Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

During my Cuphead re-review, I noted that nobody wants to be the one person not having fun at a party.

Taking that a step further, you especially don’t want to be that person because some assholes will swear you’re only not having fun for the sake of being contrarian. But that happens a lot. If you’re a moderately popular and influential critic and you’re not enjoying an overwhelmingly popular indie darling, fans of the game will believe the only rational explanation is you’re intentionally not liking it for the sake of being different. Trust me when I say, it’s not worth it. And besides, I bought Hollow Knight three times: twice for me (first on Steam, then on Xbox One), and once for my friend William. This wasn’t Press X to Not Die, which cost a couple of bucks and I could send it to friends as a sadistic joke. I wanted to like it. I wanted to love it. I didn’t want to be that person at the party.

But I am yet again. I actually sort of hate Hollow Knight. And not just in a “not for me” type of way. I don’t think it’s a well made game.

I laughed far more at making this than anyone in their right mind should have. What can I say? When you sit on the bench to save, it kept making me think of that Klay Thompson meme. I love that meme. When we eventually build a Klay Thompson statue outside the Chase Center, I want him to be posed like he is in that meme.

Let’s strip out all the (insanely gorgeous) art and (not really all that clever) writing and talk about the thing that should matter most in a game: the gameplay. The thing I take issue with for Hollow Knight is how it seems to be made specifically to be less fun than it can be.. nay.. SHOULD be. As if the developer was given an option for every aspect: the fun way and the not fun way. And then chose the not fun way because that would be bold and dark. See though, I’ve always felt the graphics and character design should be the primary thing that sets the mood. If you need to make the gameplay less fun to make things feel bleak, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m curious if they mistook “bleak” for “slow”. Upgrades take so long to unlock that by time you get them, it’s no longer an exciting development. It feels like it’s overdue. I didn’t get the ability to wall-jump until over ten hours into the game, and I didn’t get my first upgrade to my standard weapon until eleven hours in. In that time I also added only one single hit point to the initial five you start with, and one “notch” (giving me four total) to apply “badges” which provide things like showing where the fuck you are on the map. Oh, and you can only switch between the badges at the save points. Why? How is that in keeping true to the atmosphere? What about applying a badge to your armor requires the specific act of sitting on a park bench? Maybe I’m spoiled by games that thrive on making the player feel like they’re getting stronger as the adventure unfolds, but I just felt like Hollow Knight deliberately kept me in purgatory.

Fans built this up acquiring this to me so much. I was like “what is this super magical item they keep hyping that will completely change how I feel about this pretentious piece of shit?” A wall jump? A FUCKING WALL JUMP!? You mean that thing that’s been in games for thirty fucking years?

Every aspect of the design is focused on maintaining the slow pace. The map is sprawling, but you don’t get it all at once. You have to locate this person in each different section of the game who will sell it to you and then separately buy from his wife the ability to see the things on the map that you’ve already passed by. In theory that means the guy making the map is better at adventuring than the hero is, since he’s ahead of you and apparently making progress without a hitch. That stuff always breaks my immersion. It’d be like if Sean Bean was giving his “one doesn’t simply walk into Mordor” speech when suddenly a traveling salesman walks by and says “oh actually, you do. Here, I made a map of it. Let me offer you travel tips..”

Thankfully you only have to buy the map icons once for each type of thing, but like everything else in Hollow Knight, it grounds the proceedings into a monotonous slog that feels more like a series of busy-work for the sake of busy-work chores rather than some kind of epic quest. “Slog” really is the perfect word for Hollow Knight. Save-stations are kept to a minimum and spread really far apart, but you’re forced to constantly dash back and forth to them in order to change your badge loadout. Items are relatively expensive while enemies drop relatively few coins to shop with, forcing you to grind if you want to get the stuff that should be for free anyway. Most of the other items offer no descriptions as to what exactly they do and players were reporting to me they were actually finishing Hollow Knight without ever using them or figuring out what exactly they did. There’s really not a lot of games where you can play for an hour and feel like you’ve accomplished nothing in them. Hollow Knight is uniquely like that. It’s the anti-exhilaration Metroidvania.

