Hollow Knight is a very challenging game, but it still has a few holes and rough edges in its shell.

User Rating: 7 | Hollow Knight PC


Dark Souls, Castlevania and Metroid established gameplay formulae that work well in engaging the gameplay. It would not take long for some developer to have the idea to somehow mash them together into the same game. This happened, and the result is Hollow Knight.

Starting with a poem that is addressed to some enigmatic but revered person is one way to get the new player’s attention.
Starting with a poem that is addressed to some enigmatic but revered person is one way to get the new player’s attention.


The game takes place in a fictional fantastical world where anthropomorphic bugs are the main sapient species. (There are bugs that are not sapient too; these are considered as “beasts”.)

Anyway, sapient bug civilizations had been around for a long time. Some of them have fallen while others have risen, sometimes one top of the other. One of the fallen ones is Hallownest, a city that is built underground in a subterranean world that is full of luminescent light sources.

Hallownest was once a prosperous city, but something has gone wrong and it has since fallen into a dismal state. This can seem familiar to followers of the Souls series, and indeed, its story would turn out in similar ways.

Anyway, it still has riches from its halcyon days, but it is also haunted with memory-destroying madness and beasts that no longer behave like animals. Thus, it is a dangerous place for any would-be treasure hunters or glory-seekers, for there are as many of those of them that had gone mad as there are monsters.

The player character is presumably yet another that would descend into Hallownest for something or other. Its diminutive size and lack of emotion are notable from the outset - traits that other characters would point out. However, it is also somehow an incredibly good fighter, because it is capable of making fast and wide swings despite its size and its similarly small weapon that does not seem to be in good condition.

As the player explores more of Hallow Nest, more would be revealed about the past of the city and the purpose of the player character.


Unfortunately, Hollow Knight would not make a good first impression on players who use the mouse and keyboard.

The main menu provides mouse-based controls; these take precedent over anything else, including any control inputs that are made using the keyboard. This might seem like a small issue – and it is – but it can be unpleasant to learn about this prioritization of control inputs the hard way. For example, when selecting playthrough slots, the game always selects the one that the mouse cursor is over, even if the player is using the keyboard to make control inputs.


Despite the presence of the mouse cursor in the main menu, the mouse is not usable at all in actual gameplay. Clicks with any mouse button does absolutely nothing, and any directional control with mouse motions is definitely not there. This gives the impression that the implementation of mouse controls had been merely done as a careless after-thought.

The keyboard control input for jumping is not mapped to Space by default. This is a sign that the developers are not really familiar with the keyboard as a control scheme.
The keyboard control input for jumping is not mapped to Space by default. This is a sign that the developers are not really familiar with the keyboard as a control scheme.


If this is not apparent from the onset, Hollow Knight is a 2D action-platformer. The developers even assume that the player would know this, because there is no tutorial in the prologue whatsoever. The player might want to look at the documentation of the control inputs before doing anything.

That said, the game plays a lot like a Metrovania title, i.e. there would be places that the player character cannot reach until it gains certain movement capabilities. As with this genre, the player’s progress through the game is gated in such a manner. If the player so wishes, returning to places that have already been explored to check out any spots that have not been examined earlier might yield goodies.


For a peculiar reason, the clearly bladed weapons that some combat-capable characters use are called “nails”. Initially, it is unclear whether a “nail” is an object of artifice (i.e. a manufactured nail) or something that was taken from a formerly/still living thing. Later, they are revealed to be the former, but the actual lore behind the term would never be explained.

Anyway, in addition to a cape, the player character also has a nail. It is a small one, but despite its size, the player character can use it with great gusto, making fast and wide swings. Indeed, the nail is the player character’s weapon throughout the game.


As stoic as it seems to be, the player character can only take so much damage before it ‘dies’. Its endurance is represented as a meter at the top of the screen. Each portion in the meter is represented as a mask, and a mask is lost whenever the player character takes a hit. Some enemies have attacks that can inflict more than two masks worth of damage, so the player might want to be observant about this.

The player character’s combat performance is not diminished as it takes damage. However, at low health, it visibly becomes crestfallen and begins to leak inky vapours. The inky vapours are not too dense or numerous so as to obscure anything, fortunately; they are mainly there as a visual reminder that the player character is close to death.


As to be expected of a game with Metrovania elements, the life meter can be extended by finding the fragments of masks. The player character absorbs these, and if enough is gathered, these form another mask that is added to the meter.

There are only a limited number of these throughout the game, so the player should not expect to be able to extend the player character’s life meter indefinitely. There are several types of sources of these too. Some are found in hidden places, some are found after certain barriers have been raised or circumvented, and some are given as rewards for fulfilling the requests of certain NPCs.


“Soul” is described in-game as the animatic energy that gives bugs life, or a semblance of it. Somehow, the player character – as a “higher being” – can harvest the soul of others by attacking them.

Enemies of different levels of challenge give different amounts of soul. Typically, the more powerful ones give more.

The amount of soul energy that the player character has and can store is represented by a circular reservoir next to the health meter. When the player character has enough soul energy to use any spell (more on spells later), the fluids in the reservoir are bright white. When there is not enough, the fluids are dull grey.

In grim-dark settings, adventures tend to end in tragedy.
In grim-dark settings, adventures tend to end in tragedy.


The main reservoir is the one that the player character starts with. Any soul gained that goes into this reservoir is obtained at the default one-to-one ratio. Only soul in this reservoir can be used; soul in other containers on the player character’s person (somewhere) cannot be used until they are channelled into the main reservoir.

Speaking of the other containers, these are called “Soul Vessels” in-game. The player character starts with none of these at first. Eventually, it comes across fragments of the Vessels, which it somehow absorbs into its person. Like the fragments of the life-extending masks, these fragments are not easy to find.


The player character’s eldritch nature is hinted at when a message-carrying stone informs the player that the player character can heal itself on the spot, even from grave wounds. The game calls this “focusing”, though seasoned players would recognize this as a form of on-the-spot self-healing.

However, focusing takes a while. Focusing also requires the player character to stay where it is. Obviously, during fights, doing this is not a wise idea, unless the player has found windows of opportunity during which the player can choose to regenerate instead of going on the attack. Furthermore, the player character must be standing on solid ground when doing so.

