I must have been living under that proverbial rock lately, because until last week, I had never even heard of 2D side-scrolling action game, Hollow Knight. Hollow Knight Voidheart Edition comes to Xbox One and includes the core game, as well as its four sizable content packs. If, like me, you had no idea this game existed, take my word for it, this is hands down one of the best metroidvania games available on Xbox One. I could kick myself for not playing it sooner. It’s an experience in which failure will come often, but with every death, usually comes an important lesson.
Before we deep dive, let me emphasize how much content you’re getting in return for just $14.99/£12.49. Not only are you getting the core game, but its aforementioned content packs; Hidden Dreams, The Grimm Troupe, Lifeblood and Godmaster. Not only is the core game sizable on its own, but each content pack brings forward new bosses, quests, upgrades, and heaps of hidden extras. There’s easily north of twenty hours worth of content to work through, and thanks to how fluid the gameplay is, grouped with its solid mechanics, it never feels like a chore.
The game is deliberately vague to begin with, in fact, it’s pretty vague throughout. Players take on the role of the equally as vague Knight, a character that’s immediately equipped with a bladed weapon known only as a nail. You’re literally thrown straight into the deep end, given no sense of direction as to where you should be heading and no map to pull up to chart your progression so far. Mercifully, the first ten minutes of play serves as a light tutorial, and doesn’t demand too much care and attention to get through to the main event.
Before long you will stumble upon Dirtmouth, a small locale in which NPCs will gradually gather to aid you in one form or another. Situated at the heart of Dirtmouth lies a deep, deep well. This is precisely where you’ll be spending most of your time here. You see, Dirtmouth and every section below it, makes up the vast, interconnected world of Hallownest. You’ll dive into the well’s depths, explore, fight, likely die, and repeat. That may sound basic on paper, but in practice, Hollow Knight is easily one of the deepest, most engaging games of its kind.
Dirtmouth’s well immediately connects to the Forgotten Crossroads, and it’s here in which you’ll truly form an idea as to how Hollow Knight should be played out. There’s a sprawling world hidden under this well, one that’s compiled of wildly unique landscapes that are varied, stunning and intriguing. One of the most important ports of call is to locate a map, which you can pick up from Conifer in the first hour of play. This will aid you greatly as you dive deeper into the labyrinth of locations that sit in wait, but it’s not at all necessary for progression.
That’s the beauty of Hollow Knight, you’re free to take whatever path is open to you and explore until your heart is content. Taking into account that the game lacks any real aid as far as telling you where to go is concerned, this is more often than not, a game of just that, exploration. You’ll reach whatever entrance you can move through, fight a dizzying amount of various foes along the way, and pick up any upgrades, charms or geo (currency) that sits in your path. By design, Hollow Knight is an adventure that’s packed with mystery and challenge.
Though, much like any ordinary metroidvania, you start your adventure with relatively limited capability. You’re able to the standard; jump, attack, and a mixture of both. It’s not until later in that you’re afforded some pretty kick-ass techniques to make easy work of standard enemies, as well as specific traits that will enable you to reach areas that are otherwise inaccessible without. The game’s pacing in this regard is second to none, offering a trek through a haunting, sad and depressed world that’s equally as exciting and exhilarating at every single turn.
I cant commend the visual and audio design enough. Hollow Knight sports an incredible soundtrack that sits perfectly with its many locations, each of which are beautifully detailed, rich and diverse. Several times was I breath-taken by its overall presentation, constantly treating me to some of most stunning sights I’ve ever seen in a game that sports a similar design choice. This is further bolstered by its impressive enemy and character design. Whether I was fighting the game’s several titan-sized epic boss battles, chatting with an NPC, or anything in between, I was constantly awestruck.
Special mention goes to the game’s wide pool of enemies. I’m by no means anywhere near done with the game, but the massive collection of foes that have challenged me in almost every section of each location so far, is nothing short of exceptional. These foes not only have their own unique attack and behavioral patterns, but even the weakest of opposition can prove challenging if you let your guard down for even a moment. The game’s combat is precise and fluid throughout, meaning that if you do bite the dust, it’s only ever down to player error.
Speaking of death, and death will come often, the game never feels as punishing as it sounds. Hitting an enemy will gradually fill up your soul meter and once this is full, you can channel its resource to grant you some more health points. This same soul meter is what your special abilities will pull from when you begin to unlock them, and when that happens, you’re at a constant impasse as to what you should favor more; health or damage output. It’s a very simple yet greatly effective system that sits inline with the game’s difficulty quite nicely.
Should you die, your spirit will remain over the spot that you fell and you’ll need to go back there to collect any of the geo that you had up until that point. When you do this, your spirit will attack you, so it pays off to ensure that you have ample health before fighting, er, yourself. Upon death, Knight will be transported to his last bench. Benches are littered around the game’s world and upon sitting on one, you’ll mark it as your last checkpoint. You can also use these benches to equip the previously alluded to charms.
There’s a large volume of charms to locate, some of which will be in plain sight, and others will be tucked away in hidden locations. They offer you additional – often powerful – abilities, however, you’re only able to equip a number of these at any given time, so it’s useful to find the charms that best suit your playstyle. I’ve plugged just shy of twenty hours worth of play, and even now, I’m finding secrets and charms left, right and center. It seems as though I’m uncovering secrets and new areas at every passing screen and encounter, encouraging even more exploration and perseverance.
What I will say is that judge Hollow Knight on its first hour of play would be a mistake. I wasn’t having a great deal of fun to begin with, constantly either losing my way or having my ass handed to me on a regular basis. I stuck with it, and now, I consider it to be a shining example of the genre it adopts. Between the game’s gorgeous world, its many enemies, its towering boss fights, its countless secrets and just about everything else within, lies an adventure that, as cliche as it sounds, is just too damn hard to put down once the ball truly starts rolling.
I did stumble across a few bugs along my way through the vast world of Hallownest. The most notable of which is the fight against one of the game’s bosses; the Mantis Lords. If Knight is killed at the same time that one of the lords dies – or is struck – you’ll respawn to a controller and screen that violently shakes all the way up until you make your way back to the encounter. It’s a niggling gripe for sure, but something that I wanted to make a note of all the same. Other issues tend to revolve around occasionally taking two lots of damage or something alike, but nothing truly disheartening.
At the time of writing this review, I’ve explored and seen most of Hallownest. There’s still a number of sections blocked off, each of which no doubt rife with secrets to uncover, but I’ve slain enough beasts and bosses, overcome enough environmental obstacles and just about anything else in between to comfortably form an opinion. That opinion is that this game is one of the best metroidvania games on Xbox. It’s robust, it’s various, it’s thoroughly exciting and a hell of a lot deeper than you would think at first glance. If you’re on the fence and enjoy the genre, you owe it to yourselves to pick this up.
Hollow Knight is easily one of the best metroidvania games available on Xbox One. Despite the occasional bug later on in the adventure, the game remains robust, well balanced, challenging and thoroughly exciting throughout. What makes it particularly special is that it never wears thin, thanks largely to its deep, fluid play and its wonderfully dark, intriguing world.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.