On the positive side of things, combat was kind of nice. I’m big on swinging a sword feeling like there’s a weight behind it and combat being more than just an animation of a stick moving out and an enemy blinking to indicate damage or vanishing to indicate death. It’s really cool that the dead husks of your vanquished foes remain (until you walk far enough away at least). But there’s not a whole lot of variety to the action. There’s only one weapon, a “nail” that is functionally a sword. When you upgrade it, you don’t get new moves or anything, at least at the point where I was too bored to press-on. There’s no secondary weapons for you to equip, and all the upgrade does is add one extra point of damage. When you’re playing a long game that feels even longer and you only get one real weapon to use with the only moves being swing it horizontally or swing it vertically if you’re attacking upward, it gets redundant no matter how meaty the hits feel. I did get a Ryu and Ken style fireball, but that takes magic points to use and can’t be aimed upward, making it less useful in general than the starting weapon. Variety is the spice of life. For Hollow Knight, all I was left with was lots and lots of salt.

All credit to Hollow Knight: it’s pretty. But it’s 2018. These days it’s more notable if a game is ugly.

Honestly, that was my whole problem with Hollow Knight: it’s boring. There’s just not enough stuff to do in it. It feels like it has all the ingredients to not bore, but then those were spread so thin for the sake of padding the length that all the fun was pushed out. It doesn’t help that the level design is overly basic, like something out of a first-generation Metroidvania. “Wait a second, didn’t you just like Chasm?” Yes I did. What’s the difference? In the time it took me to upgrade my weapon for the first time, add a single point of health, and a single notch for my badges, I had beaten Chasm. Plus, you know, it had a variety of weapons and items and stuff. It wasn’t just the same shit over and over again. It’s not just what a game is, but how that game plays out. Hollow Knight forces a ton of backtracking and grinding, but doesn’t make those things fun or easier. You mostly have the same stuff you started the game with. It gets old. And sorry if I keep harping on this, but it genuinely feels like the developers were more concerned with being emo or dark than they were with making a fun game. Would it really have ruined the bleakness if they gave the protagonist a slingshot or boomerang or something to make it so you’re not just doing the same sword strikes against the same enemies for 30 to 60 fucking hours? Or given more special moves that required less magic. Or let you get more magic. In 12 hours I got one piece of the “vase” or whatever that gives you more magic. That meant I still had to find two more before I got more magic. I got one-third of that upgrade in twelve hours. And the one I did get I bought in the shop. Part of the fun in Metroidvanias is finding stuff. The world of Hollow Knight feels like I did after 12 hours with it: empty inside.

I didn’t finish Hollow Knight. I probably didn’t come close. I did put twenty-hours combined into it with the best hopes and intentions. The first time was back in 2017 on Steam. I bought a copy for Will too, and with my best friend playing alongside me, we set out to see what the hype was all about. We were both excited to get on the Hollow Knight bandwagon. After a few hours, I felt weird. Because I wasn’t having fun at all. When I found out Will wasn’t either, I just found something else to play. I occasionally booted it up again thinking “maybe I was just having an off-day”, before finding myself quickly bored again by the same sword and same enemies and the same dull levels, eventually putting eight hours into the thing. Clearly it wasn’t an off-day thing. I figured maybe it was because a computer isn’t a good home for a Metroidvania, so when I saw Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition discounted on Xbox One, I thought “okay, maybe I’ll finally see what all the fans see in it.”

Maybe the oh-so-subtle symbolism is why this game has so many people blown away who can’t exactly articulate what it is that has them sucked in to the experience. I’m just saying, there’s a LOT of it in Swallow Knight.. I mean Hollow Knight.

