Symphony Of The Chitin
HIGH There are bosses called “Dung Defender” and “the Mantis Lords.”
LOW Who thought this map system was a good idea?
WTF No, really, who thought this map system was a good idea?
I support the ongoing effort to keep the Dark Souls torch lit now that the actual minds behind that series are taking an indefinite hiatus. No game has quite nailed it yet – certainly not Hollow Knight – but to even attempt to mimic From Software’s work takes courage.
An unwelcoming difficulty curve can easily alienate players if mishandled, and there’s tremendous risk in dumping detail into a world’s lore and making it obtuse to unearth. As derivative as Hollow Knight is, I would never call a project like this unambitious.
On top of that, this game’s audiovisual appeal is through the roof – an adorable hand-drawn visual style makes Hollow Knight one of the prettiest 2D releases in recent memory. Characters move with exaggerated energy and speak a cute made-up language in delightfully cartoonish tones.
Environmentally, each region is brimming with details that make it immediately distinctive from another. It’s not enough for an area to be rainy – water actually puddles up and runs glistening down walls. The moody soundtrack, sure to be one of the year’s best, complements each section perfectly.
This world is a joy to take in, and yet, heaven help me, I can’t get enthused about Hollow Knight.
Strip away the sharp presentation and its only unique quality among legions of Castlevania-style action-platformers is that it’s disappointingly bloated. Developer Team Cherry couldn’t even cough up any interesting upgrades, instead falling back on the bog-standard double jump, stomp, air dash, and wall-run.
Aesthetically, this project is a treat. Mechanically, it’s nothing I haven’t seen a thousand times before.
This isn’t to say that the insect-themed Hollow Knight is bad, though. In fact, it adeptly recaptures some key elements of the franchises it draws from. For all of the knock-offs that Symphony of the Night has spawned over the last two decades, this is one of the few that can claim to sport a truly branching, open-ended world. It’s a pleasant surprise not to have my hand held, and to be given actual agency over the order in which I tackle objectives.
On the Souls side of things, Team Cherry doles out world-building in much the same way From Software did – piecemeal, and often hidden away for only the most perceptive players.
As cartoonish as this universe may look, there’s depth to its mythos and a sense of geography to its locations. Adventuring NPCs pop up at various points through the game, giving me the sense that other stories are unfolding concurrently with mine. Seeing these quests to their conclusions is also a bit less roundabout than it was in Souls.
Hollow Knight is also a pretty brutal game at times. The bosses play rough, the platforming segments put players through spike-laden acrobatic marathons, and upgrades are altogether rare. Expect to get very familiar with attack patterns.
Not everything that Hollow Knight pulls from the Souls series fits especially well, however. After respawning, having to retrieve my lost belongings from the place of my death can be more than a little aggravating when there’s a platforming sequence requiring hyper-reflexes standing in my way, and being forced to stand still and vulnerable for a full second when I’m trying to heal makes no sense when bosses don’t have cooldown times. Developers, much love to you for taking inspiration from Souls, but try to consider why From Software did the things that they did.
Hollow Knight also loses some technical points for being awash with framerate hitching. The game does a little dramatic pause every time the protagonist takes a hit – that’s deliberate and I don’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately, the game jerks and hiccups on a fairly regular basis, often while a lot is happening on-screen. It doesn’t look like much, but in a game that so harshly demands precision, even a fraction of a second’s worth of lost frames can have major consequences in tense situations.
The biggest flaw, however, is the map system. Upon entering a new region, players can’t begin charting it out until they stumble upon the travelling cartographer, and even then, navigational data isn’t saved until the player rests at a save point. This means that every time players venture into uncharted territory, they remain in the dark until they just happen upon both an NPC and a safe zone. And yes, there are cases where the mapmaker is tucked away in infuriatingly obscure locations.
Look, human brains aren’t built to navigate 2D spaces the same way they can navigate 3D ones. There’s no shame in putting a straightforward map system in a game like Hollow Knight. This doesn’t make it more challenging; it makes it tedious. Metroidvanias by nature lean heavily on backtracking, which I’m less inclined to do if I have no idea where I’m going. I’m supposed to be excited when I reach a new area in a game like this. In Hollow Knight, I was constantly dreading getting lost.
This situation is not helped by the fact that Hollow Knight is unfathomably massive. It took me 30 hours to reach the end, and that was only with 72% completion. The world just keeps expanding – I would do routine cleanup for collectibles only to continually stumble upon enormous new areas. And as much as I want to applaud Team Cherry for such a generous helping of content, Hollow Knight simply doesn’t keep the energy going. It’s too bereft of surprises, and the regions barely differentiate beyond the aesthetics.
