introduces the most creative twist on a damage pit: these tar-like claws and hooks that reach up to kill you. The only other enemy in this part of the level are your hollow void brethren. There’s a part I really like down here when you activate a lighthouse to calm a lake of the shadow claws in order to pass them. Then, in the very next room, you get an upgrade and you’re done. There’s nothing else here.
Ancient Basin has the same issue. Like I already said, the big twist to gameplay here are the monstrous artillery bugs. Once you’re past them, you have a boss to fight in order to get an upgrade. Then there’s a short optional offshoot that allows you to use your new ability for some hidden stuff.
These two areas feel designed solely to give you a short trial and an upgrade, instead of being full areas that are worth exploring. Now, in the case of Ancient Basin I think this is fine. Shorter, more direct areas can be enjoyable and serve as more of a focused part of the game and act as contrast to other parts. This area also benefits from the entrance to the White Palace being here, which makes it feel more substantial even though it should count as its own level in my opinion.
The Abyss has something similar with an incredible story moment that happens later in the game, but I think the area is a letdown because of how much potential there is in the interaction between the lighthouse and the shadow claw water.
Just like some of the best parts of Ori and the Blind Forest, a series of challenges could have been made out of this system of light and dark. Smashing walls and floors to let light pass through to calm the water. Or some sort of object you can carry that does the same. An enemy that you have to hit in order to create the light, which then starts a short timer for you to do some jumps and dashes. Or a boss that you fight while also micromanaging a light source in the arena. Something along those lines—I don’t mean to come across like I want these specific things I’m saying, I know I’m not a game designer, just an exploration of this system.
Having brought up bosses, it’s a lack of them in some areas that feels like an exclamation point is missing at the end of a great sentence. A building of tension in exploration, story, and gameplay complexity, that ends with nothing instead of a climax. I’d call this poor pacing.
Excluding the two added by free DLC, there are twentyfive bosses in Hollow Knight. But similar to the residents of George Orwell’s farm: all of these fights are bosses, but some are more bosses than others.
Firstly, you fight some of these more than once. There are harder versions of the Broken Vessel, the False Knight, the Crystal Guardian, the Soul Master, and a handful of others. Some like the mother bug in the Crossroads feel closer to a mini-boss than full boss. But even here you have some judgement calls to make. The Flukemarm looks a hell of a lot more like a boss but it doesn’t do much of anything really. Meanwhile this fight against the Soul Warrior, which is a normal enemy in the Colosseum, feels like it’s just one added move short of full boss status, a fancy introduction title, and his own series on Netflix.
I’m not going to go through every fight and fire off whether they’re really bosses or not. Laying down the groundwork for a solid distinction on that could fill a whole video all on its own. What I will say is that some of these fights are definitely more on the lore and atmosphere side of things. Uumuu, Nosk, and the Traitor Lord especially—that last one isn’t even a boss if you complete an NPC’s questline and, if you don’t do that, it’s simply a supersized mantis fighter with the same moveset and just more health.
Please don’t misunderstand me: some of the bosses in Hollow Knight are incredible. I had the chance to dig in and learn a lot about many of them during my fourth playthrough with no weapon or health upgrades. Even the ghost set of bosses, which have their own theme of being spectral targets that move around while summoning a separate set of weapons and attacks, are a lot of fun and they feel like they were just bonus content that was thrown into the game. There are patterns to learn and openings to recognize to deal a lot of damage. All of them are enjoyable because of this rhythm and flow, except for No Eyes and Marmu.
No Eyes has the issue of spawning projectiles off screen which, if you’re forced to use a dash to get to him or climb platforms, may end up colliding with you through no fault of your own as the screen shifts as you move. Now this is avoidable if you play very slowly and carefully, but I say that’s a flaw on the fight since then it becomes boring ’cause you’ll have to wait for him to teleport to a safer position. This is unfortunately a trend I noticed with some of the teleporting enemies as well, or those that can spawn from the floor. Because dash has a set distance, and cannot be cancelled after use, enemies can sometimes appear on top of you with no chance to avoid it.
