October 16, 2017
If you read my review on some other games, you will know I glorify shitty games just because they're inconsequential, stupid fun. The lack of polish, cringey voice acting, and sloppy controls (or any mixture of these things and more) really makes a game a memorable experience of sorts. But then there are games like Hollow Knight, which remind even garbage people like me that games can be a genuine art form.
To be blunt, I've been in a massive slump lately regarding games. Too many robot games. Racing games are the same. Guns aren't creative anymore (save for Prey). Characters lack depth or are completely inconsequential to the plot. Games feel like a sludgy waste of time lately. The older I get, the less I feel a sense of accomplishment for beating a boss or gibbing another player in one of the myriads of online games. To that point as well: the single player, immersive experience is practically lost these days. And that's okay! Multiplayer is a modern marvel, making use of the crazy new internet speeds and sleek engines that allow a seamless experience. I do miss a good story, though.
But then, one day while sitting at my desk browsing steam, I saw Hollow Knight's cover art and a fell voice on the wind whispered: "Dude that's a game you should get."
It was in that weird price range of $20 dollars; I was pretty broke and going through some shit, but I needed a pick me up that wasn't going to the bar, and this was the closest I would get to spending actual time by myself for a while. I waffled on this purchase. The more I saw the screenshots and gameplay, and the more I picked apart the trailers.... I realized this was an important game for me. I had NO idea $20 would yield this much fun so immediately.
Hollow Knight, from the starting screen, will dig it's Ghibli-esque claws into you. The haunting piano music from the get-go carries you in through the basic "new game?" dialogue. It then tells you that this game is best played with a controller, but I promise you die-hard WSAD fans: this is how this game is meant to be played.
You play as the Hollow Knight, a small-but-powerful, blank faced Hero running around in the dark subterranean world. The world here is beyond rich: every backdrop, room, character, sound... all of it is so delicately crafted to be consistent with every other element of this game. Again: The whole game is actually consistent! Imagine that: all different parts to review actually mingle and work with each other as if the designers had a vision and stuck to it from the beginning.
As you move into the game, you meet the vast pantheon of goofy, glum, serious, or just plain pissed off characters. The dialogue is shockingly poignant and can be comical, slapping you with small wry comments and voice acting that uses gibberish in the place of real words. Now, voice acting without words in games has been a long observed practice: Banjo Kazooie, for example. In Hollow Knight, though, they somehow managed to make these murmurings emotional and loaded with a certain mood; characters sound pissed, excited, or caring through their fake language. Beyond just the voice acting, these characters are of consequence. Each one holds weight - moving the game along with important or useful dialogue, or they offer something far beyond just another useless sidequest. All characters have value, and by the end of the game you can't look back and thing "Wow, <insert NPC name here> served no purpose at all." I mean that: all of these chatty, masked bugs actually add something to the story and game itself.
Speaking of storyline, this game provides nothing shy of a fluid experience. You, the Hollow Knight, are bereft of purpose in the start of the game. You say no words, have no idea what's going on, and learn everything from word-of-mouth. This story is a discovery: it's a lovely journey to find out who your character is, what he was meant to do, and a proud showing of all the places you can go.
On gameplay: I honestly mean it when I say I have never, ever played a game with controls this well made. There are combination attacks that are functional. The basics of wall jumping and aerial movement are sublime. The little charms you get and the mixture of their added abilities makes for a customizable experience in how you hack apart raging insects twice your size. Beyond the functionality of it's controls, the variety of enemies is staggering: in the spirit of discovery, the devs of this game made you feel like each new area was completely unique unto itself, including it's inhabitants. Oh, and there are minibosses which are an absolute blast to battle, and the actual bosses are absolute monstrosities who provide a solid challenge. While they're not "Dark Souls Hard", they take a bit to figure out and are genuinely satisfying to beat.
I'm intentionally being shy on details because figuring out the world around you in this game is so intensely satisfying that I could not stand to deprive you of any of this. Overall, I promise this game is bang for buck: I have not used the word "masterpiece" before, but this title is genuinely deserving of that word.
If it's not apparent at this point, I'll tell you bluntly: buy Hollow Knight.