I still hesitantly recommend Hollow Knight to anyone as partial to Metroidvanias as I am, but the experience runs far longer than its visual appeal does, and at that point it becomes just another Dark Souls wannabe. It’s solid, but it demonstrates how far we still are from puzzling out From Software’s master recipe.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Team Cherry. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. It’s pure cartoon violence. There’s nothing remotely offensive about it.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialog is text-based. One of the game’s collectibles emits a sound cue that makes them much easier to find, but that component of the game is optional.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
- Elden Ring Review - March 22, 2022
- Elden Ring Review-In-Progress - February 23, 2022
- Suskie’s Actual Top Ten Of 2021 - January 12, 2022
Oh hey, I’m a little late to the party on this one. Was going through metacritic scores for hollow knight, and was curious to hear someone’s opinion who didnt like the game. I personally love hollow knight, and think that the game is great. I also want to preface with the fact that I think that the amount of toxicity that this author has received is a bit much lol, and y’all should dial it back a bit 🙃. That being said, I think a lot of the stuff in this review is wrong in such a way that I… Read more »
… this has nothing to do with dark souls. Also your entire review makes it sound like you couldn’t even beat hornet. What do you mean there’s no difference between the areas besides the aesthetic? Theres different types of platforming, enemies, bosses, traps, and all that. There isnt really a way to get any better with a Metroidvania.
Literally the best metroidvania of the last 20 years getting a bombed metacritic score because of this ultimately biased and bad review, as always written by someone for who the game is simply too hard and involved. What a shame. The user score says it all.
Reviewers when they see a hard game: “tHis iS jUst DaRk SouLS”
Hollllllly shit this is insane. A more interesting game to get so passionate about? It is easily one of the best games of all time. You could also argue it is the best game in its genre. To say “pick a more interesting game” is such an unnecessary backhanded “fuck you.” If you do not like the game, understandable. But to say it is bad or that its mechanics are flawed… you seriously missed something, idk what to say. What constitutes a “more interesting” game? Call of Duty? BotW? Don’t get me wrong, botw is an amazing game, but it… Read more »
In 2022, no one is calling HK one of the best of all time except the cult members who keep harassing this reviewer. Without GamePass, no one would know it exists. Even when they learn about it, they quit. Look up the completion percentage on Xbox or Steam and see no one finishes this game or even gets very far into it. It’s another hard slog that clicked with a group of sweats who think tedious mechanics and a goth aesthetic are high art. This reviewer calls out the game’s tedious mechanics and the religious fans can’t handle it. His… Read more »
This doesn’t make any sense. Looking at this shows me that you apparently didn’t look into the inspirations for the game? I found this game on my steam and proceeded to look at what its about and one of the first things I look for is what inspired a game since this helps when me know if I’m going to like it. Apparently you did not, since youre spouting about Dark Souls in a game that isn’t related to that series at all. The game is just a gloomy theme and is difficult, that does not mean that this is… Read more »
I disagree with your review and I’m super late to the party but I hope you don’t interpret it as vitriol. I have too much free time in this covid world haha. Also saying “pick a more interesting game” is a bit uncalled for imo. But I do sympathise with getting vitriol online. Just for reference, so you can immediately dismiss my opinion if needed: I’ve never played a Metroid or a Castlevania and I’ve only played Bloodborne (I know, revoke my gamer card haha) so take my dissent with a huge grain of salt. I doubt you’ll be seeing… Read more »
Great review, thanks for giving it a fair honest treatment. Exactly on point with your remark on human memory! The map system is AWFUL!!! I love Metroidvanias as well and was sorely disappointed in this one.
I actually really like the map system. It forces you to make a mental map, instead of being led by the hand. Cornifer is also really easy to find, and the only area I got lost in was Deepnest, which makes sense, I mean, you’re supposed to get lost in it, that’s how you even find the dreamer. That was your biggest criticism. The second one, trying to collect your money and half your soul, is just false. First of all, you have an NPC in Dirtmouth that will summon your shade if you don’t feel like exploring the area.… Read more »
“It forces you to make a mental map, instead of being led by the hand”
I mean, maps don’t lead you anywhere. That’s not a function of maps, nor the opposite of memorization.