Marmu has a completely different problem: she’s boring. She curls into a ball and flings herself at you over and over and over again. You hit her away like you’re playing a game of tennis against a wall and then continue to do so until the fight is over. This fight would be fine if it was one of the earlier ones you can find—with some more creative teleporting safely away from where the player can dash I can see it being much better too—but this fight is the simplest of all of the ghost bosses and yet it’s in one of the final areas. This is in the Queen’s Gardens, which requires more upgrades than most levels do in order to access it.
Making things far, far worse, this is the only real boss in this whole level. I don’t think Traitor Lord should count for reasons I just went into. It’s just a regular mantis with a big healthbar.
This isn’t the only area in the game that suffers from this problem. However, you may be thinking, Joe you’re not even a real dragon, not every area needs to have a boss. It might come across as forced. And maybe for The Abyss you have a point. But for other areas, the issue isn’t a lack of content or the expectation that every area should automatically have a big fight at the end. It’s that the game itself leads you to believe that it’s building to one.
Take the Hive. This is a secret level below the Kingdom’s Edge. I found this during one of my escape attempts out of the Deepnest on my first run when I got stuck. I accidentally blasted off a chunk of the hive’s wall and then ran scared away from it when I saw the giant bees. If anything was an area to go near the end of the game, it had to be this one.
This level has many large chambers full of dangerous enemies. And what is more common knowledge than a hive having a giant queen bee that the smaller workers and drones serve? And sure enough there is one. You enter a room at the end which reeks of an incoming boss. There’s a ghost and this huge giant bee-thing! in the background. Aaaaaaaaand you don’t get to fight it. You just walk past and grab some treasure and leave.
<Joseph laughs at his own dumb joke>
Deepnest is the same way. Once you know the game is about a desecrated kingdom of beetles and bugs—insects and arachnids—what could be a better fit than a supremely dangerous spider boss? Deepnest is where the spiders weave their homes, and there’s a similar dreadful buildup here. You get closer to the heart of the nest. There’s a warning you receive from some dead bugs. There’s a trap you’re forced to trigger and yeah, here we go. Time to break out of this webbed prison and fight some big ass spider.
Nope, nothing happens. There’s no boss here. You invade the mind of one of the big three dreamers that is keeping the previous Hollow Knight in its prison, and even that isn’t a fight.
Finding and killing these three dreamers is the main goal of the game and the other two have bosses before them. The one in the City of Tears is pretty good—it’s an endurance fight against an army of knights. Meanwhile the boss before the dreamer in Fog Canyon only has two mechanics involving lightning, and a gimmick that requires you to wait around for another NPC to make the boss vulnerable for you. It’s not awful, but it’s not great either.
I want to remind you all quickly of what I said at the beginning of this video: as a product, Hollow Knight is as close to flawless as I’ve ever seen. It has enough bosses. It has enough enemies. But in terms of pacing these dreamers should have been challenging fights instead of dreaming pinatas. I think most people are going to have the impression they’ll end up fighting them too, since they appear two times earlier in the game like they’re posing for their indie band’s album cover. It’s a real letdown that you don’t fight them.
Considering that these are ghosts in the dream realm, just like the ones you fight in the world, it may have been an easy solution to simply transfer some of those fights to here instead of have them in the levels. Or some amalgamation of existing ones since just one mechanic wouldn’t feel right since these are big moments in progression and story.
White Palace also feels like it’s missing a boss as a big WOW moment at the end of its platforming gauntlet. Although this may be weak criticism, since White Palace is one of the ways Hollow Knight tests you on a specific part of its gameplay. There are four that I can see: White Palace is the endgame platforming challenge. The third Colosseum trial is the enemy combat challenge. The Radiance is the endgame boss challenge. And finding all of the grubs in the jars would be the endgame exploration challenge.