Moreover, observant players might notice that there are significant visual transitions from the player character’s default posture to the focusing animation and back again. These transitions take half a second each, and cannot be cancelled out of. Thus, focusing can only be done during considerably wide windows of opportunity. Incidentally, most bosses do not give these windows, and even if they do, there is at least a catch or two.

These limitations hamper the player character’s durability. Even with certain gear pieces that reduce the length of the focusing, enemies with openings that let the player heal the player character are very rare. Indeed, there are some fights that are oriented around preventing any healing.

Of course, one could argue that this contributes to the challenge of the game, and that it is not unlike the healing methods in Souls-like games. However, the healing methods in those games restores proportionally more health; the one in Hollow Knight can seem rather cheapskate, possibly even unreliable.


In addition to Soul, the player character can also absorb what the lore of the game calls “lifeblood”. This is an alternative to Soul, which is released from any living thing when they are injured. Incidentally, Lifeblood is a distinctive bright blue and can only be obtained from creatures that have Lifeblood. These creatures only live at very specific locations, however.

Lifeblood coagulates into ablative health for the player character; the ablative health is represented as blue masks, which can go beyond the capacity of the life meter. Of course, any blue masks that are lost cannot be restored in any way other than getting more lifeblood.

There is – understandably – a lot of complaints about the mapping system in this game. It is busywork that is not convincingly innovative or rewarding.
There is – understandably – a lot of complaints about the mapping system in this game. It is busywork that is not convincingly innovative or rewarding.


Geo is the currency of the sapient bug civilizations. It is practically the fossilized remains of ancient bugs. As morbid as this is, Geo is accepted as practical tender among the sapient bugs.

Anyway, almost all creatures that the player would find in Hallow Nest, including even bestial bugs, yield geo when they are slain. Presumably, the bestial bugs have somehow ingested fossils, though the sapient but no longer sane bugs would understandably have them as pocket change. Whatever the case, the player character can pilfer their money when they are slain.

Yielded geo does not automatically go into the player character’s counter. Instead, the coinage launches up and out of its former owner when it is slain. The geo can bounce around, sometimes falling onto places that the player character cannot reach. This can be frustrating, especially in the case of enemies that have to be fought in precarious places.

Anyway, Geo is spent on a number of things. The amounts that are needed are often substantial; even the early-game stuff requires amounts of two-digits, when the player is only getting Geo at a rate of a handful every few minutes.


Throughout Hallownest, there are caches of Geo that can yield considerable amounts. These are one-time-only finds though, so they are not renewable sources of Geo.

Their appearance changes according to the locales in which they are found. For example, the ones that are found in caverns often appear as fossils trapped in minerals. In the urbanized areas of Hallownest, they appear as locked chests. Whatever their appearance though, the player character harvests them by hitting them; this is of course a gratifyingly simple design that has been around in 2D platformers for a long time.


As mentioned earlier, almost all things that move or scurry about in Hallownest yield Geo when they are slain. Due to the Dark Souls-like gameplay designs, they always respawn whenever the player ‘refreshes’ the game world (more on this later). Somehow, they return with Geo too.

Thus, if the player can find locations that are convenient for this, the player could repeatedly refresh and kill enemies to accumulate Geo. However, the yields from enemies are usually not that good, unless they happen to be particularly powerful and troublesome ones.


Not unlike Dark Souls and Castlevania, some of the vendors that would accept Geo may be at places that are just not conducive to business, e.g. isolated and out of the way.

The more sensible vendors eventually set up or reopen their shops in the satellite town on the surface of Hallownest. These are obviously easier to access, though of course the player character has to return to the surface.

The Soul totems are remnants of a particularly ancient civilization that predate Hallownest.
The Soul totems are remnants of a particularly ancient civilization that predate Hallownest.

Most vendors only sell things. In default game modes, there is only one single vendor that will buy things from the player character in return for Geo. Even so, he only purchases items that are practically vendor trash (though the player is also rewarded with some of his remarks about the history of Hallownest that he has researched).

The stuff that vendors sell is usually associated with their chosen profession. For example, the Nailsmith sells upgrades for the player character’s Nail. The only exception is shopkeeper Sly, who sells a variety of things and often at high prices; amusingly, there is a narrative excuse for this. Incidentally, Sly was also used as a means of dispensing items that were introduced in the expansions.

Vendors have personalities too, but generally, their storylines stagnate after the player has found them. The player can advance their storylines further after purchasing all of their offerings. Incidentally, what they sell are one-time only items; there are no consumables.


Most of what the vendors are not restocked; this is just as well, because they are not consumables anyway. It is possible for the player to clean out vendors, but they may restock with other things later. However, the player needs to have achieved certain things before they restock. For example, the only mercantile shop in the surface town would restock after the player character has found the key to the shopkeeper’s rear store.


Not unlike Dark Souls, the player would come across other characters as the protagonist explores the subterranean realm. Some of these do not offer services, but rather are there either for purposes that they have yet to reveal, or to show what happens to people who stay in Hallow Nest for too long. Some of them would also be subjected to ignominious fates like the poor fools in the first Dark Souls.


At the beginning of the playthrough, the player character’s nail has seen better days, but is otherwise serviceable. The player would not come across the means to upgrade the nail until some progress has been made in the playthrough, e.g. until the player finds the peculiarly reclusive Nailsmith. Until then, its damage output is good enough to deal with most enemies that the player would come across.

Typically, the player needs to find the vendor that can perform the upgrade and also pay for the service (though one wonders why the Nailsmith would even need Geo for). Subsequent upgrades expectedly cost more. These upgrades are needed in order to have the player character stay competitive with the increasingly more powerful enemies that appear.

For better or worse though, upgrading the nail also extends the life meter of bosses. The increments are not proportional however; an observant player (that is playing multiple playthroughs or has made save-file back-ups) may notice that an upgraded nail can knock out bosses faster.

Elder Baldurs are very rare enemies that never respawn.
Elder Baldurs are very rare enemies that never respawn.


No self-respecting Metrovania would be without a map system that tells the player where the player character has gone to and where he/she/it has not. For better or worse though, Hollow Knight is rather serious with its mapping system.

Firstly, the protagonist came to Hallow Nest with little more than a cape and a nail. The protagonist initially lacks any means of getting its bearings. Indeed, the control input for bringing up the map does not even work at the beginning of the playthrough.