Really glad to see this, very frustrated I haven’t seen more of this. The biggest issue highlighted here, for me, is that the game is too big to support its content. I searched earnestly for the next point of plot progression, only to constantly stumble upon optional areas or items that did not interest me. Very few of the charms fit my play style, and I always felt forced to keep going down the same path to keep my money and Soul, even once I had the feeling I didn’t want to explore that area anymore. I really wanted to… Read more »
Dude there is a NPC near Dirtmouth that returns your money and soul for rotten eggs. Just go to Dirtmouth, return money and return to menu. Boom! You’re sitting on a checkpoint where you respawned after dying. Plus in Dark Souls whole this thing is also infuriating when you lose half your hp after falling from a cliff. In Hollow Knight you just lose soul and money(You can save money in bank), it doesn’t affect battles. If you’re not interested in “optional areas and items”(actually upgrades), then I wish you good luck fighting Radiance with 2 level nail.
I’m extremely late to the comments, and the game, but I have to agree with this well written and articulate review. As much as I was looking forward to falling in love with this game, I found myself dreading the endless backtracking and wandering around in the (sometimes quite literal) dark looking either for Cornifer, or a clue. I don’t mind backtracking, I might even look forward to returning to a previous area to explore with my newfound powers, but why does the game make it such a pain to get around? There is fun to be had, but the… Read more »
You probably really don’t care since its been a year but I think some things were really unfair in this review but also surprised you looked at the game kind of at face value by giving it a 7? There are 2 types of people I have seen not like this game, people who are babies and cant kill the first boss or have trouble understanding the game and people who find trouble navigating. I think honestly you just need to get better at remembering things. Its one of those things where people blur the line between player mistake and… Read more »
The first honest review that I had read till now. If you search critics into the web, all are talking about a masterpiece. That is a little bit strange, because what the majority say and what the reality is, is different. I come back to this later. The sound, graphics are masterpieces, but not the entire game. The game is very well, have many secrets and some really good things, but not so well as the majority means. I like the game, did all in the game what was possible, but you have pointed the bad things, that I still… Read more »
youre telling me it doesn’t make sense that you come to a place you have never seen and you have to map it out? you know maps now were not just given to us by GOD they are made by people who have to mark new routes and roads. Second: I get it, you like youre cookie cutter games, the ones that just give you the story on a platter but this is not bad writing, and it doesn’t fit into the game to just be told a story, the whole game is exploring an ancient kingdom that has long… Read more »
You’re supposed to work out the story. It helps add to the replayablity value. Also the map system makes sense. How would you know whats in an area if you haven’t ever been there? Also few people have beaten the game, because its not meant to be easy. Too many people expect games to hold your hand and guide you through the whole story.
This guy is literally dark souls of dark souls references
Hey, to each his own. This review seems mostly well thought out aside from, again, the big Dark Souls comparisons (I’d argue it takes small cues from DS but isn’t heavily influenced by it). Your ciritique on the difficulty is pretty sharp and I guess I understand – I rage quit several times myself – but to call it unfair I might argue insists you are not exploring all of your options carefully enough. Also sometimes you just need to git gud of course. Overcoming the roadblocks, or leaving them temporarily to upgrade your character or just to get a… Read more »
Yep, I’m a definite outlier here, a fact that Hollow Knight have been very persistent in reminding me of over the past couple of years 🙂
One of the worst reviews I’ve read in a while. The map system is amazing. Of course it’s not “convenient”, it’s not supposed to be. Having to blindly explore for a while while searching for the map maker is a challenge, and having to complete the rest of the map by yourself give more meaning to benches. Also, it’s hard getting lost with all the signs that you find around the world. The only place where I got kinda lost was Deepnest. But maybe it’s because I’m used to play lots of 2D games with confusing layouts and no map… Read more »
i agree, i bet this man didn’t read cornifers notes dialogue about “if you missed me, come back to my shop in Dirtmouth” and if you did indeed miss him, you can buy any maps you missed. i had his exact problem in Deepnest, but i remembered his note, and went to Dirtmouth, and bam i got the map.