Those grubs are linked to one of many big moments in the story, although story may not be the right word. Lore isn’t really either. It is a narrative moment but a subplot compared to the main journey around Hallownest. I don’t think very highly of the story in Hollow Knight for two reasons. The first is that I don’t think it’s finished. DLC and, I hope, an expansion has a lot left to add. There are currently areas in the game that lead to nothing and are mysteries waiting to be developed on later. One that I question the inclusion of is the weavers’ room in Deepnest. I can imagine many players spending a lot of time here trying to work out some secret to the place or some hidden piece of treasure that should be here, when it’s just a tease for upcoming content probably involving Hornet.
The second reason I didn’t pay attention to the story much is that it has that vague, up-to-your-interpretation issue that’s really popular at the moment. Although I will say in the game’s defense, this could be something that’s resolved with future content that clarifies some things. We may only be seeing half of the story through one character’s perspective at the moment.
That does not mean that I didn’t enjoy some of the narrative and “experience” moments while playing. Arriving at City of Tears for the first time, with the music cutting out and then slowly coming back with the sound of the rain on the glass, was marvelous. As was the conversation with Quirrel at the first bench here—he wonders aloud where the rain is coming from and that he hopes to see the source of it one day. A wish that comes true when you meet him later at the Blue Lake. It’s a small, unimportant area that didn’t need to be in the game. Yet it still is, and stands out in my memory. Perhaps partly for that reason.
Two other strong moments were at either end of the map. The biggest strength of Hollow Knight’s world is that it continues to sprawl out long after you expect it to be finished. Then, when it did finish, I wish it hadn’t. Not many games have made me want so strongly to break out of bounds and continue exploring. What’s beyond the edge of the Howling Cliffs? What’s the wasteland really like out there? What’s outside of this tent at the Kingdom’s Edge? They may just be more clever versions of invisible walls and an arbitrary limit, but they still managed to capture my imagination while also being a firm boundary.
For something that I didn’t enjoy as much, we have to go back to the Crossroads at the beginning of the game. There are two important NPCs here. The first is the Grubfather, who showers you with geo and occasional higher rewards for every grub you free from captivity. The other is Myla, one of the friendliest bugs in the game.
Myla’s story is very contained. She’s cheerfully mining and singing near Crystal Peak. She’s pleased to have company when you’re around and she’ll sing for you if you talk to her. Since this is a game where you regularly explore prior areas with new upgrades, you speak to NPCs more than once. So when I was passing through, I would speak to this character. Over the course of the game, her dialogue changed.
I don’t know when the exact trigger point is—it seems to be when the corruption begins to leak from the black egg nearby—but at some point Myla goes “hollow” for lack of a better term and attacks you on sight. Just like any other enemy. This small story is fine. It’s on the bitter side since she was so nice but it’s a clear demonstration of what the corrupting force can do in the game—and what it has already done to many of the bugs you’ve been killing since the start. This may be the first point that you realize what the corruption even does, and raises the stakes by showing you how important it is that you succeed.
The Grubfather, on the other hand, feels shocking just for the sake of it. There’s no foreshadowing or anything that is being shown to you by this reveal. It’s just the revelation that this character is a monster, and that you can’t do anything about it.
It’s probable that this is something many people are going to really like about this twist. Maybe if I had been in a different mood I would have felt that way too. It’s unexpected and I usually like that sort of thing. But to me the game was already grim and dark enough without this—it’s also something I didn’t know about until someone on my Discord server pointed it out, because I simply never came back to this room after receiving the reward for all of the grubs. I didn’t have a reason to do so.
There’s a ton of things like that in this game. Secrets are crammed all over the place. You can use the dream nail on almost every NPC and enemy to hear some of their thoughts and insights on what’s happening, or the history of some locations. It’s dense in a really good way that’s never forced on you, and it’s another example of how the game is so packed with content. The false hero Zote, for example, proclaims that he has Fifty Seven Precepts to an adoring fan and, if you sit here and talk to him enough, he really does go through all Fifty Seven of them. He talks more than I do.
