Recently, I have been enjoying the magnificent Metroidvania game Hollow Knight on my Switch. Friday night, I thought I would get in an hour or so of exploration and geo grinding before bed. Instead of enjoying slumber at a respectable hour, I ended up being sent on one of the craziest and most challenging adventures I have ever encountered in a video game.
About 5 hours in to my journey as a tiny insect knight, I was seemingly hopelessly lost. All of the unexplored pathways on my map appeared to lead to dead ends that required new charms or abilities to traverse, and I was desperately short on geo. Given that there were two areas that were inaccessible due to lacking a “Light” charm to illuminate my path, I figured I would breeze through the evening re-exploring the bleak yet charming world of Hallownest while earning my way to the path forward.
To my surprise, about half an hour into my expedition I discovered a previously unnoticed branch in the map that not only took me to a new location, but also led to a wall-jump ability that would completely open things up for me. As I gleefully bounded from wall to wall exploring new areas and collecting my precious geo, I couldn’t help but think about what a success the night had been.
Then, suddenly, the ground gave way, and I was tumbling down a deep, dark pathway. Upon smashing into the ground, I attempted to gather my bearings and quickly was killed by a creature that was greatly aided in its villainous quest by the dimly lit surroundings that were a vicious reminder of the charm I was determined to acquire with the night’s efforts.
Now, Hollow Knight isn’t like most games when you die. Similar to Dark Souls or Nier: Automata, you risk losing everything when you die. I had just saved up the 1850 geo, and I now had to make my way back to the Deepnest without a map or a clear way to see my surroundings and retrieve it by fighting off a dark version of myself known in the game as the Knight’s shade or lingering regret. Against my better judgement, I jumped back into the abyss, and reclaimed my losses. This brief moment of victory was quickly squashed by the realization that I had no idea how to get back to the main world.
My exploration began, and I was fortunate enough to find the map maker, Cornifer, hiding behind a rock trying to save himself from the overpowered terrors filling the region. The map revealed two pathways out, so I didn’t waste any time making my way to them. The first path up through the hole that brought me here proved to be cruelly out of reach, as not even my newly acquired wall jump could get me to the top. The second pathway was even more hopelessly blocked, as I couldn’t even see what was standing in my way, so, once again, it was time to throw caution to the wind and explore the depths of Deepnest.
The map and path seemed to be leading me to one area where I would be forced to do my best Shovel Knight impersonation by “riding” these large spiked worms across a spike filled cave, while occasionally wall-jumping over even more spikes to then reunite with the worm.
I died. A lot…
Each time, I had no choice but to retrieve my Knight’s shade because again all that precious geo was at stake. And each time, I thought I had the confidence and ability to make it through the cave until I found myself either fleeing back to a soul replenishing hot-spring nearby or dying and beginning the endless loop yet again. Simply touching a spike sent you to the back to the beginning of the area meaning perfection throughout was required. It was as if I had been dropped into a more merciless version of Celeste.
At last, after an hour or so, I made it to the end only to realize I now had to ride the worms upward! Several curse-filled attempts later, I had made it to my reward. Surely this would be worth it and I would now be over-powered enough to take on the dangerous beings surrounding me. Alas, Hollow Knight is a cruel mistress, and I simply received a mask shard that would eventually increase my health once I found several more. I couldn’t help but laugh and press on.
A few minutes later, my prayers appeared to be answered as I stumbled upon a tram that would surely take me out of the hell mouth just as soon as I fought my way to the opposite side of the map to obtain a tram pass because even demon insect worlds demand basic decorum. Naturally, the path to the tram pass featured even more challenging enemies than the rest of the map thanks to some mildly disturbing flying bugs that would spit (or is it birth?) unlimited amounts of similarly annoying ground-bound frights at you.
Miraculously, I made it back to the tram in one piece with the pass in hand, and flipped the switch to journey back to the relative civilization of the rest of Hallownest only to find that the two stops I could make were to new, un-mapped areas with unknown challenges, deaths, and triumphs to be had. I guess it might be a while until I finally get to buy that Light Charm.
For the first 5 hours, Hollow Knight was a pleasant surprise and a welcome entry in the ever-growing Metroidvania genre, but my experiences in the Deepnest and the game’s unwillingness to let me play it safe showed me that I was in for something much more impressive and unforgettable than I could have imagined.
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