Metroidvania games are an interesting bunch. Their name is derived from the two most prominent proponents of the concept, Metroid and Castlevania. Some people have said that such naming is flawed, but the fact is there isn’t a good alternative. Any other version to it is clunky and doesn’t really explain what it’s playing either. So let us look at an indie metroidvania today, Hollow Knight.
Developed by Team Cherry, you start out with absolutely no information, no real opening dialogue to explain everything, you are going into this game with nothing but what you’re carrying. In fact a lot of the lore is told by the scenery, items and maybe little bits by the people who talk to you.
You enter a strange world of intelligent insects, yet it’s clear some just seem to attack you – and ruins of an ancient kingdom abandoned from some calamity. You as a player can delve into the lore of what happened, working it out if you want and you can find plenty of people on sites like YouTube that have gone into said lore.
You play as a nameless knight, armed only with your sword called a needle. You just have a jump and a melee attack at the start but as you play you can find abilities that will help you explore. And indeed that is a key and often main part of this game, as is all metroidvanias. You explore, eventually finding new powerups (often after beating bosses) which allow you to explore deeper. But there are other things. Since this is an indie game, certain tricks and skills you develop, which at first you feel clever for working out, turn out to be mandatory for exploring some regions.
I must however talk about the visuals, this game is Art. The world has a very muted colour pallet, often being very grey. All the bug characters have white masks which contrasts against the dark coloured bodies and background. Combined with the scenery the game becomes very atmospheric, giving a true feeling of a kingdom long on the decline. Even a few moments of the game was very unnerving with its visuals. The only main use of colour you often find in regular use on characters is a strange sickly orange, that you will soon learn to associate with danger and worse.
The game isn’t easy but not that unfair. Some challenges just need to be figured out with a different way of approaching them, or unlocking a later skill makes them better to deal with. There are only 2 ways to really heal. One is when you use a bench to rest (also working as a save) while the other is to charge up a heal. This is done using the soul meter which you generate while attacking enemies, however you are also unable to move while healing meaning you need to time heals carefully if fighting a boss.
Should you die (and you most likely will) a strange spectre of yourself will appear in the area you died in while you respawn at your most recently used bench. This lets you run back to where you previously fell in battle (or to hazards) and reclaim the money you lost, as that goes with you when you die, but should you die before slaying your spectre, you will lose all that permanently (only the money).
There are many other aspects of the game I could go on to describe but I feel the game does a perfect job of explaining those to you and I really want you to experience it as I did.
Hollow Knight is a game to experience and get lost in, it almost literally paints a picture for you to explore. A world brought about by visuals, by music, and by actions. It’s very good. It’s available on PC and all major consoles so no one needs feel left out.