Hollow Knight is a 2017 Metroidvania action-adventure game developed and published by Team Cherry. It was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux in 2017, and for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2018. Development was partially funded through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, raising over A$57,000 by the end of 2014.
The player is the Knight, a nameless warrior uncertain of their own identity or origin, who wanders and explores the ruined kingdom of Hallownest to uncover its mysteries, encountering various friendly or hostile bugs, fighting bosses, and unlocking new powers and abilities to progress. Hollow Knight was well received by critics and has sold over 3 million copies as of December 2020. A sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, is in development.
Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania action-adventure game, that takes place in Hallownest, a fictional ancient kingdom. The player controls an insect-like, silent, and nameless knight while exploring the underground world. The knight wields a nail, which is a type of sword, used both in combat and environmental interaction.
In most areas of the game, players encounter hostile bugs and other creatures. Melee combat involves using the nail to strike enemies from a short distance. The player can learn spells, allowing for long-range attacks. Defeated enemies drop currency called Geo. The knight starts with a limited number of masks, which represent the hit points of the character. "Mask shards" can be collected throughout the game to increase the player's maximum health. When the knight takes damage from an enemy or from the environment, a mask is reduced. By striking enemies, the knight gains Soul, which is stored in the Soul Vessel. If all masks are lost, the knight dies and a Shade appears where they died. The player loses all Geo and can hold a reduced amount of Soul. Players need to defeat the Shade to recover the lost currency and to carry the normal amount of Soul. The game continues from the last visited bench they sat on which are scattered throughout the game world and act as save points. Initially the player can only use Soul to "Focus" and regenerate masks, but as the game progresses players unlock several offensive spells, which consume Soul.
Many areas feature more challenging enemies and bosses which the player may need to defeat in order to progress further. Defeating some bosses grants the player new abilities. Later in the game, players acquire the "Dream Nail", a special blade that can "cut through the veil between dreams and waking". It enables the player to face more challenging versions of a few bosses, and to break what is sealing the path to the final boss. If the player defeats the final boss of the game, called "The Hollow Knight", they are given access to a mode called "Steel Soul". In this mode, dying is permanent, and if the knight loses all of their masks, the save slot will be reset.
During the game, the player encounters non-player characters (NPCs) with whom they can interact. These characters provide information about the game's plot or lore, offer aid, and sell items or services. The player can upgrade the knight's nail to deal more damage or find Soul Vessels to carry more Soul. During the course of the game, players acquire items that provide new movement abilities including an additional mid-air jump (Monarch Wings), adhering to walls and jumping off them (Mantis Claw), and a quick dash (Mothwing Cloak). The player can learn other combat abilities, known as nail arts, and the aforementioned spells. To further customize the knight, players can equip various Charms, which can be found or purchased from NPCs. Some of their effects include improved combat abilities or skills, more masks or their regeneration, better movement skills, easier collecting of currency or of Soul, and transformation. Equipping a Charm takes up a certain number of limited slots, called notches. Wearing a Charm that requires more than the available number of notches is possible, but it results in being "overcharmed", causing the knight to receive double damage from all sources.
Hallownest consists of several large, inter-connected areas with unique themes. With its nonlinear gameplay design, Hollow Knight does not bind the player to one path through the game nor require them to explore the whole world, though there are obstacles that limit the player's access to an area. The player may need to progress in the story of the game, or acquire a specific movement ability, skill, or item to progress further. To fast travel through the game's world, the player can utilise Stag Stations, terminals of a network of tunnels; players can only travel to previously visited and unlocked stations. Other fast travel methods, such as trams, lifts, and the "Dreamgate", are encountered later in the game.
As the player enters a new area, they do not have access to the map of their surroundings. They must find Cornifer, the cartographer, in order to buy a rough map. As the player explores an area, the map becomes more accurate and complete, although it is updated only when sitting on a bench. The player will need to buy specific items to complete maps, to see points of interest, and to place markers. The knight's position on the map can only be seen if the player is carrying a specific Charm.
