A reader explains why he didnt get on with indie favourite Hollow Knight, and what he thinks it gets wrong as a Metroidvania game.
After being talked up as the best Metroidvania in years, Hollow Knights core game mechanics start off very promisingly. Excellent, tight, and perfectly balanced controls, satisfying platforming, slick combat and a gloriously atmospheric maze make an immediate impact.
But alarm bells started ringing with its useless map. Which wouldnt be such a big deal in most other games but for anyone who has played a Metroidvania game knows, the map is almost as integral to the gameplay as jumping.
The decision not to allow the player to see where they are on a map which is continuing to branch off in multiple directions is one of the worst game design choices Ive ever experienced in my 30 years of gaming. Its like starting a Mario game without the ability to jump.
It is simply unforgivable in this genre, and although its less of a problem when you can eventually buy a compass, its the sort of thing that can drive time-poor players away from the game instead of trying to hook them. The fact it was there in the first place made me wonder what other idiotic and moronic decisions were made elsewhere. And sadly, there are many.
When you do get the compass, it takes up an inventory space, adding insult to injury. The checkpoints are ridiculous. Im not asking for Nathan Drake levels of generosity where you restart almost exactly where you died but being forced to replay the same sections over and over again to retrieve your lost treasure is a concept foolishly borrowed from Dark Souls and makes it immensely frustrating.
The idea was handled well in Shovel Knight but it I feel it doesnt work with Metroidvania games, because those games are about starting out in a vulnerable state and gradually growing into the adventure through the sense of progression and being empowered when you find new abilities. This allows the player to build confidence and momentum, which are crucial as theyre being faced with hostile and increasingly more dangerous, non-linear environments.
In Hollow Knight, you start off vulnerable and for too long, stay that way. The game is poorly paced. Theres not enough new abilities early enough and the items you do find fail to escalate the game or create the burning desire to play on. As the confusing map and game world gets bigger, enthusiasm fades as you wander around aimlessly, dreading backtracking rather than relishing it.
Great Metroidvania games are wonderfully tantalising and confusing as they make you wonder how on earth the developers came up with such cunning game design.
Im glad Hollow Knights fans, and they are many of them, enjoyed it and I really wanted to as well.
I put about five to six hours into it before giving up. Thats long enough and theres no point in saying it gets better later, because its too late.
The final straw was a boss fight (I repeatedly died and got sent back to a distant checkpoint, of course) in which two enemies stand either side throwing lava projectiles and small cannon fodder creatures that allow you to replenish your health. But the items kept criss-crossing into a cluster, err… jam (I wanted to use another term here but I know I cant. Its ironic, because its the term that sums the game up perfectly).
Hollow Knights core mechanics get so much right that whenever it does make mistakes, its all the more difficult to take.
I wanted to get the disappointment out of my system quickly so I moved onto Axiom Verge. Sure, its a migraine-inducing Metroid rip-off, but at least the one man who made it had the decency to let you see your position on the map from the off.
By reader David
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