One of the NPCs would point out that the player character needs a map. However, the only one who can provide it is the cartographer, who has gone down into Hallownest to map its layouts. Thus, the player character has to delve into Hallownest itself, and somehow find him. The new player has to hope to come across this person before running afoul of some nasty thing that the player could not see coming.

This is the point when less-determined players would throw up their arms in dismay; if not, they would do so after realizing that there are multiple maps. The cartographer only sells the map of the current region that he is in, and the player can only peruse whatever map that has been obtained. If the player character gets into a region without the map for it, there is little that can be done until the cartographer is found. There are places that the cartographer would or could not even go to.

The maps do not come complete either; the cartographer does not look like he is of the Indiana Jones-type anyway. There are many places that are not charted on the maps, and the player character has to fill those out itself. Filling them is not automatic either, unlike most other exploration-based games where maps eventually fill themselves out.

A portion of Hollow Knight’s gameplay involves a lot of busywork, because of the mapping system. The busywork seems all the more tedious because there does seem to be much of any reward for putting up with it.


If the player perseveres anyway despite the mapping system, the player would still have to accumulate enough Geo before finding the cartographer. Wherever he is encountered, he would sell a map of the current area; he will not part with a copy for free. If the player somehow explores the current region without a map and succeeds in the main boss fight of that region, the cartographer goes to somewhere else.

Fortunately, he leaves behind a copy of the map with his wife back at the shop on the surface. Yet, this one is hardly complete; the player character has to fill in the rest.


Speaking of which, the player character does not begin with any scribing materials or utensils either. The player character has to purchase this from the map shop back on the surface town. The prices can be substantial for a new player, such that some grinding is required.

Filling in maps cannot be done whenever either. The player character can only do so when resting at a bench. Furthermore, the player character definitely cannot fill in any map that it has yet to get. (Fortunately, the player character will fill in those maps later, if it has explored the regions in those maps.)

One of the boss fights would reveal who has been capturing and bottling these grubs, but it will not explain why the perpetrator would scatter the bottles throughout Hallownest.
One of the boss fights would reveal who has been capturing and bottling these grubs, but it will not explain why the perpetrator would scatter the bottles throughout Hallownest.


Most present-day games with map systems let the player place labels, tags and other markers to denote locations of interest. The player can do that in this game, but not without a caveat: the player has to purchase them from the map shop. Furthermore, some markers are limited in number.

There are a lot of things to find in Hallownest. Unfortunately, the markers will not be enough to mark them. The best that the player could do is to focus on locating and interacting with certain things before removing the markers for them and then moving on to the rest.


Throughout Hallownest, there are benches, sofas or simply stones that the player character can sit on. These are places which practically record the player’s progress in moving around the subterranean realm.

Resting at benches restores the player character’s health, and also respawn virtually all non-boss enemies. The bench that the player character most recently rested at also becomes a hard save-point, to which the player character would return to whenever the player quits and resume the playthrough. The bench is also where the player character would wake up after having died.

This is not unlike the bonfires in the Dark Souls titles. The exception is that the benches are almost always contained in places where there are no enemies, meaning that no enemy can pursue the player character to the benches (unlike the bonfires in Dark Souls, which go out whenever enemies are nearby).


For whatever reason, there are tollgates that are still functioning in Hallownest. These require the player to pay fees in Geo to lower them. Fortunately, the fees are one-time only. Paying the tollgates either open doors, or deploy a bench (which can seem comical). Usually, the player has just enough Geo at the time to pay the fees, but it can be frustrating if the player falls just short.


Hallownest was a kingdom that was on the verge of developing and implementing marvellous technology. One of the innovations is the tram network. One tram line connects the deepest parts of Hallownest together. Unfortunately, Hallownest fell to ruin before these can be completed. The remaining trams locked themselves down.

The means to reactivate the trams would not be available until late into the playthrough. When the trams are available, the player can use them to travel long horizontal distances across some regions of Hallownest. Earlier, without access to the trams, the player character would have to do a lot of platforming to get across these regions. The trams also happen to have seats in them, which make for convenient rest-stops.


Whenever the player character dies, it appears to reawaken at any seating that it most recently rested at. There is no in-game explanation as to why this is so; the player is expected to accept this like it is a take on the iconic gameplay element of Dark Souls.

Being small is a great advantage in this game.
Being small is a great advantage in this game.


When the player character reawakens, it comes back with full health. However, a few things are missing: all of the player character’s Geo (somehow), and part of the capacity of the main soul reservoir. These have been left behind within the “Shade”, a ghostly creature that is released when the player character is slain.

The Shade is close to where the player character died; its location is always marked on the map. When the player character is in proximity of the Shade, the music begins to distort.

Sometimes, it might be within the same room as a boss that killed the player character, which can complicate things. Certain areas have places where the Shade always appears at. For example, at the Colosseum of Fools, there is a room that is saturated with Void energies, which the Shade is alright with appearing at.

For better or worse though, the Shade is inherently hostile to the player character, and can be lured away from its initial position. It is a flying creature, so it uses the pathfinding scripts that other flight-capable enemies use. The Shade has attacks that mirror the player character’s, but it is not particularly aggressive at using them. Indeed, the Shade is usually easy to defeat.

Of course, if the player character dies a second consecutive death, the first Shade disappears, together with any Geo that the player has collected. It is an unscrupulous but wise player who would make a save back-up to avoid this risk.


In some cases, the Shade may be in places that are just not convenient, or they are in places where the risk of a consecutive death is too great. For these cases, the player might want to make use of the services of Confessor Jiji, who is an NPC that can be unlocked for interaction as soon as the player obtains one of the rare items in the game.

For whatever reason, Confessor Jiji likes the taste of “Rancid Eggs”, which are the product of sac-like creatures that specifically produce these. A certain NPC also sells these, if the player is willing to spend the Geo on them.


After completing at least one playthrough with any ending, “Steel Soul” mode is unlocked. This is, of course, the game’s take on the “Iron Man” mode. Death leads to a straight game-over.

Of course, unscrupulous players can just make back-ups of the save-file(s). Besides, there is no tangible reward for having completed this game mode.