The best moment of all like this for me was my return to the Abyss after finding the two halves of the secret Kingsoul—from the White Palace and the Queen’s Gardens. The heap of masks, which represented discarded corpses of failed vessels to me, was already an enthralling choice for the setting of this big story moment. But it was what happened next that really stuck with me.
The corpses are blasted apart and rain down. You have to climb up the Abyss, not knowing that this is a vision of something that happened in the past. Messages flash as you do this, but it was the gradually building music that sealed this sequence for me. This is the same music that plays during the Hollow Knight boss at the end of the game, only this time its a lot more somber. Instruments are added to it as you climb higher through the Abyss, before it’s all cut away and you’re sent tumbling down.
Of course things like this are going to be very subjective. It’s why I try to avoid speaking about them in my videos. However this was powerful enough that it didn’t feel right to not mention at least a little. As was the incredible introduction to the secret final boss, The Radiance. I think most people aren’t going to expect that, as you jump up these platforms to the challenge prompt, that the sun in the background is what you’re going to end up fighting. It’s also the only boss in the game that has this grand, full-page announcement timed to its music.
Boss fights are one of my favorite things in video games. Hollow Knight delivers with at least ten really solid fights, with the top two for me being the rematch against Lost Kin and The Radiance. That’s not strictly true however because I enjoyed some fights more than others on different runs, which is where I have to call the game’s balance of progression into question.
The core principle of many action games is this: you avoid enemy damage while dealing enough damage back to kill them. Pretty simple. The higher the damage output you have, the sooner the fight is over. Your health can be seen as an alloted “mistakes meter” that depletes after so many errors are made on your part. The higher your damage, the lower the duration of the fight, and the fewer chances you have to make mistakes and therefore die. This iswhy damage dealt to the player when it isn’t strictly their fault—and therefore not a mistake at all—can be so frustrating.
For charms you can extend yourself to be more durable, or go for a higher damage output. Or both, in the case of upgrades you can find in the world.
Sometimes you can break this principle by becoming so durable, or achieve such high damage, that you can ignore what the boss is doing. This is fine and even a welcome feature in some games because it can become an alternative method of progressing for some players who struggle with pattern recognition, or somewhere in the middle for players who want a bit of a boost or don’t like a certain boss. The issue arises when it ceases to become a choice. When you upgrade yourself without understanding what you’ve just done—that you’ve broken fights for yourself, in your favor, and have no way of reverting back to a lower amount of health and damage so that the encounter once again adheres to the principle.
Hollow Knight crosses this line with sword upgrades in my opinion. I don’t know where I’d nail down this exact point, but I know for certain that the final weapon upgrade is too much. At this level, you are able to whack away through phases of bosses and the Colosseum of Fools without much effort. The Radiance tries to prevent this by dealing two units of health whenever you take damage, but even this endgame boss was something I found shockingly flimsy with a fully upgraded weapon. Especially in phase two.
The solution here could be a hard mode, a New Game Plus mode, the removal of the last weapon upgrade, or tying the upgraded nail to an option you can toggle.
This may sound elitist of me and I do apologise for that. Even that apology may sound elitist, but I feel strongly about this after beating the game without magic, without weapon upgrades, and without any health or soul boosts. This is definitely not the ideal way to play as it turned many of these fights into very long struggles—the last challenge in the Colosseum became a thirty minute fight with this low damage number. But I also learned how well designed these bosses were by having to fully commit to the time and effort of beating them in such a weakened state.
More than anything it gave me a deeper appreciation for the Radiance battle: how all of the moves it has available weave and follow each other, and when to exploit openings for a lot of hits since every hit I did land dealt so little damage. I had to maximize that uptime.
