Hollow Knight - convince me to keep playing


Personally, I liked Ori well enough, but this one is a league above. It’s basically one of the very best Metroidvanias. But I think it only becomes apparent a lot of hours into it (it’s massive). My first impression was good, but once you realize how well the map is designed it blossoms.


The idea that Hollow Knight is even playing in the same league as Ori is just totally out there for me :)

I gave Hollow Knight a second chance on the Switch, after giving up on it after a few hours the first time around. (Sorry that we ended up with such a negative thread title for the general Hollow Knight discussion!) And it definitely worked better as a Switch game than a PC game.

This time I made it through to the first ending, but didn’t feel like chasing after the true endings. I guess it was a pleasant enough way to waste some hours on a summer vacation, but the pacing just drags it down for me. It’s not merely about how long it takes to get started. It’s that throughout the game I felt like the game was just wasting tons of my time on traversal to/from fast travel points.

The result is that my reaction on getting an upgrade wasn’t “yay, new ability; maybe I can reach a new area now”. It’s “crap, a new ability; now I need to spend two hours finding all the places / traveling to all the places where this can be used”.

Also (spoilers on an NPC): Fuck that banker. I’d already lost like 1500 twice in the game, once due to the ghost ending up in an area of the map that I’d never been to. So when I finally found the banker, I obviously used it (despite a little voice in my head saying that this was the kind of game where somebody would rob the bank). But when it actually happened, and I had to spend another hour grinding my 3k back, I was not particularly amused at the game wasting my time for a cheap joke..

Joseph Anderson’s critique is pretty interesting, because he clearly put way more time into the game than any sane person would for just a review: played through the game 3 or 4 times, with the last one playthrough being something ridiculous like no weapon / health / soul upgrades.

But then it feels like the most positive thing he can say is “there sure is a lot of content here for $15”,


The banker gives you whatever you gave plus about 2k more when you find him after it escapes, so it’s a good investment, not just a joke.

There’s something about Hollow Knight that feels “unsafe” in a way only old Metroidvanias do. It really expects you to pay attention as you explore, while most recent Metroidvanias (including Ori) fall flat in the exploration and discovery department. For me that’s the core fo the genre and why I feel it’s such a superior example.

I do agree it’s too long by a fair stretch, though. Had the world been compressed (smaller rooms overall) most of the feel could have been preserved without the long traversal times.


I think the one lesson they didn’t learn from what came before is to make the areas more distinct. I’m guessing this was budgetary, but one reason some traversals drag is because I feel like I’m looking at the same stuff over and over again despite making progress from place to place.


Is that a positive? I felt that he meant it more as a negative, and I sort of agree. I like games that I can actually finish in 5 to 8 hours at the most. Time’s limited and I ain’t getting any younger!


I’m not sure it’s a good investment.

I never found the banker again, despite spending a lot of time wandering in every area. But more importantly money at that moment mattered a lot. Money 10 hours later didn’t, since there’s a point where the money spigot just turns on. So there’s a pretty short time period where there’s any chance of this being a good trade. If there had been a clue about where the banker had gone, that would probably have been fine. But either there was no clue or it was far too subtle for me.

I think he meant it as a positive. But yes, around 15 hours would have been my sweet spot.


While it’s not 100% perfect or anything, I found Hollow Knight had a much better modulated difficulty curve than Ori, and far better level design. Ori had a lot of really powerful setpiece moments and impressive visuals, and I’m glad I played it, but I was constantly getting frustrated by things I shouldn’t have been frustrated by. In Hollow Knight, for the most part, my frustration was earned, and it eventually turned into satisfaction. I had more “I did it!” moments than “Fucking finally” moments.

I am looking forward to the next Ori game, as it seems like an opportunity to really achieve the potential of the original.

If anyone’s interested, here was my full critique of Ori when I played it.


The main reason I prefer Ori is that its challenge is entirely in platforming rather than combat. The three escape sequences are basically boss fights in the way traditional boss fights force you to use everything you’ve learned up until that point. Add in tons of drama and incredible music and art design, they’re just amazing. And since you can restart them instantly after failing, there’s little arbitrary punishment along the way.

Hollow Knight is great too, but it just seems big for the sake of being big. I didn’t really find anything unique in the later areas which fully justified their existence other than just to make the game longer. No new mechanics or character to them for the most part, and few new boss fights which couldn’t have easily been placed in different areas instead. And the death and mapping systems are just frustrating.

Nothing worse than a boss fight which both requires lots of trial and error to learn patterns and also makes it take a while to retry since the save points are so far spread out.


Right. They were really committed to the non-linear design of the world, and even made sure that it’d be non-linear in practice by giving players very little guidance on where to go and when. But that makes it much harder to design interesting traversal or combat puzzles around the abilities. It’s just impossible to know what abilities the player has access to for most of the game.