You know there’s an NPC you can unlock that allows you to summon your shade if it’s a hard to reach location right? I feel like this is something that should be included in your review. Also there are charms that reduce time needed to heal and protect you while focusing. As for the map yes they could have easily allowed it to automatically update without needing to find a save but I had zero issue getting lost except for when I accidentally fell into the deeonest. Even then it didn’t take me too long to figure out how to… Read more »
Yes I agree with Benjamin this game resembles nothing to Dark Souls its more in line with the “lesser known” Castlevanias But in the end Mike does not deserve the hate….he doesnt, its just his take…he even compliments the game BUT I have to say this performance wise LOL I never saw “1” …”1″ single issue in Hollow Knight not even a HITCH BOTW = FULL of frame-rate issues comparing Breath of the Wild (great game as it is) but its not a perfect title BY any stretch of the imagination, the performance issues that game suffered from both in… Read more »
Everyone’s a critic, I know, Mr. Suskie. Me too, I’m afraid. Firstly, let me compliment you on a thoughtful review, with consideration for music, art style, and game play mechanics. You gave the game a lot of credit in the beginning. Not a bad review, overall. I do, though, take issues with your assumptions that this game draws from Dark Souls and is particularly difficult. Also, I’ve experienced exactly no framerate issues in over twenty hours of play. I see almost no game play elements unique to Dark Souls. This game is in the vein of Castlevania classics such as… Read more »
Hi Benjamin, Like you, I just stumbled upon that review, written last year, and felt that it did not reflect my enjoyment of this amazing game. In regards to freeze frames during the game, I did not experience any either. But I believe that the game has been fixed in the course of last year, so the review is based on a version of the game that no longer exists. Same for the cartographer, the developers added the humming and scattered the pages to make him easier to be found in new places. I’ve read in some other reviews or… Read more »
I think the point that it is too bereft of surprises and areas have little difference is bull crap. Every area has a different color palette and different enemies, the platforming has the same look would be to be a critic to every platformer because of the way the genre works. You can’t say dark souls has entirely different enemies with different aesthetics for each area, or for most games in general. The platforming is limited to a specific design while the big stuff in 3d games is not. You shouldn’t add an entirely puzzle based area with absolutely no… Read more »
keep in mind the similar aspects to dark souls do not make it a dark souls wannabe, it has details even in the little places, that is just good game design, and as to mapping, the system makes it that way as a design choice to promote exploring unknown territory. You relate it to dark souls and then say it fails to replicate dark souls therefore it immediately gets a low score. That is twisted logic. You can’t say well produced games that are hard go under a dark souls clone. It has an extremely different combat system and is… Read more »
Well, for me Hollow Knight is one of the best games of 2017, the map is good for me and you can explore it however you like(except in some areas), the game is hard, more in bosses, but there are a lot of alternatives, if the boss is to difficult, you can adapt your build or you can explore another areas to become more powerfull, and try again the boss, the game need patience from the player. Having the option to choose is, with the music, the best of the game. Now why I don’t like your review, you are… Read more »
Thanks for commenting. I’ve had several people argue that the Dark Souls comparison is uncalled for, and, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that subject. I get the weariness over critics *constantly* comparing everything to Dark Souls, but Hollow Knight’s similarities, to my mind, go beyond broadly fitting into the same genre, sharing a common mechanic or two, or just being difficult. There are a lot of parallels, which I outlined in the review – the structure, the vagueness of its world-building, the NPC quests, the handling of player deaths, etc. But the point in making those… Read more »
stamina system is not required to have a risk and reward system in a game, and just cause it is 2d does not mean the map system does not fit, if you play games you would know 3d and 2d it looked at the same as long as you actually are around them as much, which is something that should apply for gamers. As to the death system it is literally, out of all things that isn’t, the exact same system as dark souls just altered and in a genre I assume you are not as good at because you… Read more »
problem is DARK SOULS recipe is not even remotely good you said it yourself “as partial as I am to metroidvanias” right there, any merit flys out the window (no hate, no disrespect) its just an opinion i feel hollow knight applies its mechanics perfectly, i completed 100%, no issue…it applies mechanics exactly the way it should be. but hey to each their own no hate here (unfortunately people take your critque/review as fact) there is no fact in “it misapplies its mechanics” no thats your personal opinion, I highly disagree but I dont see why people get so upset… Read more »
You say the map mechanic is bad, but it makes since. Not many of your points are valid.
Did you honestly just criticize hollow knight for making you stand still while healing, and then imply that dark souls did not? “…being forced to stand still and vulnerable for a full second when I’m trying to heal makes no sense when bosses don’t have cooldown times. Developers, much love to you for taking inspiration from Souls, but try to consider why From Software did the things that they did.” I’m sorry. Please tell me. How long did it take for the estus flask animation to finish. And what actions, exactly, were you allowed to perform while that was happening?… Read more »
I literally said, in that quote, that FromSoft did the same thing, so I’m confused as to why you think I’m implying that they didn’t. The difference – again, as I mentioned in that quote – is that Hollow Knight’s bosses have no cooldown times since nothing in this game runs on stamina. What exactly is the point of making me freeze every time I want to heal if I can’t reliably determine when I’m not vulnerable? It’s a handicap for its own sake.