This ties closely to the healing system and why the health upgrades don’t break the game’s balance nearly as much as the weapon ones do. Attacks come quick in Hollow Knight, especially from bosses and groups of enemies. I love so much about the healing system in this game because it requires you to be active in a fight to use it, and has a tradeoff with your magic spells if you decide to use them. You can spend the same resource you have for healing on extra damage. Sometimes a lot of extra damage—to the point that I’m really hoping there’s a New Game Plus mode that encourages it, since magic is so powerful.
The only way to get Soul in the middle of a fight is to land a hit on an enemy. You can bank this ahead of time for when things go wrong, or find yourself in a clutch moment trying to sneak in some hits without dying so you can scurry away and heal up from one hit from death.
But things aren’t that simple.
This is another tradeoff moment. Let’s look at the Radiance, who has some gaps between certain attacks that you can slip in free hits on her. You can also use these to heal, trading the opportunity for damage with recovery instead. But the more you see this fight, the more you learn that there are moments within other attacks that you can begin to heal too. When the line of daggers comes in a specific pattern and provides a few seconds of downtime. Or when the third and final laser volley is telegraphed—you can heal at least once if you’re prepared for this and know what you’re doing.
For fights against regular enemies, this is a lot simpler. You just run away and heal. It’s during locked rooms and the Colosseum that you need to be smarter and know when it’s a good time to heal. This is a skill you need to develop as you play, not just a button you press to heal and when you run out—tough luck you have no more healing. It allows players who are struggling to play a bit smarter to give them more time to learn, or players who take risks and are aggressive to have potentially unlimited sustain if they don’t get too greedy and take the time to heal.
Having so much damage meant I didn’t have to do any of this, which is a shame because it was a really satisfying part of combat for me and I think it’s a core system in Hollow Knight that you can just ignore. Instead I could tank hits and burn enemies down. I highly recommend playing the game with only the first two or three weapon upgrades to get a much more rewarding combat experience. I think you’ll be surprised to discover how much there is to learn about some fights—moments that you can attack when the enemy is also being aggressive, or when you can heal when you didn’t think you had time before.
Many bosses also have this really cool feature early in their encounters: they become periodically stunned after you hit them enough times. This means that, for the first half of the fight, you get more structured, guaranteed moments of reprieve in order to heal before continuing. Or, if you know the fight already, you can slip in some free hits and knock them out of the stun early. As the fight goes on, these stuns stop happening, which I take to mean that they were deliberately included to smooth out the learning curve that struggling players will go through for each attempt of the fight. Bosses actually get more difficult as they go on because of this, while still being accessible at the beginning without sacrificing that difficulty for the whole fight.
I adore this feature, and I would love to see it in other games.
Swinging this to the negative side of things though, we have the death system in Hollow Knight. This isn’t a good fit at all except for the setback to the checkpoint. That’s a decent enough punishment for death. The potential loss of all of your geo if you don’t kill your ghoststain would also be a good inclusion, except that it’s only truly punishing in the early game. In fact, in the early game it can be tremendously punishing, since there are a few big items to buy with geo at that stage. Geo isn’t that easy to get in the first few areas. Yet, by the end of the game, geo is so common and has so few things to purchase, that the death mechanic loses its bite. This seems backwards to me. It should be easier at the start, and harder toward the end.
The safety net for geo are the relics you find throughout the world. You do not lose these upon death and they sell for a high amount of geo to a trader in the City of Tears. I strongly dislike how long it takes to sell each relic to this guy and I’m hoping this is something that I just missed—some quick sell menu or something. Otherwise it takes way too much time to sell each individual piece that you have.
This death system would work much better if geo was something you always wanted to have to upgrade your stats—tying it to a level system, for example. I am not saying that Hollow Knight should have a leveling system, only that it would be a better fit with the ever-present fear of losing your geo. And also incentivize finding more of it after the mid-game.
Some charms and the extra slots to use them are expensive, but even after buying everything available in the game I was left with a mountain of geo by the end. And this includes hours spent playing the game long after I stopped caring about collecting much of it.