Other than the game-over from death, there is one notable difference in the gameplay of this mode. Specifically, Rancid Eggs become vendor trash. Confessor Jiji is replaced with (the perhaps eponymous) Steel Soul Jinn, who purchases any Rancid Eggs that the player finds, and the NPC that sells Rancid Eggs is rendered dead.

Expect to meet people who take the repayment of favours a bit too far.
Expect to meet people who take the repayment of favours a bit too far.


Since the player character would be sent back to the most recent bench upon death, the player might have the idea of simply quitting the game when the player character is down to one mask of health. This idea is actually sound, because bringing up the main menu pauses the gameplay entirely, including when quitting the game. The game also saves the player’s progress up to the point of bringing up the main menu.


No 2D platformer could be considered good if it does not have reliable controls for movement and convenient control inputs. Fortunately, Hollow Knight has both. This is just as well, because Hallownest is within a haphazardly dug-out subterranean realm and crumbling urban areas that are not kind to those who do not have alacrity.

The movement capabilities that the player character would get have names with in-universe flavours. However, experienced players would recognize these for what they are. As such, this article would be using the trope names for these capabilities.


Other than the classic Bionic Commando series, there are few 2D platformers that do not implement a control input as rudimentary as jumping. Hollow Knight has this of course

Despite its size, the protagonist can jump many times its height. Of course, this translates to a jump of merely decent height. This is enough for clearing most obstacles in the game, and for jumping over most enemies.

As soon as the player character lands, it can make another jump; having a simple-looking sprite helps a lot in minimizing the number of animations that are needed for convincing jumps.

That said, jumping is the only other movement capability that the player character starts with. The others have to be gained from collecting gear or absorbing powers.


Hollow Knight makes use of the most convenient yet most unbelievable designs for jumping and movement mid-jump: those in Super Mario Bros. To elaborate, the player character can make a jump, and then change the trajectory of the jump in mid-air. This means that the player can do ludicrous things like jump off a ledge and then land back on that same ledge within the same jump.

Of course, the convenience of such controls compensates for any sense of disbelief. This is useful for attacking flying enemies or collecting floating objects.


This game has dashes, i.e. a sudden surge in horizontal movement. Hollow Knight’s dashes are the kind that can be performed consecutive to jumps, i.e. in mid-air as well as along the ground. However, the converse is not true in mid-air; jumping must be made from a solid surface after all (not counting double-jumps of course). The player should expect to be using dashes to add horizontal distance to jumps.

Not all of the subterranean world is part of the kingdom of Hallownest.
Not all of the subterranean world is part of the kingdom of Hallownest.


Perhaps surprisingly, one of the earliest movement capabilities that the player character would get is wall-climbing. This is similar to the one in the post-SNES Super Mario Bros games; the player character can somehow cling onto surfaces of walls and slide down them effortlessly.

More importantly, the player character can jump off a wall, and change direction mid-jump to get onto a higher location on the same wall. This lets the player character scale up elevator shafts and cliff-sides to get onto places above.


Flight is usually something that does not happen in Metrovania games, mainly because gravity is such an important factor in their gameplay. Still, there are limited facsimiles of flying in such games. Hollow Knight has one such gimmick.

There are a lot of chasms and such other expansive hazards that prevent the player character from moving across them in the usual gravity-bound manners. This is where the horizontal flight that the player character can get would be useful. It is not that useful in combat, however, due to contact damage from enemies. (There will be more on collision with enemies later.)


There is no 2D platformer that would be complete without a platform that the player character can make higher jumps from. These may be springs or trampolines. In the case of this game, they are mushrooms with bouncy caps.

Where other games either had the player holding down certain control inputs like the one for jumping or the one for vertical movement, Hollow Knight has the player character striking the caps instead. Striking the caps is easier than done; the player character must do this before coming into contact with the caps. If the player character is in contact with the caps, the game considers it to be standing on something, so the control input for downwards strikes will not work.

This can take a while to get used to. This becomes especially difficult to deal with if there are enemies above the player character or are there at the apex of the high-jumps.


No self-respecting Metrovania title would be one without the double-jump; Hollow Knight is not an exception. Peculiarly though, the double-jump comes late in the playthrough; the player has to get most of the earlier movement capabilities before being able to get to the location that yields the double-jump.

Like the double-jumps in the post-SNES Super Mario Bros titles, the player has complete air-control over the second jump. This is important to keep in mind when working around the awkward corners of jutting platforms. Indeed, many of the late-game platforming challenges require the player to know how to do this.


Of course, like any Metrovania game, Hollow Knight has obstacles that the player character may not be able to overcome until after it has attained certain capabilities. Sometimes, this can be as simple as a platform that is currently too high for the player character to reach.

If the player has yet to have or know about the means to overcome these obstacles, the player will want to remember the locations of these obstacles and return to them later. However, as mentioned earlier, the map system of this game does not lend well to this.

There are more than a few obstacles that can only be removed after the player has gone around them and remove them from the other side. The most common of these are portcullises that can be raised by hitting switches that are near them.

There are certain kinds of obstacles that are noteworthy, and which would be given their own sections in this article.

The player character would be pilfering quite a lot of things from dead people.
The player character would be pilfering quite a lot of things from dead people.


Like 2D platformers of yore, Hollow Knight has platforms that appear to be simply suspended in mid-air. There is no in-game explanation for this, other than the default excuse of magic. Understandably, the hazard that they pose is small standing spaces, and the risk of losing progress due to gravity.

More often than not, floating platforms appear over hazards, usually along a horizontal path. If not, they appear where the player character needs to ascend a locale and therefore have a vertical arrangement. There are also often flying enemies that complicate these attempts. Furthermore, the platforms that appear later in the playthrough will often require the player to make use of any movement capabilities that have been gained.


Some walls have sections that look just like the other sections, yet these actually hide paths behind them. There are few means for the player to know that these are there, though one of them is keeping an ear for noises emitted from enemies that are within those paths. Nonetheless, there is little that the player could do about this because the walls are indestructible from the side that does not have the hidden path, i.e. these are the kinds of obstacles that have to be gone around.

Going around the walls – and usually finding the secrets that are behind them – would reveal the support beams that are holding them up. Still, after the player removes the support beams that are propping up these walls, the player can open paths that may become convenient shortcuts.