I would say that Hollow Knight has excellent traversal puzzles in the end-game (once the game knows what you have, which is everything). I do think the best part of the game is the challenge of going for the true end. The white palace is a tad too difficult but an amazing design taking advantage of every little mechanic the game has to offer (and you can still break it).

I found Ori much more by-the-numbers (as most modern Metroidvanias), with the synergies between abilities much more preordained and much less open to experimentation and wild than in Hollow Knight. Basically too much of a controlled experience that doesn’t offer much that a linear platformer like Rayman does (to me).

In Hollow Knight my favorite weird emergent synergy part is how you can use your sword to traverse a pit of spikes by down-attack-bouncing on them. Which is never required in the game, but available from the get go (and something you might never discover unless you experiment). I found the non-linearity breathtaking, and it made me realize that’s what I have been missing from the genre lately. It also made the world feel more coherent and “real” in ways something more preordained can’t do. For a game as gamey as this one, everything felt organic and belonging to its place. It’s a game I felt like exploring, like Breath of the Wild of Dark Souls I, even if the exploration had no big mechanical reward.

I agree with the critique of size (although not on variety). The game has a lot of interesting, unique areas to explore. It’s actually full of really cool stuff, everywhere, with real secrets that feel, again, organic and not tackled on. But regular rooms are huge, way bigger than needed and that makes the game too frustrating sometimes. I think every room could be half the size and the game would be better.

Also, the combat in underdeveloped (while the traversal abilities are not and can get crazy) and a little but too samey (the best combat design by far is in the Colisseum, but that’s optional and again it’s just about forcing you to use every tool every way rather than giving you more interesting tools).

As I said before, this goes up there with Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night for me. Not quite there because of the underdeveloped combat, but damn close enough.


This @robc04


I’d love to read more analysis about the map design, because after 25+ hours of exploring every nook and cranny the only detail that lasted with me is just how huge it is.

While I do completely agree that it’s impressive how open-ended the game is despite being a Metroidvania, and how difficult that must have been to design, I wasn’t really left with the awe that some Metroidvanias leave me with. For example, the way some games of this style end up unexpectedly wrapping back around to where I started, opening up natural new shortcuts between areas and such. I never really felt that in Hollow Knight and instead needed to depend on fast travel a lot just because the world is so massive.


I’m not that far into Hollow Knight, basically having explored most of Greenpath now, but I’m also enjoying it more than Ori. It’s been a while, but the main flaw with Ori was its difficulty of traversal. There was no joy there for me, just “oh fuck, how the hell do I do this?” and then repeated failed attempts at it, plus I found it hard to know where the hell I was on the map. Basically I felt no motivation to explore nooks and crannies, and that killed it for me as a metroidvania. But I was intrigued enough to want to go back to it at some point, try again, because otherwise it was a beautifully presented game.

I’m finding Hollow Knight a lot more fun to just explore, and unlike Ori I enjoy figuring out where I am on the map (without the “you are here” add-on installed, that is). Combat is fun, punishment for mistakes is at the right level for me, and I really like the lonely atmosphere. Whether I’ll go the whole course if this is a really long game I’m not certain, but when I get into the groove with a metroidvania I tend to go the distance.


Weird, I don’t remember anything like that in Ori. It sounds like a natural block in the path that you needed to go back to later after finding the right ability


Well for example there’s a section fairly early on where you have to wall jump between spikes up a long shaft. I must have tried that two dozen times before finally making it, and only because my sister was there who’d already played the game who told me it was actually possible to do (and in fact the only way forwards). Perhaps that soured me on the experience from that point onwards because holy crap I was ready to uninstall it after the 20th attempt. ;) But I remember reaching a point thinking that I just wasn’t ready for the slog that Ori was presenting me with. Like I said though, I want to revisit it. Time can change opinions.

[edit] I just re-read my post in the Ori thread about it, and it reminded me that in Ori you can only access the map at certain points, and even when you do it’s not clear where you are on the map. I remember finding that enormously frustrating in a metroidvania. I love that left shoulder gives you instant map access in Hollow Knight. I need that map, dammit!

[edit2] Oh god, it’s all coming back to me! The save system where you can save yourself into a corner with limited energy - that’s why the sspiky wall jump was so effing annoying, because I’d inadvertently saved my position just before it and had no room for error.


Pretty sure this is the same location in the game that comes to mind (not in a good way) when I think of Ori as well.


Happy to find the map for City of Tears. It seemed confusing but really wasn’t bad at all once I saw it on the map. Dipped my toe into the next area too but didn’t get much done in it. Also glad to finally upgrade my nail.


You are getting to the point where the game starts to shine, I think. It opens up a lot now.


Most definitely , City of Tears and going forward was just great.


A really nice long-form feature on Game Informer, which provides a thorough look at how Team Cherry pulled off such an ambitious, amazing adventure with limited means.