Charms are interesting because they’re like a talent tree that you find via exploration, and then get to assign within a limit of how many notches you have. You can compare it to the chipset system in Prey only Hollow Knight’s augments are a lot more substanial. It also works as a secret hard mode since you can overcharm yourself by forcing a charm to equip that requires more free notches than you have. This makes you take double damage and, while welcome, it’s not quite the hard mode I’d like.
Something else about charms is that some of them are about utility instead of combat, magic, or defense. Some can tweak your healing as well, so you can pick a part of the game that you’d like to make easier for yourself. I’m unsure about how successful this is however, as some charms felt mandatory to me.
The one that shows your position on the map and, for the early game, the one that draws in all geo that enemies drop, are essential as far as I’m concerned. As is the Dashmaster charm that lets you zip around much quicker. This can be twisted into a positive since, if you get to a boss that you’re struggling on with these charms equipped, then you can think of taking them off and putting stronger charms on temporarily for a power boost to get through that fight. That’s a cool trick to realize for yourself.
However, I do wonder if a good way to sink extra geo in the mid-game would be some sort of special vendor that that can make 1-notch charms permanent and separate from this system. Just like the void soul becomes after your climb out of the Abyss.
The charm that I was most surprised to discover was the one that removed the recoil from sword strikes. This is an integral part of the combat system right from the start and, because of that, this was a charm that I decided to never use. Just like how the absence of the dash can be heavily felt when you start the game fresh, I think losing this charm after getting used to the lack of recoil would be very offputting. It also takes away a good bit of how impactful your attacks feel while smacking enemies.
Having spoken so much about the bosses, it’s only right to also go into some detail on the wide variety of enemies throughout the rest of the game—or, at least, the illusion of variety. Hollow Knight definitely has enough different enemies and not just for the price, either. However, many of them recycle ideas from earlier levels. The worst offender of this are the bugs that blast out poison gas in the Greenpath and their cousins in the Fungal Wastes shortly after this. Both of them even explode in the same way upon death.
There are also many variations on the same basic beetle bug that will run and jump at you. And that’s all. That’s all they do. The same for stronger knight enemies with swords and shields—their size are the only real thing that changes.
There are some good enemies amongst these though, with the standard method being a ranged attack that can trigger if you’re out of range of the melee one. The mace wielders in the Crossroads, the moss knights in the Greenpath, and some of the fighters that are unique to the Colosseum. There are also a variety of larger flying enemies that show repeated ideas, but by in large I think the game does a good job with its enemy variety. It’s not quite as impressively unique as this list may appear, though.
Fighting in that Colosseum was my favorite part of the game overall. The third trial especially. Just like the rest of the game and my videos, it goes on for far longer than you expect. It’s here that the combat system gets its chance to fully shine, and shows how much potential the rest of the game could have if this level of complexity was reached sooner. Something I am clearly hoping is achieved in an expansion considering how many times I’ve brought it up now.
Despite my gripes I brought up earlier, it was the teleporting enemies that I enjoyed most of all. When they don’t materialize right on top of you, it makes fighting so frantic. The game is at its best when you have to combine all of your movement options to both attack and evade at the same time.
There are some stumbles and questionable decisions here and there. The rematch against Soul Tyrant, for example, is something I think really requires the double jump in order to be fair. He can cancel his dive bomb at the very last second—right before he hits the floor, when his nose is touching it even—and teleport into a second one, which was the only attack in the entire game that I felt could be a regular unavoidable hit without the double jump. The Radiance also has an issue of spawning projectiles and telegraphs that are the same color as the background, making them hard to see. Now this is meant to be some sort of shimmering embodiment of light (like look at its name) so hey, maybe that’s intentional, but since it depends on what part of the background she’s on I doubt it.