Hallownest is infested with denizens that care little for the player character’s health, and most of them actively seek its demise too. For whatever reason (that will never be explicitly explained in the narrative), the player character is capable of fighting too. Thus, there would be a lot of combat in the gameplay.

There are designs about combat that are complicated enough to be described in their own sections.


The player character can swing its nail in any of the cardinal directions when it is in mid-air. On the ground, it cannot make downward swings, for better or worse.

The swings have collision coding in the portions of their arcs that are perpendicular to the general direction of the swing. Therefore, it is possible for the player character to hit enemies that are close but are not immediately in the direction of their swings. However, this generous collision-coding also applies the swings of enemies that are armed with weapons (or weapon-limbs) of their own too.

It is no surprise that this character would meet a bad end later.
It is no surprise that this character would meet a bad end later.


The player character can only take so much damage before perishing. Therefore, the main means of prevailing in combat – other than to slay enemies before they can slay the player character – is to avoid getting hit. This is easier said than done, but it is possible for the player to do so with enough practice. Incidentally, gaining more movement capabilities makes this more achievable.

Of course, the locale in which the player is fighting is a factor. Movement abilities like climbing onto walls and jumping off them and over enemies would not be possible if there are no walls around in the first place. (Most boss arenas have walls though.) There is also the player’s familiarity with the player character’s movement capabilities and the motions of enemies.

The game has enough differences in the permutations of both locations and enemy compositions that the player would have to adapt frequently. For example, there are locations where there is enough space for the player to do jumping attacks against enemies that are vulnerable to them, but there are also locations where the player is hemmed in.


The player character’s small size is not just there for appearances. It does have gameplay ramifications, which are that it is of low weight relative to most things that it would fight. When it strikes just about anything, the player character appears to be pushed back a bit. Familiarizing oneself with this can be challenging, especially if the player is used to player characters that have enough heft to stand their ground when making attacks.

This peculiarity comes into play in the most apparent way when the player character strikes something below it. It bounces off the target, thus allowing for another downwards strike. If the player can time it well, the player character could repeatedly bounce off another creature, as long as the creature is still alive.

Rebounds count as the player character having hit the ground, i.e. the player character’s dash and double-jump are restored.


One of the most entertaining combat tactics is to jump over enemies and strike downwards. This causes the player character to bounce off the latter. The size and toughness of the enemies do not appear to matter with regard to the distance of the rebound.

However, the distance between the player character and the struck enemy when the strike hits does matter. This is because there is a short delay in between any of the player character’s attacks due to its animations. If the player character was too close to the struck enemy when the strike landed, the rebound might not give enough clearance for the next strike to happen. Most enemies also have attack patterns that are complex enough to make striking off them a la Duck Tales quite difficult to pull off.

Fortunately, the level designers do implement things that make backtracking a bit easier.
Fortunately, the level designers do implement things that make backtracking a bit easier.


Perhaps the most pervasive factor – and issue – about combat is that coming into physical contact with enemies immediately injure the player character. There is no narrative reason for this whatsoever; it is just there to complicate combat.

From the perspective of gameplay balance though, this is understandable. Huge enemies would have a major disadvantage when fighting against the player character, who is among the smallest characters in the game and thus having the smallest hitbox.

Thus, having collision damage obliges the player to be mindful about approaching enemies to make attacks. Bigger enemies may be easier to hit, but their greater size also means less safe space to move about in.


When the player character is injured, the game freezes for a fraction of a second; a unique sound effect also plays when this happens. After the freeze ends, control is returned to the player.

For around two seconds after the freeze, the player character is rendered invincible. Its sprite flashes during this period, indicating to the player that the player character is impervious. Of course, during this time, the player should have the player character get to safety – or just take advantage of its temporary imperviousness and mash away on the enemy.


Soul energy is not just used for healing. The player character can channel these into spells, which may be of help in certain situations during battle, assuming that the player remembers that they are available.

The first spell that the player gains is a projectile attack. The projectile is very fast and can go through any enemy in its way. It can later be upgraded to inflict even more damage.

Next, there is the ability to do a ground-pound. This can be done while on the ground or in mid-air. This is a bit risky to use in combat, because it guarantees that the player character would come into contact with the enemy. It does get some invincibility frames from the move, which the player can use to get the player character away from the enemy.

Finally, there is an area-effect attack that is centred on the player character. This is helpful against enemies that converge on the player character, such as swarms of annoying bugs that harm the player character by flying into it, or against enemies that hover just above and out of reach.

Interestingly, these spells are granted by the Snail Shamans, who appear to retain ancient magicks that predate even those that is used in Hallownest. The first Shaman that the player would meet is easy to reach, but the others almost always require the player to have obtained certain movement capabilities.


Charms are pieces of jewellery that the player character can wear. As befitting the grim and bizarre backstory, the charms come from macabre sources. The new player would have an idea about what these sources are when the player character retrieves charms from the corpses of dead bugs.

Anyway, worn charms impart benefits. Almost every charm has unique properties too. Furthermore, certain charms impart their benefits on each other in ways that can be peculiar, rather than just statistical increases. Examples will be described later where relevant.

The player character cannot equip an unlimited number of charms. The limit is represented as a number of “notches”, presumably spots on its person where charms go into. There is actually a work-around for this, which will be described later together with its setback.

This person is not going to scoot over to give you space on the bench.
This person is not going to scoot over to give you space on the bench.


Not all charms would be universally welcome in every player’s repertoire. There are two particular charms that have been implemented to reduce busywork that should not have been implemented in the first place. One shows the location of the player character on the map, whereas the other gathers loose Geo and bring them to the player character.

Consequently, it is likely that most players would equip these two virtually all the time, unless there are fights that necessitate that these two be removed to accommodate other charms. Having to switch them out would not have been necessary if the player character has the abilities of these two charms by default.


Some charms can only be found after the player character has reached regions that can only be reached after gaining additional movement abilities. Incidentally, these charms happen to bolster the properties of these movement abilities. For example, there is Dashmaster, which increases the frequency of dashes and allows downwards dashing.

Still, these charms would have utility that is nowhere near that of Sprintmaster, a charm that was implemented later in the development of the game, likely at the behest of players that prefer the player character to move faster. Incidentally, it can be purchased off the shopkeeper on the surface town, which is convenient if the player has been accumulating Geo. There is rarely any reason to remove this after the player has found it.