At the outset of the game, the Knight (the player character) arrives at the ruined remains of Hallownest, a vast, ancient kingdom just below a quiet town called Dirtmouth. As the Knight ventures through the ruins, they discover that Hallownest was once a flourishing kingdom which fell to ruin after becoming overrun with "The Infection", which drove its citizens to madness and undeath. The first and last ruler of Hallownest, the Pale King, attempted to seal away the Infection; however, it becomes increasingly clear that the seal is failing. The knight's mission is to find and kill the three Dreamers who act as living locks to the seal. This quest brings the Knight into conflict with Hornet, a warrior who acts as the protector of Hallownest who tests the Knight's resolve in several battles.
Through dialogue with certain characters as well as cutscenes, the Knight receives insight into the origin of the Infection and itself. In ancient times, some of the bugs of Hallownest worshipped a higher being called the Radiance: a primordial, mothlike creature whose mere presence could sway the denizens of Hallownest to mindless obedience. One day, another higher being named The Pale King arrived at Hallownest and used his power to "free" the minds of the bugs of Hallownest, granting them sapience. Thankful for the minds they had been given, the bugs of Hallownest revered and worshipped the Pale King, causing The Radiance to fall into obscurity. This allowed him to establish the grand kingdom of Hallownest, however some bugs continued to worship the Radiance in secret, which allowed its continued existence despite its influence and power waning into almost nothing.
Hallownest prospered until the Radiance began invading the dreams of Hallownest's citizens, driving them to madness in the form of an affliction known as The Infection. In an attempt to contain the spreading Infection, the Pale King used the power of Void (a sort of living darkness found in an area known as The Abyss) to create the Vessels: completely hollow beings that would hypothetically lack a will which could be corrupted by The Infection. The process of creating these vessels involved much trial and error, which resulted in an innumerable number of dead vessel shells locked away in The Abyss. Eventually the Pale King chose what he found to be the most suitable Vessel, deemed it the Hollow Knight, and trained it to contain the Infection. He then sealed the Hollow Knight within the Temple of the Black Egg with the aid of the three Dreamers. However, the Hollow Knight was not able to hold The Radiance as it had been tarnished by an "idea instilled", presumably its parental bond with the Pale King, effectively compromising the seal and causing the infection to rage on.
Depending on the player's actions, Hollow Knight has multiple endings. In the first ending, "Hollow Knight", the Knight defeats the Hollow Knight and takes its place in the Temple of the Black Egg, though the Radiance still survives. The second ending, "Sealed Siblings", occurs if the player collects the Void Heart charm before fighting the Hollow Knight: this is roughly similar to the first ending, except Hornet arrives to help during the final battle and is sealed with the Knight, becoming the Dreamer that locks the door.
The third ending, "Dream No More", occurs if the player collects the Void Heart and uses the Awakened Dream Nail (an upgraded version of the previously mentioned Dream Nail) to gain entry to the Hollow Knight's dreams when Hornet arrives to help. This allows the Knight to challenge the Radiance directly. The battle ends when the Knight commands the complete power of the Void and the remaining Vessels to consume the Radiance utterly and thus end the threat of the Infection, though the Knight is destroyed in the process, leaving behind their shell split in two.
The Grimm Troupe expansion
In the second expansion to Hollow Knight, the Knight lights a "Nightmare Lantern" found hidden in the Howling Cliffs after dream nailing a dead bug with a strange mask, after which a mysterious group of circus performers known as the Grimm Troupe arrives in Dirtmouth. Their leader, Troupe Master Grimm, gives the Knight a quest to collect magic flames throughout Hallownest in order to take part in a "twisted ritual". He gives the player the Grimmchild charm, which absorbs the flames into itself, progressing the ritual, and, when it is upgraded, attacks enemies. Eventually, the Knight must choose to either complete the ritual by fighting Nightmare King Grimm and fully upgrade the Grimmchild charm or banish the Troupe from Hallownest with the help of Brumm, a traitor of the Grimm Troupe and replace the Grimmchild charm with the Carefree Melody charm.