Nope, I didn’t. I still don’t. I tweeted basically the entire time, showing my progress. For the first hour or two, it was fine. It was almost fun in a tutorial type of way. But then I started to wonder out loud when the game would start to, you know, wow me. The entire time, fans of Hollow Knight were assuring me “you’re about to get to the good stuff” or “you’re about to open up the game.” And then it didn’t happen. They kept promising, I’d get to the spot they were talking about or get the upgrade that they swore would change how I felt about the game, and then it didn’t, and then they promised me the really good stuff was “still coming.” Finally I caught on that I’d never get to the “good stuff” because there is no good stuff. Hollow Knight is a very basic Metroidvania with its only remarkable hook being that if you die you lose all your money, but if you go back to where you died you can get the money back. You know, that thing other games have been doing all decade.

Otherwise, Hollow Knight is stuck in early 90s 2D adventure mentality, but people will give it a pass because it’s “deep”. And you know it’s “deep” because it has a pretty art-house decor. Who cares? The first time a stage made me sit up in my chair, I was ten hours in. And even that didn’t last. Maybe I quit right before I got to “the good stuff.” I don’t know. I don’t really care. It shouldn’t take that long to get to the part that’s entertaining in the entertainment product. And if someone still thinks I sought out to find things to dislike about Hollow Knight for the sake of being different, do you really think I needed over $30 and twenty-combined hours to do that? Because I didn’t.

I wanted to have fun at the party. It turns out the party kind of sucked. Like one of those ones where you find out it’s not really a party and they’re going to try to get you to buy a timeshare. They already fed you, so it seems rude to get up and walk out right away. You start checking your watch to make like you have something better to do later. But really, you’re trying to figure out if you should leave before he hands out the brochures or wait until afterwards so you can show it to your family and laugh with them. That’s what the Hollow Knight experience was for me: being trapped at a timeshare party. Hell, come to think of it, I think I’d like that party more anyway. At least I’d get fed.

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition was developed by Team Cherry
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4

$9.89 (Steam) and $11.99 (Xbox One) (Normally $14.99) thinks Voidheart sounds like a Care Bears villain in the making of this review.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

9 Responses to Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

  1. blobblub1091 says:

    “I didn’t get the ability to wall-jump until over ten hours into the game”
    o.O wth were you doing? rerunning the same area 300 times ??

    “Oh, and you can only switch between the badges at the save points. Why?”
    they aren’t badges, but charms ;). Can’t say why, but but maybe it could be be somewhat overpowered maybe if just be able to switch them on the fly (and/or maybe connected with other exploits), forcing your reset on a bench could alleviate some of that
    (or they could ofc just have made it impossible to switch in combat or on “boss grounds”)

    “and all the upgrade does is add one extra point of damage”
    what?! @_@ that’s factually wrong!, each upgrade adds 4 point of dmg, (base dmg is 5 btw) to the point where a few upgrades in you 1 shot some stuff and 2 shot other, and going against a boss without vs with X upgrades feel very noticeably different/”easier: Nail dmg 5, 9, 13, 17, 21 add to that a charm boosting 50%(rounds up) making the dmg table 8, 14, 20, 26, 32 for regular nail swings

    “did get a Ryu and Ken style fireball, but that takes magic points to use and can’t be aimed upward, making it less useful in general than the starting weapon”
    because jumping to add height to a fixed horizontal move is sooo hard x)
    -also could it be you got more than the fireball move?, right, you “explored”/played for 12h and found literally nothing other than the starter stuff, i forgot, my bad… (PS spells, including the “starter” fireball does way more dmg than the nail, highly useful)

    “you only get one real weapon to use with the only moves being swing it horizontally or swing it vertically if you’re attacking upward”
    or you know, you could nail-pogo ie attack down 😉 but yea the “basic” attack really isn’t much different from other games in its moveset; probably why they gave you a couple of special moves for it -oh right, somehow you never got even one of those, in over 10h….

