Hollow Knight (Switch eShop) Review
In past reviews, I’ve spoken a lot about passion. When a game developer is passionate about the work they’re putting out, it shows up in the game in small, but unmistakable, ways. Things you could blink and miss, things that didn’t need to be there — but are nonetheless. Small details that give a game personality without distracting the player, like idle animations and cute little character interactions. It’s these expressions of passion that can elevate an otherwise mediocre game into something a little bit special. Hollow Knight would be a phenomenal game even without these things, but with them, Team Cherry has put forth an experience that is deeply moving, stunningly beautiful, and, perhaps most importantly, unbelievably fun.
Hollow Knight has you take control of an adorable little critter called The Knight (but not the Hollow one), as they fumble their way through the underground maze that is Hallownest. Hallownest is a deeply broken kingdom — its bug-like denizens are mostly dead, and those that aren’t have been infected and turned into brainless monsters. As The Knight descends further and further into the depths of Hallownest, they learn the history of the fallen kingdom — a story of faith, betrayal, and tragedy.
Hollow Knight takes a “show, don’t tell” approach to telling this story, and it’s one of the most effective forms of storytelling I’ve ever seen in a game. That’s not to say nothing is told, much of the in-game lore can be learned from NPCs, or found scrawled on ancient tablets in hard-to-reach areas. But for as much as the story is told, it can be seen and felt in every aspect of the game’s design. The world of Hallownest breathes its depth of story into players through visual design alone, and it’s a breathtaking experience to see just how much thought has been put into making every detail mean something.
Exploring all Hallownest has to offer is no easy task, however. Hollow Knight is, as some would say, a “metroidvania” game — a kind of adventure game that locks off progression until you’ve gained a few more skills. It’s a genre made popular by, you guessed it, the Metroid and Castlevania series and games in the genre often focus on exploration. I’ve never really been a huge fan of modern metroidvanias, in part because very few ever seem to evoke the feeling of exploring new lands in the way that Super Metroid did. Hollow Knight does not suffer from this problem. I’ve spent hours lost in Hallownest, not knowing where to go next or what I’m supposed to be doing, and I loved every single moment. Every time I come across a new area, or hell, even a new room in an old area, I feel like I’m making progress, even if I’m half a world away from moving forwards.
This approach to game design — an approach that doesn’t waste players’ time for not moving forwards — is particularly effective on the Switch, a console that benefits from both short and long play sessions. I know that, whenever I boot up Hollow Knight, regardless of if I have 15 minutes to play on a lunch break or 6 hours to play on the weekend, I’ll always be doing something meaningful. Every moment spent in the world of Hallownest is a moment spent learning — learning the layout of the world, learning the quirks and gimmicks of each area, learning what the enemies are in each area and how to deal with them. It’s an approach to game design seen a lot in recent Nintendo games, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, and it captures the very essence of what the Switch as a console is trying to achieve.
When you’re not exploring Hallownest, chances are you’ll be fighting enemies, and it’s here that Hollow Knight really rounds out the whole experience. Combat controls are extremely tight and fluid, and while many fights are difficult, dying in battle never feels unfair. Enemy scaling throughout the game is extremely smooth too, with a difficulty curve that both rewards players for learning more complex movements and provides skills and abilities that help players quickly adapt to the challenges ahead of them. Dying in battle will cause you to lose all of your currency — used to buy accessories that provide abilities and buffs — but even then you’re not really being punished. If you return to the place you died, marked on your map for convenience, you can reclaim all you’ve lost. The system gives you time to reflect on your approach to a given challenge as you return to your corpse, while also providing a little helping hand to make sure you don’t get too lost on your way back.
In terms of performance, Hollow Knight runs flawlessly on the Switch, running at native resolution at 60fps in both handheld and docked, without a single frame drop or loss of quality throughout my 40 odd hours with the game. Hollow Knight took a while to make it to the Switch, but the extra time in the oven most assuredly did it a world of good; the game is an absolute dream to play and to look at, and the controls are flawlessly responsive.
In terms of content, there is absolutely tonnes to do in Hollow Knight. The main game itself is absolutely packed wall to wall with things to see and do, but even once you’re done with that, the journey isn’t over. Included at launch are two totally free expansions, included in the download, with a third major expansion on the way, again at no cost. The expansions offer a bunch of new places to explore, new storylines with all the depth of the main story and then some, and heaps of new accessories, new bosses, quality of life additions, and a few secrets here and there. It’s utterly insane how much bang for your buck you’re getting. I generally try to avoid talking about cost and value in reviews, but at only $17.50AUD, Hollow Knight provides more content than most full-priced games, and it’s an absolute steal when all of that content is so astoundingly good.
I fell in love with Hollow Knight from the moment I started up the game on Switch. It’s a beautiful, touching experience that has no trouble going toe-to-toe with even some of the biggest games on Switch. Aussie devs Team Cherry have gone above and beyond to make Hollow Knight one of the most enjoyable experiences the Switch has to offer, in what will be remembered as possibly the best third-party game on the system to date.
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Excellent gameplay
+ Literally everything else
- Nothing really
- Okay, maybe the early game is a bit tough?