Two additional endings were added with the Godmaster content update, in which the Knight can battle harder versions of all of the bosses in the game in a series of challenges. The main hub of the expansion is known as Godhome, and is accessed by using the Dreamnail on a new NPC called the Godseeker. There are five "pantheons", each being a "boss rush" of sorts, containing a set of bosses that must be defeated in a row without dying. The final pantheon, the Pantheon of Hallownest, contains every boss in the game. If the Knight completes the Pantheon of Hallownest, the Absolute Radiance, a more powerful version of the Radiance, appears, acting as the new final boss. Upon defeating her, what is presumably the Knight transforms into a massive entity consisting of void and annihilates the Absolute Radiance. Godhome is consumed by darkness as the Godseeker begins oozing Void, which eventually erupts and destroys her as well before appearing to spread out into Hallownest. It then cuts to Hornet, seen standing by the Temple of the Black Egg as infected vines shrivel up and turn black. A chained creature wielding a nail, appearing to be the freed Hollow Knight, moves to confront her.
The fifth ending is unlocked if the Knight has given the Godseeker a Delicate Flower item before defeating the Absolute Radiance. The ending is identical to the fourth, but as the Godseeker is oozing the void, a drop of it touches the delicate flower, a flash is seen, and then the Godseeker and the Void vanish, leaving only the wilting flower behind.
The idea that prompted the creation of Hollow Knight originated in a game jam, Ludum Dare 2013, in which two of the game's developers, Ari Gibson and William Pellen, developed a game called Hungry Knight, in which the character that would later become the Knight kills bugs to stave off starvation. The game, considered "not very good", used to hold a 1/5 star rating on Newgrounds but has since increased to 4/5. The developers decided to work on another game jam with the theme "Beneath the Surface", but missed the deadline. However, the concept gave them the idea to create a game with an underground setting, a "deep, old kingdom", and insect characters.
Influences for the game include Faxanadu, Metroid, Zelda II, and Mega Man X. Team Cherry noted that Hallownest was in some ways the inverse of the world tree setting in Faxanadu. The team also noted that they wanted to replicate the sense of wonder and discovery of games from their childhood from such games, in which "[t]here could be any crazy secret or weird creature."
Believing that control of the character was most important for the player's enjoyment of the game, the developers based the Knight's movement on Mega Man X. They gave the character no acceleration or deceleration when moving horizontally, as well as a large amount of aerial control and the ability to interrupt one's jump with a dash. This was meant to make the player feel that any hit they took could have been avoided right up until the last second.
To create the game's art, Gibson's hand-drawn sketches were scanned directly into the game engine, creating a "vivid sense of place". The developers decided to "keep it simple" in order to prevent the development time from becoming extremely protracted. The complexity of the world was based on Metroid, which allows players to become disoriented and lost, focusing on the enjoyment of finding one's way. Only basic signs are placed throughout the world to direct players to important locations. The largest design challenge for the game was creating the mapping system and finding a balance between not divulging the world's secrets while not being too player-unfriendly.
Hollow Knight was revealed on Kickstarter in November 2014, seeking a "modest" sum of A$35,000. The game passed this goal, raising more than A$57,000 from 2,158 backers, allowing its scope to be expanded and another developer to be hired—technical director David Kazi—as well as composer Christopher Larkin. The game reached a beta state in September 2015 and continued to achieve numerous stretch goals to add in more content after an engine switch from Stencyl to Unity. Some of the stretch goal content, such as The Abyss, still made it into the game despite those goals not having been attained, albeit in heavily truncated form.
The Nintendo Switch version of Hollow Knight was announced in January 2017 and released on 12 June 2018. Team Cherry originally planned to make their game available on the Wii U. Development of the Wii U version began in 2016, alongside the PC version, and it eventually shifted to Switch. The creators of Hollow Knight worked with another Australian developer, Shark Jump Studios, to speed up the porting process. Initially, Team Cherry planned the Switch version to arrive "not too long after the platform's launch"; subsequently they delayed it to early 2018. A release date was not announced until the Nintendo Direct presentation at E3 2018 on 12 June 2018, when it was unveiled the game would be available later that day via Nintendo eShop.
On 3 August 2017, the "Hidden Dreams" DLC was released, featuring two new optional boss encounters, two new songs in the soundtrack, a new fast travel system, and a new Stag Station to discover. On 26 October 2017, "The Grimm Troupe" was released, adding new major quests, new boss fights, new charms, new enemies, and other content. The update also added support for Russian, Portuguese, and Japanese languages. On 20 April 2018, "Lifeblood" was released, bringing various optimizations, changes to the color palette, bug fixes, minor additions as well as a new boss fight. On 23 August 2018, the final DLC, "Godmaster" was released, containing new characters, boss fights, music, a new game mode as well as two new endings. It was renamed from its former title of "Gods and Glory" due to trademark concerns.
|Nintendo World Report||10/10|
|PC Gamer (US)||92/100|
Hollow Knight's PC and PlayStation 4 versions received "generally favorable" reviews and the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One versions received "universal acclaim", according to review aggregator Metacritic. Jed Whitaker of Destructoid praised it as a "masterpiece of gaming ..., and certainly art worthy of being in a museum" and, on PC Gamer, Tom Marks called it a "new classic". Reviewers spoke highly of Hollow Knight's atmosphere, visuals, sound and music, noting the vastness of the game's world.
Critics recognized the combat system as simple, unsurprising or nuanced; they praised its responsiveness, or "tightness", similarly to the movement system. On IGN, Tom Marks stated: "The combat in Hollow Knight is relatively straightforward, but starts out tricky ... It rewards patience and skill massively". In his review on PC Gamer, Marks praised the "brilliant" charm system: "What's so impressive about these charms is that I could never find a 'right' answer when equipping them. There were no wrong choices." NintendoWorldReport stated: "Charms offer a huge variety of upgrades ... Some charms ... were so essential that removing them felt like trading a part of myself for a better chance at an upcoming battle."
The difficulty of Hollow Knight received attention from reviewers and was described as challenging; Vikki Blake of Eurogamer called the game "ruthlessly tough, even occasionally unfair". For Nintendo World Report's Adam Abou-Nasr it also seemed unfair—he had "'so frustratingly hard that I cannot recommend this game' angrily scrawled in [his] notes"—but "it eventually clicked". Destructoid "never found any of the bosses to be unfair". Destructoid and Nintendo World Report reviewers felt a sense of accomplishment after difficult fights. Critics also made comparisons to Dark Souls, noting the mechanic of losing currency on death and having to defeat a Shade to regain it. Destructoid praised this feature, as well as the holding down of a button to heal, because "[t]hey circumvent a couple of issues games have always had, namely appropriate punishment for failing, and a risk-reward system".
Hollow Knight had sold over 500,000 copies by November 2017 and surpassed 1,000,000 in sales on PC platforms on 11 June 2018, one day before releasing on Nintendo Switch, where it had sold over 250,000 copies in the two weeks after its launch. By July 2018 it had sold over 1,250,000 copies. As of February 2019, Hollow Knight has sold over 2,800,000 copies.
The game was nominated for "Best PC Game" in Destructoid's Game of the Year Awards 2017, and for "Best Platformer" in IGN's Best of 2017 Awards. It won the award for "Best Platformer" in PC Gamer's 2017 Game of the Year Awards. Polygon later named the game among the decade's best.
|2017||SXSW Gamer's Voice Awards 2017||Gamer's Voice (Single Player)||Nominated|||
|The Game Awards 2017||Best Debut Indie Game||Nominated|||
|2018||Game Developers Choice Awards||Best Debut (Team Cherry)||Nominated|||
|14th British Academy Games Awards||Debut Game||Nominated|||
|Golden Joystick Awards||Nintendo Game of the Year||Nominated|||
|Australian Games Awards||Independent Game of the Year||Won|||
|Australian Developed Game of the Year||Won|
|2019||National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards||Art Direction, Fantasy||Nominated|||
|Design, New IP||Won|
|Game, Original Action||Nominated|
A sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, is in development and is set to be released on Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo Switch, with Team Cherry stating that "more platforms may happen in the future". Team Cherry had previously planned this game as a piece of downloadable content. Kickstarter backers of Hollow Knight will receive Silksong for free when it is released. This sequel will revolve around Hornet exploring the kingdom of Pharloom. The game was announced in February 2019 but has not received a release date yet.
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