Not getting hit is usually the best approach to having the player character stay alive. However, there are occasions when making use of the invincibility frames that come after being hit might be useful, such as to punish the slow recovery animations of certain bosses. This is where Charms that improve durability might be handy.

Understandably, the most likable of these charms is the one that extends the invincibility frames. There are very few reasons to eschew the use of this charm.

One of the more interesting charms is the one that came with the Lifeblood content update. Joni’s Blessing converts all of the player character’s health into Lifeblood, meaning that healing is impossible without some means of getting Lifeblood.


The first time that the player tries to equip a charm that brings the number of filled notches over the limit, the player gets a visual and audio warning that this should not be done. If the player insists on trying to wear the charm anyway, the script that enables the charm to be equipped becomes enabled. From then on, the player can equip enough charms to bring the player character over the limit, but only these charms; the player cannot force any more charms to be equipped if the limit has already been overreached.

The player character gains all of the benefits of the charms, but with one setback: the player character takes more damage from any hit. The magnitude of the extra damage is proportional to the number of notches ‘filled’ over the limit. One of the NPCs does happen to warn the player character of this (which is also a hint that the player character can over-equip charms).

This NPC is the only one who actually buys things from the player character. He buys only vendor trash, of course.
This NPC is the only one who actually buys things from the player character. He buys only vendor trash, of course.


Sometime into the playthrough, the player might come across (rather large) characters known as the “Nailmasters”. As their titles suggest, they are skilled in the use of the nail, and incidentally, they wish to find a pupil who can learn what they can teach. The player character is conveniently such a person.

After learning their techniques, the player can hold down the attack button to have the player character “charge up” a powerful attack, not unlike the player characters in the Rockman titles. (Of course, the player character in this game unleashes a melee attack instead of a large projectile.)

Such attacks are great for players that have great skill with the control inputs and situational awareness. For everyone else though, holding down the attack button while awaiting the right moment might be a lot to do when fighting.


Like many other 2D action platformers, Hollow Knight has enemy characters that can be categorized according to their behaviours instead of their capabilities.

They can be categorized into two overarching groups: those that respond to the player character’s presence, and those that simply ignore the player character. In either case, the player would attack them anyway, mainly to get them out of the way or to build up Soul reserves, if they yield Soul.

Most defeated non-boss enemies can eventually respawn, though there are a few that are coded to not respawn. For example, there are rooms where the exits are locked so as to force the player into fighting a gauntlet of enemies that the player would be fighting for the first time in a playthrough. After prevailing in that fight, the fight would never happen again and the enemies that are fought in that fight would not respawn, except perhaps one or two that might reappear in that room again.

The mechanisms for respawning will be described later. For now, it should be mentioned that knowing which enemy would respawn and which would not under certain circumstances is important, if the player intends to efficiently backtrack to previously-visited places or farm Geo.


The enemies that ignore the player character would be described first. These are prevalent in 2D platformers, because they are just there as platforming hazards.

These include the typical critters who move back and forth along predetermined paths. Incidentally, these particular enemies cannot be removed from their paths without killing them. They do not suffer any knockback either.

Then there are critters that just linger around doing nothing much, other than being navigational hazards. An example is the massive oversized bee and its ilk that hover in the air at the Kingdom’s Edge.

No mercy for cowards.
No mercy for cowards.


Some enemies doggedly pursue the player character after having detected its presence. Almost all flight-capable enemies fall into this category, considering that they have the most freedom of movement for pursuit. Even so, the player might see them exhibiting path-finding issues, like flying into walls in between them and the player character.

Some ground-bound enemies do give relentless pursuit too. These appear after the player character has gotten into the deeper areas of Hallownest. Incidentally, these enemies are crawling multi-limbed bugs, and they so happen to be able to climb up vertical walls – something that can be unpleasant to learn the hard way.


Some enemies give pursuit if the player character is close, but otherwise return to their patrol routes if the player character gets too far away from them. If they are lured to the edge of their routes, they might stop and stare at the player character, or just lose interest and return to their routine. Such enemies include the former soldiery of Hallownest, or at least the male ones. (The female soldier bugs fly, and will pursue whenever possible.)

These enemies can be easy to defeat, if they have delays in between the scripts that have them pursue and the scripts that have them returning to their patrol. For example, the Mosskin Knights in the Greenpath regions do have such delays, which are exploitable.


After their behaviours, what the enemies can actually do is the next thing that the player might want to observe and learn about.

Most enemies are melee-only. This is not much of a disadvantage to them, because the player character is a mainly melee character too. These enemies also have better reach than the player character because of their greater size. The much bigger ones also have wide swings.

Fortunately, when the player begins to encounter these enemies, the player character would have gained movement capabilities that make it easier to dodge their attacks. Of course, the player also needs to observe the wideness of their attacks and their animation timings.

In the case of some melee-oriented enemies, they have attack combos that are composed of multiple consecutive swings. They may use just the first swing, or they may continue with their consecutives; there is no particular pattern that can be observed. The player would have to depend on his/her reflexes and familiarity with the transition frames in these enemies’ animations.

Some enemies have ranged attacks. Generally, they aim their projectiles at the general direction of the player character. Most of them do not lead their attacks, so staying on the move is a wise strategy. Such enemies that appear later have more complicated attack patterns, such as a spitting fly that can fire three spitballs at different angles, making jumping dodges untenable.

Some enemies with ranged attacks have melee attacks too. Usually, there is something in the sprites of these enemies that indicate so, like claw limbs. They usually use these melee attacks if the player character gets too close.

Visit spirits at their resting places and then harvest them.
Visit spirits at their resting places and then harvest them.


Non-boss enemies eventually respawn, specifically whenever the player character rests at any bench. Lesser enemies, especially those that are more of a nuisance than a convincing challenge or a significant hazard always respawn whenever the player character re-enters a region. Depending on their locations in the region, these can be convenient for Soul- or Geo-farming.


Typically, boss fights lock the player character into an arena. The player’s best bet of staying alive is to not get hit, and doing so means having to become familiar with the bosses’ attack animations. There are no predictable patterns of attack sequences, because most bosses switch up their patterns randomly. Still, there is a degree of predictability to any boss. For example, a boss rarely follows up a screen-filling attack with another screen-filling attack.

