This article is part of our new backlog club experimental series where we (Nintendo Life!) choose a game that is likely to be on our list of “games we should play” and then we (NL + you!) host next month by playing this game. Read the first part of our Hollow Knight walkthrough here!
This is the finale of our Hollow Knight playthrough, and Kate really enjoys the peace and quiet (when she’s not fighting the cool bug bosses)…
I’ve never liked platform games, but I can appreciate the art of a good jump.
As with a really good burger, the perfect jump is the art of simplicity: pitch, pitch, speed, and a little technique known as “coyote time” that gives players a bit of leeway in what counts as an advantage. ledges, all lettuce, tomato and onion of your video game burger. When people start fiddling with this formula, their hamburgers can Watch okay, but they always end up too wet, too big, or too overwhelming.
But a jump is almost always just a jump: it is a discrete unit in which one button press = one jump. There are wall jumps, there are double and triple jumps, but a single button jump (without external factors such as the player’s forward momentum or presence of obstacles) usually has the same height, the same step, the same speed. Developers need a solid foundation on which to build everything else, such as platform positioning; players should be aware that the world may change, but their abilities are always reliable.
Hollow Knight’s jump is not the same. Instead of being a separate unit, “Press A to jump”, the game gives you a “Hold A to jump higher” jump. All of a sudden you’re put in charge of your own positioning, and at first – especially since you don’t like platformers – I hated that. It seemed too smooth, too imprecise, too unpredictable.
But like any game, after you put some time into it, it will become second nature to you. I don’t even notice how I make small adjustments to my jumps, because it’s just muscle memory. I can’t imagine how much confidence a developer must have to go against the tide in a decision as important as jumping, and while Hollow Knight is certainly not the first game to do so, it’s far from the first. the most pronounced use of mechanics.
The floating jump is just the first of many things Hollow Knight does differently. But it’s not my favorite thing. Most of all I like what Hollow Knight loves silence.
If you watch just about any showreel by an audio designer these days, or watch one Marvel movie, you’ll realize that the soundscape is extremely important to the atmosphere of any media. Ambient noise, like sound design in general, is something that most people only notice when it’s done. poorly. Take
Watch listen to various ambient sounds in Minecraft, most of which overlap to create an overall soundscape:
It’s not that the Hollow Knight isn’t have surrounding sounds. In fact, there is plenty of it. But they come together to weave a soundscape about emptiness – emptiness, if you will – and it’s another bold choice that has paid off.
Each area has a fair amount of echo that always sounds like you’re in a cave. Sometimes it’s raining, sometimes it’s windy, and almost always there’s haunting piano music, a bass drum, or an ephemeral choir hum in the background. Every sound that belongs to a creature, be it friendly or threatening, becomes much more focused when everything else is quiet. Like an insect, your ears become more sensitive to new and unexpected sounds, such as tiny pleading sounds. squeak maggots in trouble, or formidable scree one of those bastard asps.
This cavernous, empty feeling is exacerbated by the background – while the game is always 2D, each area has tremendous depth achieved through a combination of lighter colors, blur, parallax, and foreground elements in silhouette. You always Feel as if you are in some colossal network of caves and underground arenas.
And this silence is also present in the walkable areas of Hollow Knight, and not just in the sounds and backgrounds. Much of the game is an empty space filled with loneliness that can be beautiful or ominous, or sometimes both. Even savepoints tie into Hollow Knight’s themes of respite and brooding moments – instead of statues, books, or glowing dots that let you save your game and regenerate health, they benchesgiving the little beetle a chance to rest.
Most games give you a sense of purpose and belonging, but Hollow Knight seems to be set in a civilization that has already met its downfall. Corpses are lying on the ground. Exquisite tombstones lay overturned. The ancient battlefield looks like snow covered hills until you start to see that there are helmets and spears on the hills. It’s a desert land, and you’re just a bug.
Obviously, this is the point. You have appeared after a bunch of events (although I’m not at the end yet, so don’t spoil it! I don’t know what all this is about!) and you’re alone. You are tiny. You are unaccompanied. You are not mine. You have no help, and like some
people bugs seem to believe, there is no hope either. That’s what makes it so exciting: the silence, the emptiness, is unnatural. And what do we do when something goes wrong in video games? We fix them. Basically by hitting things with other things until they explode.
I’m not a game designer, but if I was (and maybe for that reason), I’d be too scared to make half the decisions Team Cherry made on Hollow Knight. Why not just stick with what it’s always been – a world full of things, noises, side quests, and a jump perfected way back in 1985? Why reinvent the wheel?
Because the wheel is not always interesting. The wheel is something we take for granted. Some, if not most, of the best games of our generation are those that aren’t afraid to break the rulebook. The ones that don’t feel bound by genre or conventions. Hollow Knight is in many ways a very typical metroidvania, but what Team Cherry decided to replicate changed the game for future developers.
And if there is a message to take from it? Maybe we should all be as brave as Team Cherry. You have the opportunity to stick to the path and prove that you are as good as other people, or forge your own path and be the best in the world by doing something new.
Thanks for reading! This is your last chance to pick next month’s game before the start of August – it looks like it’ll be Portal, but Baba Is You is just around the corner!
Have you completed Hollow Knight this month? Let us know about it in the comments!