Insects generally don’t have the flashiest roles in games. Whether a giant ant spewing fire at the hero, or maggots crawling out of a corpse, chances are that if you see a bug, it’s either there to creep you out or kill you. Hollow Knight breaks tradition by making bugs the stars, with the titular character being a nail-wielding warrior who plumbs the depths of ancient insect cities, looking for townsfolk to save and monsters to slay.
While only in beta, Hollow Knight is remarkably polished. Controls feel natural are absolutely precise, so whenever you mess up you know it’s your fault, and what you should do next time. Combat has been refined to directional attacks and one unlockable magic attack, but it never feels like you’re short of options. We can expect the full game to have a Metroid-like dripfeed of abilities to open new areas, and to give more options for combat, but with the basic combat already so polished, it’s hard to imagine we’d really need them. Hollow Knight isn’t a game where you stand still and mash abilities until everything else is dead; you’ll need to be tactical, precise and always on the move, like a tiny samurai.
As a Metroidvania, the game tasks you with navigating a 2D labyrinth filled with enemies, secrets and a few curious characters. Only one level is available in the beta, but it’s a fair size, taking roughly one hour to complete. In it you’ll find adorable imprisoned caterpillars, mask fragments to increase your health, a bespectacled cartographer, a giant beetle working as a taxi, and a friendly shopkeeper. The latter of these has no stock to sell in the beta, but we’re looking forward to seeing what upgrades will be on offer in the full game.
One thing the game doesn’t tell you is that you almost always have the necessary tools to traverse an area or beat a puzzle; you just have to know what they are. Enemies and hostile terrain are essential for reaching high ledges, once you figure out how to bounce off them. Sometimes you even need to lure enemies around hazards to get them where you need them to be. This can be a little frustrating, but when it works, you’ll feel like a genius.
Mechanically, Hollow Knight is top notch. But the atmosphere the game creates with its hand-drawn graphics and haunting soundscape is what will keep you coming back. For a dank, underground world filled with bugs and monsters to be this beautiful seems impossible, but Hollow Knight does it.
If you don’t already have Hollow Knight on your wishlist, now’s the time to add it. With a major content update from Team Cherry reportedly only a few weeks away, we have much more of this excellent game to look forward to.