The bosses have phases in their behaviour. Generally, each subsequent phase has the boss becoming fiercer in its attacks, despite its dwindling energy. Some bosses change their move-sets entirely, such as the Soul Master and his variants.

The change in the phases is tied to the life meters of the bosses. However, the life meters are hidden to the player. Nonetheless, there are some obvious milestones to the player’s progress, usually in the form of the boss being winded and catching its breath. This is usually the cue for the player to have the player character heal, or prep for a powerful attack. Any attack that lands on the boss while they are in this state usually returns them to the battle, however.


As of the Godmaster expansion, there is a considerable number of occasions that involve a sequence of consecutive fights. There are several moments in the game when gates fall down on the entrances to notably expansive rooms, trapping the player character together with incoming enemies. These enemies may come in after the previous ones have been defeated, or they may come in on a timed basis; the latter case is more worrisome.

The “pantheon” battles in the Godmaster content are sequences of consecutive fights. Outside of Godmaster content, there are such sequences to be found in Hallownest too. For example, there are the Trials in the Colosseum, which have the player fighting round after round of enemies while the arena changes its configuration to make things tougher for the player character.

Initially, these sequences might seem challenging. However, they eventually resort to circumstances that make them seem like rush-down fights, in which the player must beat all enemies before the player character runs out of health. To elaborate, the compositions of enemies and/or the conditions of the arena prevent the player from making use of the self-healing feature, even with the Charm that reduce the charge-up time of Focusing.

Fortunately, most of these combat sequences are optional, at least with regard to completing a playthrough and getting any ending.

This particular dream-boss fight can be particularly troublesome due to hazards that drop randomly onto the arena.
This particular dream-boss fight can be particularly troublesome due to hazards that drop randomly onto the arena.


There are surfaces that are lined with spiky things, which may be made of plant, metal, bone, or sharp shell fragments. There are also pools of acid. There are also pits full of hungry larvae. Finally, there is the tried-and-true yawning chasm.

These are variations of the same thing: hazards to platforming. When the player character comes into contact with these, it takes one mask of damage and does the doubling over animation while the screen fades to black.

When the screen reverse-fades in, the player character is at some platform away from the hazard. The exact platform is dependent on the coding for the platforming sequence. Usually, this is somewhere that is generous and convenient. However, optional platforming sequences, and those at the White Palace, have far more punishing scripts, almost to the point of being dissuasive.

There are more gameplay nuances about the platforming hazards, which will be described shortly.


Poky things are very popular hazards in 2D platformers. Hollow Knight has these too, but with one additional nuance.

The spikes are considered as hard and armoured objects, meaning that the player character can rebound off them when it hits them. This is of particular importance in the more challenging platforming sequences, such as the ones in the White Palace.


There are pools of acid throughout the eastern regions of Hallownest; this is the effluence from a civilization that was older than Hallownest. It is still around, albeit ruined by the same calamity that brought low the city. Anyway, one of the consequences of this ruin is the presence of those pools.

Early in the playthrough, these act like any other platforming hazards. After the player character has obtained a certain item from one of the former champions of Hallownest, it is rendered immune to acid. Platforming challenges that involve lakes of acid become practically trivial afterwards, which is just as well, because the player might need to backtrack to these regions to check on isolated NPCs.

The most frustrating thing about corrosive hazards is that any Geo that is dropped into them is gone permanently. Even the Gathering Swarm charm cannot retrieve them.


Perhaps surprisingly, chasm hazards are the least common of the hazards, even though these are the easiest to implement in 2D platformers. There is the reason that the game takes place underground, where seemingly deep pits still lead somewhere. This is indeed often the case, if the player character is still in Hallownest. There is also the fact that the player character is completely immune to fall damage.

Incidentally, chasm hazards appear only in the dream-world sequences and the White Palace, where physics do not exactly apply. There will be more on dream-worlds shortly.

Like Geo that falls into corrosive hazards, Geo that falls into chasms are lost; this is because the pixies from the Gathering Swarm charm cannot reach beyond the boundaries of the level.

Some boss fights have ally NPCs appearing to give some assistance.
Some boss fights have ally NPCs appearing to give some assistance.


After obtaining the Dream Nail in a mandatory narrative sequence, the player character gains the ability to hit things with an imaginary weapon. Hitting enemies with the Dream Nail does not harm them, but yields a lot of Soul. They also reveal their thoughts, if any; this is usually for narrative flavour.

There is no good reason (other than narrative ones) to use them on non-boss enemies, however. This is because non-boss enemies rarely have big enough windows of opportunity in their behaviours for this to be safely doable.

However, bosses do, at least when they are staggered. This allows the player to refill Soul quickly in preparation for the next phase of the boss fights.

Although the Dream Nail will not directly harm most enemies, it will outright defeat Shades and other incorporeal beings. Still, these enemies can be hit with the tangible nail anyway.


Interestingly, the Dream Nail also allows access to the dreams (or delusions) of powerful but defeated enemies, or former opponents that happen to be sleeping. This essentially leads to variants of some of the boss fights.

The dream-boss fights take place in the realm of dreams, or to be more precise, in arenas that are different from the ones that the original boss fights took place in. There may be more hazards, or there may be a narrower arena.

More importantly, the variant of the boss that would be fought is much fiercer and tougher. The narrative excuse is that this is their perception of themselves. Incidentally, most characters have higher opinion of themselves than what they actually are like in reality.

With the exception of the White Palace, which is an actual physical locale that has been somehow transported into the realm of dreams, deaths in a dream are not actual deaths. The player character simply gets booted out of the dream, and wakes up next to the subject of the dream. The player gets to try again by using the Dream Nail on whatever it was that the Dream Nail was used on.

The player’s reward for having overcome these dream fights is Essence, which will be described shortly.


As mentioned earlier, the Dream Nail will be obtained in a mandatory sequence in any playthrough. It is given by an NPC, who is also interested in tracking the amount of Essence that the Dream Nail has absorbed. As for what Essence is, it is the stuff of dreams, of course; only those that have the Dream Nail or those that can see into thoughts can perceive Essence.