    “Hollow Knight forces a ton of backtracking and grinding”
    No it doesn’t, on either points,
    Backtracking depends entirely which of the many possible routes you take, (after being done with the mandatory beginning stuff Crossroads/”fireball”, Greenpath/Dash, Fungal Wastes/Mantis Claw), or the items/upgrades you get or in their acquired order. Actual forced/mandatory backtracking is very minimal -optional backtracking can be huge
    Grinding: You get more than enough geo on your way, in fact you get so much that way before the end you will have have more geo than you can spend and literally exhausted the shops and continue to get more geo than you then can ever use

    “or something to make it so you’re not just doing the same sword strikes against the same enemies for 30 to 60 fucking hours? Or given more special moves that required less magic. Or let you get more magic.”
    they do. well regarding the sword the special (non magic)moves does use the nail tho, the 3 other magic moves (and their upgrades) doesn’t ofc
    ” In 12 hours I got one piece of the “vase” or whatever that gives you more magic.”
    o.O again, wth were you spending your time on?

    as you might can tell i love the game, and am a bit sad you didn’t like it, but you are also entirely entitled to not liking something, however i can’t help but notice that your “reasoning” doesn’t seem to add up, almost as if somehow, and sry for saying it, “did something wrong”.
    it’s a long game no doubt, i think in the end about 50h for completion isn’t far off avg maybe. But how on earth you literally got nowhere, and nothing, but the starter stuff and just to the “post starter” stuff (city of tears) is beyond me
    in 12h you should have been much much further ahead, then again should not have taken you 10hours either to get mantis claw just by itself
    and while Hollow Knight isn’t exactly a niche “hardcores only allowed”game, (even if it has certain difficulty thingys included), with what it sounds like you presented there and managed to muster up of gameplay, one does really lean towards the cringe sentiment of “git gud” (slapping myself for having to utter those words, sry)
    because while it does have some pacing issues here and there (noticeably the silly thing about not getting dash until after the tutorial area) THAT pacing/slowness you encountered, seem to fall (mostly) square on yourself and your own abilities/direction/gameplay choices

    But maybe it’s just not a game for you… :/ oh well, i guess that’s okay too, everything that exists can’t be 110% made for everyone

  2. Pingback: Revertia | Indie Gamer Chick

  3. Pingback: The Difficulty Gateway | Indie Gamer Chick

  4. Pingback: Tetris 99 | Indie Gamer Chick

  5. Pingback: SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech | Indie Gamer Chick

  6. Orion Roberts says:

    I think your complaint about taking ten hours to get the wall jump (aka Mantis Claw) is unjustified, since the progression of the game depends on the player. Progression does vary from player to player, so someone could take longer than 10 hours or less to get the Mantis Claw. You only have to do backtracking if you want to collect everything in the game, and Geo you can casually collect on your journey, so you don’t have to put so much effort into grinding for it. A spell does exist that hits above you, which is why the horizontal projectile only goes horizontally! I do understand that it can be hard to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know where it is, but it all depends on when you find it that determines how long it takes to get it. The rest of your review is unable to be criticized, since it would just be my opinion against yours and since we clearly have different opinions about Hollow Knight, it would just go on and on, kinda like this comment. Personally, I think Hollow Knight has tons to do between collecting every Mask Shard, Soul Vessel, and charm I always had something to do until I completed the game. I haven’t beat a Metroidvania since I beat Hollow Knight, so I don’t have any grounds on whether or not to agree or disagree with your opinion that this is a basic Metroidvania. I don’t think that making a Metriodvania in a 90’s 2d adventure style format, in an age where we don’t see this style of game much anymore is a bad thing. At the end of the day, I just don’t think this game is for you. I was invested in the mysterious world of Hollownest while you were bored. I was satisfied with the simple combat moves using the nail yet you were not. I guess this goes to show you can bring a gamer a game but that doesn’t mean he’ll like it!

  7. I have played this game for about 35 hours across two platforms and I really have to agree with what you’ve said in this post. I’ve been replaying Metroid style games since 2005 and 100 percented Samus Returns twice using my grubby adult fingers on that tiny 3DS back in 2017–the same year Hollow Knight was originally released, coincidentally. I really don’t understand the online circle jerk surrounding it. There’s difficulty/challenge and then there’s just masochism that doesn’t respect the player’s time. The backtracking and combat made feel like the game had contempt for me as a player.

  8. Pingback: Praey for the Gods (Review) | Indie Gamer Chick

What do you think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: