Hollow Knight is a beautiful hand-drawn Metroidvania with some intensely challenging bosses and harrowing platforming. It’s extremely fun to play, though it can also make you quite mad.
Hollow Knight’s difficulty feels like that of an old-school NES game. When you die, you are given a slight stat penalty until you find and defeat your former self where you fell, but more importantly you lose all of your money until that time. If you manage to die again before recovering it, it’s gone forever. As a result, the game requires extra care even when exploring. Dying once is often no big deal, but even that can be stressful if you died on the other side of some deadly obstacles. This can be especially difficult in the case of some early bosses, though by the later game losing a boss fight usually only costs time.
As a result of its difficulty, you need to play carefully and learn how to use your abilities well. The game is generous with abilities, particularly those that enhance your movement. You’ll gain a dash early on which can be used both airborne and grounded, and a double-jump later in the game. Both can be used repeatedly without hitting the ground if you grab a wall or hit an enemy from above. As a result, you can remain in the air for quite a while and feel like a total badass doing it. The wall jump also allows you to easily scale any vertical surface (more akin to Mega Man X’s wall jump than that seen in Super Metroid). And the rocket dash ability you eventually get is inexplicably fun to use.
Hollow Knight is very much about exploration, and does little to hold your hand through a linear progression of items or bosses. Thorough exploration is rewarded with money, items, and charms. Charms are a wide variety of equippable abilities with various effects like increasing your attack range, enhancing your spells, or even changing how you heal. Healing in particular is an interesting mechanic. Hitting enemies fills your Soul meter, which powers your spells but can also be used to recover from damage. This takes a few seconds, though, so you need to be in a safe spot to do it. Finding these safe spots during boss battles is the key to winning many of them, at least until you’re good enough to dodge their attacks (which is the preferred tactic in the long run).
While it is a finely-tuned challenge in most respects, Hollow Knight does suffer somewhat for a few extremely difficult bosses. These can feel like a wall when you fight them, and depending on how you’re exploring, you can even challenge some bosses before you have a reasonable chance at beating them. Learning their patterns, and earning the abilities required to avoid those patterns, is rewarding in the long run but can be very frustrating in the moment. Even greater challenges have been added via free updates, so if you like games that require absolute mastery, Hollow Knight can give you that.
The bottom line is, Hollow Knight is a ton of fun. The art style is fantastic, the gameplay is super fun, and it’s incredibly satisfying to get good at. It’s tough, no doubt, but all the required content is definitely doable. If you like challenging Metroidvania-style games, Hollow Knight is a must-play.