Anyway, the player would be accumulating Essence, mainly by defeating the dream versions of bosses. There are other sources, such as optional (and quite easy) platforming sequences that have the player running around collecting colourful orbs. Essence can also be gained by capturing the spirits of the departed who would not put up a fight.

Yet, these alternatives give so little Essence. In fact, the amounts are so little that one would wonder why they were implemented in the first place. At least the deceased may have something interesting to say, but the platforming sequences are quite boring.

If it is not clear that Geo is practically the remains of ancient bugs, this would address any doubt.
If it is not clear that Geo is practically the remains of ancient bugs, this would address any doubt.


The Hidden Dreams expansion introduces Dream-gates. These are incorporeal edifices that the player character can place down with the Dream Nail. At any time, the player can have the player character return to the Dream-gate at any time by expending Essence. Only one point of Essence is used each time.


To players who are not used to mashing of themes, genres and artstyles, Hollow Knight may seem confusing.

The sprites are made with cartoonish high-contrast outlines with solid fills in between, but the environments look so dour and oppressive. The very noticeable size difference between the player character and other characters is also too amusing to be considered as a grim narrative element. The characters do not have hands with clear digits, but can carry and manipulate things anyway.

Black, grey and white are colours that occur a lot, which is perhaps to be expected because these are the natural colours of most of the bugs. The significance of other colours, especially the pervasive orange, only becomes clear after the player has learned about the lore behind the story.

The game takes place mostly underground, so there are a lot of dark places. However, there are enough luminescent things that the player can see most of what is on-screen. Besides, due to the cartoonish looks of the sprites, they stand out, even if their colour schemes blend into the background. The exceptions to this are particularly dark places, such as the pitch-black Stone Sanctuary and most regions in Deepnest.

Certain other details in the visual designs are significant enough to be described in their own sections.


Since the player character is a small-sized character, there is conveniently not much that the developers need to do to animate it. Indeed, the particle effects of its attacks are more obvious than the motions of its actual sprite.

On the other hand, the other characters have bigger and more complex sprites. Each sprite appears to have been drawn and animated as a whole sprite, instead of being a conglomerate of components that have been cobbled together using animation skeletons.

This is much unlike other indie games of the same time, which increasingly resorted to such animation methods. Indeed, the variety of shapes and sizes among the bugs of Hallownest would make this direction of animation quite unfeasible. Still, this is to the game’s benefit, because it gives the impression that the developers had been putting a lot of effort into their game’s visual designs.

The Defender’s Crest makes this dream-fight a lot easier.
The Defender’s Crest makes this dream-fight a lot easier.


Being a game with present-day 2D graphics, Hollow Knight uses layers in order to portray things. The most notable of these layers are, of course, the foregrounds and backgrounds, which are used to present the locales, or anything that is looming in the background.

A few layers are also used for the 2D particle and lighting effects. Chief of these is the coloured vapours that come of characters when they are hit. There is also the lighting and shadowing that is applied on the other layers, depending on the level of illumination of the locale.

The result is a bleak appearance for most things that the player would see in the game, as befitting the grim and tragic setting of the game. Even the most colourful parts of Hallownest, the Queen’s Garden, does not look inviting because it is very overgrown.


There is no comprehensible voice-acting in this game. The bugs appear to speak languages, but there is very little consistency among the utterances in the voice-overs. For one, there is no clear sentence structuring: some characters speak in short clips separated by noticeable pauses (like the vendors down in Hallownest), some others ramble on and on (like the deluded Zote) and some others are not even speaking words but are somehow talking (such as the hedonistic Salubra).

The player character does not emote at all, much less speak. There is a narrative reason for this, of course, but together with its other notable lack of personality, the protagonist would be completely forgettable.

The music is the first audio asset that the player would hear in Hollow Knight. Most of the tracks are melancholic and ominous, as to be expected of a game that is emulating the Souls titles’ dark and sad settings. On the other hand, players that have played a lot of games with bleak settings and similarly sad music would not find the tracks to be particularly memorable.

The sound effects are the audio assets that the player would actually want to listen to, mainly because of how they are associated with the gameplay. For example, hits on enemies have clearly audible sounds; the same sounds are used for hits on any enemy. This can be a convenient means of knowing whether a hit landed or not, more so than looking for visual indicators for these occurrences.


Throughout the history of the development of the game, there had been multiple content expansions, all of which are free. These included additional regions, characters and even gameplay mechanisms. For example, the Dreamgate – which is practically a custom teleport marker – was added in the Hidden Dreams expansion.

Many of these expansions also serve to tweak the gameplay designs of certain things, depending on feedback from players. Some changes made certain capabilities of the player character easier to use. On the other hand, the developers also use these expansions to implement new capabilities for enemies, especially the repertoire of attacks that bosses have.

Of course, some of these expansions were already promised for during the crowdfunding campaign for the game. However, the expansions would show that the developers have invested a lot of effort into their game. Indeed, the one that would be the latest expansion ended up being a sequel instead.

Just about every character is going to point out the protagonist’s diminutive size.
Just about every character is going to point out the protagonist’s diminutive size.


Hollow Knight gives mixed early impressions. There is the impression that it is blending the most intriguing elements of Dark Souls and Castlevania, together with the reliable controls of the Super Mario Bros games.

Unfortunately, it also has some poorly thought-out ideas, like a tedious mapping system that is more of a hassle and does not offer much reward for putting up with it. There are also other oddities, like having to strike bounce pads to bounce off them, that make certain segments more difficult than they could have been if the developers had used tried-and-true methods instead.

Still, if the player could stomach these, there is plenty of challenge to be had from both the combat and the platforming in the game. Certainly, Hollow Knight would be one of the toughest Metrovania titles thus far.

There had been several content expansions to the game, some of which are convincingly entertaining and satisfying, such as the Grimm Troupe and Lifeblood updates. However, the final one, Godmaster, is mostly gauntlet sequences with reused enemies in different circumstances, or previously-shelved ideas that have been repackaged with a conveniently dreamy narrative.

Overall, if there is any genuine enjoyment to be had from Hollow Knight, it is the experiencing of the results of Team Cherry’s efforts to implement its ideas and develop the game based on its plans and player feedback. On the other hand, there are still proverbial potholes in both the narrative and gameplay of Hollow Knight, and it is rather late in the life-cycle of the game to worry about these anymore.