The preceding Hollow Knight fight is also overshadowed by this one—in more ways than one. It couldn’t be that challenging or complex because it would be frustrating to get through it over and over in order to get more attempts on the Radiance. It’s a weird thing to think about really: a checkpoint between Hollow Knight and the Radiance would of course make the latter of the two much easier. But it would also allow the freedom to make Hollow Knight harder.
On my no upgrade run I enjoyed this fight a lot more, since I didn’t burst my way through it so quickly. It was also the one I used the shade cloak the most on to dodge through attacks, which makes me think it’s another part of the game that has untapped potential. Actually thinking about it now, even in platforming and challenges in the environment this could be used in really creative ways in other areas.
I’ve said it too many times throughout this video, because I really am hopeful that Team Cherry is nowhere near finished with this game. If I had done a video shortly after release, then I would have laid some heavy criticism on it for having a huge chunk of the map so extremely divorced from the rest. Getting anywhere below the sewers was a huge chore on my first playthrough. And this is something they addressed and changed with the first free update before I even started writing this script.
They added a teleport rune and an extra stag station which I think was enough to fix the problem. The teleport might even be a bit too much but you can only place one of them—I can’t comment too much on it because I kept forgetting it existed since I was used to the base game. The stag station was a really good addition though.
Two bosses were also added—a rematch against the dung beetle Defender and another fight that fits a subplot in the game so well that I don’t want to spoil it. These bosses were not added to any of the areas that I felt needed more attention, which makes me wonder if they’re reluctant to change anything in the major points of the story. This makes sense knowing that people are used to the current way progression works in the game now but I’m not sure if I’m sold on that idea. It’s new areas that use all of the upgraded moves and abilities that are more likely, or maybe I’m just wishing so because that’s what I want to see. The base game is already here as the foundation and more challenges like the White Palace, The Radiance, and the Colosseum should be built upon it.
Hollow Knight is a fantastic experience and a contender to be my favorite game of the year. If you watched this video without playing it then I still think you’d enjoy it a lot if this is your type of game. I cannot think of another title that comes close to the shockingly high amount of value it provides for the price. That’s where it stands as a product. As a work of art, well, that’ll be up for you to decide.
So as the credits roll as a small thank you to some of the Patrons that made this video possible, there are a few scattered thoughts that I couldn’t fit into the rest of the script that I’d like to say.
The game’s soundtrack is wonderful and generally understated. I didn’t notice how good it was until my second time through—especially the alternative versions during tricky parts of levels when an extra layer of the music kicks in.
The Markoth fight in Kingdom’s Edge was the most challenging of the spirit bosses for me, and I think a good example of what the dreamer fights could have been.
I think a hard mode with a set nail upgrade and health amount, with remixed enemy types in all areas, would be a great idea. Like a “Master Quest” version, with charms still being there for player customization.
The rematch against the Crystal Guardian had a warning on its lasers that I was never comfortable dodging. Maybe I just need to get good but this felt off compared to other fights in the game.
Similarly, as much as I love the enemies, having the Primal Aspid shoot orange projectiles when they also gush orange blood when you hit them probably wasn’t the best idea.
The second phase of the Mantis Lords is one of the simplest yet effective ways to increase challenge and complexity in a fight that I’ve seen in a game. I hope they add a rematch to this one later that has all three of them assault you together in a new phase at the end.
The Nosk fight was really disappointing after its cool introduction. In general, any boss that primarily attacks by recklessly running in your direction feels lame. The Brooding Mawlek was far better and that was in the first level.
The Hunter’s transformation and intentional boss fakeout after completing the bestiary was a massive tease. It was funny but, looking back at some of the other pacing issues in the game, I wish this had been a fight afterall. He looks really intimidating too, and I think he would make a fun boss.
Knocking the falling debris into the Failed Champion to damage him is a really cool touch, and something I didn’t realize you could do until my second time through. It’s also a really neat way of combining defense and offense since you can knock them away from dealing damage to you at the same time.
And I think that’s everything. Thanks for watching. I might do something on Hellblade or Cuphead next, before Nier Automata.