everyone praises hollow knight for its sheer amount of content, but that strikes me as backward. the biggest issue with hollow knight by far is pacing. put simply, the game is too long. way, way too long. let me put it this way: super metroid has about 14 core power-ups which are necessary to complete the game without sequence breaks, and that game is about 8 hours long. hollow knight has about 6 necessary power-ups, and it's about 25 hours minimum. in other words, in super metroid, you're getting a meaningful upgrade on average every 30 minutes to an hour, whereas in hollow knight, it's every 4+ hours.
in a genre centered around exploration, you need that exploration to feel rewarding. most of the time, you can get away with small rewards, like missile packs in super metroid. but the player needs to feel as though scouring areas will lead to meaningful progress, or at least incremental boosts in power that add up over the course of those areas (an individual missile pack isn't much, but 3 of them from one area is great). in hollow knight, you go massive stretches of time with nothing. even the filler stuff, equivalent to missile packs, is usually pointless. money mostly unlocks benches and fast travel points, so you could remove those fees and just remove money as a mechanic and the game would hardly change. lots of stuff you find is also only used to trade in for more money. most of the equippable charms are useless, so those are a bust. grubs also mostly only get you money, the big rewards only coming in increments of grubs rescued, and most of those big rewards are also useless (because a lot of them are also just money). at absolute best, you find weapon upgrade materials or health upgrades, which are so rare as to, again, be stretched extremely thin across the game. all this results in hours of wandering around, finding new places and seeing new things, but nevertheless feeling like you've gotten nothing done.
the game world is too big. WAY too big. ludicrously big. there is no reason for it to be this big. i expect backtracking in a metroidvania, but this is way over the line. if i know where i'm going and how to get there, it should not take 20 minutes to do so, plain and simple. this isn't helped by the controls being built for snappy, precise boss combat rather than exploration. in super metroid, you can fling samus slingshot-style with crazy momentum, use cool walljump tricks to get places faster, cool skill-based movement tricks like that. because the game is built for speed and navigation first and foremost, not combat. in hollow knight, you slowly plod along at a mild jog, no run button or anything. you have a dash, but it's short, and you have to spam it if you wanna get places. you have one powerup which is like the shinespark from metroid, but you have to stand in place and charge it, and it can only go left or right in a straight line. whereas shinesparks could go in 8 directions, be used anywhere so long as you built up the speed, and even be stored for a short time. because hollow knight is a game made by people who thought they wanted to make a metroidvania, when what they actually wanted to make was a boss rush hack and slash, so they built a boss rush hack and slash character and stuffed it into a world three times bigger than even fast fuck samus would know what to do with. complete mismatch. no wonder all the major expansion content was boss rush content.
the map system is also bizarre and bad. i'm glad they tried something interesting with it, but it sucks. not getting to lock in any of my progress in charting out an area until i've found a special NPC in each one contributes massively to the feeling of non-progress. and why in god's name do i need to equip a charm to have my position pinpointed on the map? why do i have to spend a valuable charm slot on a basic feature like that? it feels like they were trying so hard to shake up the map system and make it something interesting that they forced themselves to try and fix what wasn't broken.
the combat is simple but fun. the platforming challenges are satisfying. the aesthetics are generally beautiful, though a bit too samey. there is something here. clearly a lot of passion and talent went into this game, and i don't recommend against playing it or anything like that. but it's fundamentally and deeply misguided. the aesthetics, atmosphere, and bosses are compensating hard for basically everything else being bad and ill-considered. hopefully silksong makes serious changes.

Reviewed on Jan 15, 2023

1 Comment

4 months ago

Absolutely all of this. I tried the game finally, on recommendation from the entire world. And it's just so slow and plodding. I feel like a crazy person for disliking this. But the moments of fun I was having were punctuated by mindless nothing and pretty art. And that just isn't enough for me.