For the record, bosses almost always give you a moment of respite after sustaining enough damage. They stumble, fall to their knees, get knocked down, etc. after you hit them enough. During that time, you can either get 1-2 free hits, or you can heal at least 2 health for free. The game encourages you to to be aggressive and use your earned breaks as moments to recover health, as opposed to finding time during the super frantic attack patterns. It encourages calm, focused performance when required, then rewards you with a chance to heal up your few mistakes when… Read more »
I think that is more of a problem for the style of game it is, and if it had stamina, you would nitpick the flaws in it and say it is even more so a dark souls wannabe that failed, also this would apply to bloodborne if the heal system wasn’t faster, even then you can get hit very easily as the bosses in bloodborne have little to no cooldown and often stop because the AI takes more time analyzing the surroundings to make a decision. Even then I found in bosses like gascoigne and gherman that even though they… Read more »
I also would like to note most bosses give enough time to heal on the attacks where you need it most, if you can dodge better, you can manage to heal on attacks that come out from the ground like for the hollow knight and the radiance especially despite being considered the hardest bosses in the game without dlc, I find you pick at the game for ‘flaws’ that apply to every game in the genre, and they are not even flaws
But the bosses get stun periods after you hit them, and during some attacks you get a chance to heal
I’m burned out on Metroidvanias as well. I also agree that the map system is garbage. There’s no reason for the map system to be as inconvenient as it is.
Not that I really care for Souls games anyway. They also follow the school of thought where inconvenience = difficulty.
Game’s just not my thing.
inconvenience=not holding your hand and expecting you to know games because nobody but gamers would ever hear about a game with this little press and it creates tension and immersion by making you forced to be more involved with the game to finish an area or the entire game. I don’t get it, why do people like games that have little thought into the actual gameplay yet have amazing graphics and a gigantic world to explore? You shouldn’t have a huge worlds to explore over a medium sized world that is incredibly dense and rich with a lot of thought… Read more »
Its not inconvenient, its realistic
I think you’re too harsh on the game, personally I enjoyed it very much it’s my #1 best game of the year so far and it deserves 9.5/10, I didn’t have a problem with the “map system” it wasn’t confusing at all unless it been awhile since you played similar games, there are similarities to Dark Souls but don’t judge as one it’s a different game it’s not even a 3D game, 6/10 is not fair for this excellent game, it’s 30-50 hours that cost only 15$. Personally, I can’t wait to see HN2 or a similar game from the… Read more »
Yes a very harsh review indeed. Criticizing the map system and the death system. I had no trouble finding the cartographer and never found an area to large to find my way. There is a charm that allows you move while healing. I believe Zelda received a 10 from the same reviewer, yet it had frame and technical issues. I know reviewers are subjective, but consistency in reviews would be nice. This would be similar to giving Zelda a 7 for horrible design choice regarding weapon breakage and the inability to remap button controls. Love this sentence. “It’s too bereft… Read more »
There were framerate drops in Breath of the Wild, but no hitching. There’s a difference; the latter means there’s a split-second in which I lose visual feedback while gameplay continues. That’s a significantly more severe flaw, particularly in a game as punishing as Hollow Knight. An enemy could attack me during that time.
Your review is dishonest and bad. This game only shares one actual mechanical similarity with Dark Souls–when you die, you have to do a corpse run to regain your currency. That’s literally the only one, but you repeatedly overstate its Dark Souls connection. It does share some world building philosophies with Dark Souls, but but the corpse run is the only gameplay mechanic. BOTW had instances of terrible hitching. Whenever you hit a Moblin with a killing blow that sends it flying, the game freezes for nearly a half second. I don’t know how you would have made it through… Read more »
Yeah, except that I always play PC games with a Fraps framerate counter in the top corner, and when I experienced what I (correctly) perceived to be hitching in Hollow Knight, it would be accompanied by a brief drop in frames. You’re correct that the Zelda series uses brief pauses to emphasize powerful blows, but what I experienced in Hollow Knight happened at random moments and was provably a technical flub. If you didn’t experience it, and the game was better optimized for your system, good for you? P.S. This is the most sustained vitriol I think I’ve ever received… Read more »
hollow knight is an interesting game and a masterpiece, it does everything the genre can do right to perception of a human being