Monday, October 31, 2022

Halloween at Hallownest

the knight and Hornet in front of a shrine surrounded by candles and dark cobwebs

Ahem... Originally, I was going to call this "Holloween", but then I googled the term and I don't want any wrong associations here... Too bad, I thought it was an excellent pun. But alliterations are always great, too.

Now, the Hollow Knight special on Hyrule Blog will come to an end. I'm not done with the game yet, where I'm still only about a third through Godmaster and I'm not even sure I will ever complete all of Godhome. It's nice to get back and do some boss battles every now and then, however. I'm also in the middle of my second Hollow Knight playthrough, where I'm going for the opposite choices. And in the future I might give a "speedrun" a try and maybe even Steel Soul Mode. Well, probably not the latter.

But I think I've covered everything I wanted to say for now... And I can't overstate how much I like the game. It's top 5 of all time material. Not only does it the whole Metroidvania thing on a level of pure excellence, it infused it with some elements from the Zelda series to make it truly special. So, if you enjoy Zelda and Metroid, which you probably do when you're reading this particular blog, then I can only advise you to play Hollow Knight, if you haven't already.

And I know... You have probably heard this before and dismissed it several times. How good can the game really be, right? Well, let me tell you that it absolutely is. And I also know that its challenges can be daunting, where it feels like a game best avoided by completionists. This is even what stopped me from getting into Hollow Knight until now, especially the Path of Pain. However, the game is made in a way where it challenges you, but also keeps the motivation up. It's not the most difficult game at its core and it eases you into the more challenging stuff, where you might be even up for it when it comes to it.

Hollow Knight: Silksong also quickly became my second most anticipated game, right after Tears of the Kingdom. At least the wait won't be as long for myself as it already was for many Hollow Knight fans out there and I have still enough to do with the first game until then.

Anyway, I like the game so much that I even made some Hollow Knight decorations for today:

photo of printed paper masks of the knight, Hornet, and Zote
Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Of Charms and Magic Rings

Playing Hollow Knight really made me appreciate its Charm system, which is somewhat similar to the Magic Rings from Oracle of Ages & Seasons. And if these two Zelda games were ever to be remade, then they would profit from a few adjustments to the ring system, where the developers could learn a thing or two from the Charms in Hollow Knight.

The main difference between the Charms and the Magic Rings is that you can equip multiple Charms based on a number of notches. In Oracle of Ages & Seasons your "notches" came with the Ring Box, where the L-3 Ring Box could store up to five Magic Rings. However, you could only ever equip one ring at a time, which could be changed on the fly.

This had quite a negative effect on the gameplay, because there is an incentive to go into the menu and change your equipped Magic Ring based on the situation. Attacking some foes? Equip the Red Ring. Dodging some traps? Equip the Blue Ring. Going for a dive? Equip the Zora Ring.

An extreme example could be a difficult boss fight, where you might want to switch from the Blue to the Red Ring whenever you're about to strike and then back to the Blue Ring when you have to dodge some attacks. I actually did this when I first fought Onox in his second phase and the fight turned out too difficult for me at the time.

But this leads to constant interruptions of the gameplay, because you keep going into the menu. One of the major improvements that came with the Link's Awakening remake was that you didn't have to constantly open the menu to switch your items any longer, since most of the important items got their dedicated button. The Oracle games will profit from the same thing, but the Magic Rings were yet another reason to go into the menu more often than necessary if you wanted to make the most out of them.

A simple solution would be to follow the example of Hollow Knight and let you equip multiple Magic Rings at the same time, as many as there are slots in your Ring Box. This even makes sense, since Link has more than just one finger to put a ring on.

This idea may seem somewhat broken at first, especially when you could get the benefits of the Red, Blue, and Green Ring all at the same time, so you could increase both your attack power and defense simultaneously. But keep in mind that you had to play through most of both Oracle games in order to even obtain these rings. If they were to turn the Hero's Secret into a Hero Mode with the usual shenanigans, such as increased damage and no hearts, then having a new advantage will be good. Plus, you still will need to find those larger Ring Boxes in a New Game+, so you're not overpowered from the get-go.

Some rings might cancel each other out, though, where it will have to automatically remove the conflicting rings, with the most obvious example for this being the different transformation rings. So, there will be some limits to all of this, but it would still be much more interesting than in the original.

The main problem with the Magic Rings in Oracle of Ages & Seasons was that some rings were simply too good, first and foremost the aforementioned Red, Blue, and Green Ring, and with that there was little to no reason to try (m)any of the other rings. Some were useful, no doubt, but just not useful enough to remove the bigger advantages. But if you could equip multiple rings at the same time, then this would make some of those perks suddenly a lot more interesting, e.g. the Red Joy Ring, which lets you find more Rupees, or the Swimmer's Ring.

In addition, now it would even make sense that the game lets you keep inferior versions of certain rings, like the Heart Ring L-1 or the Rang Ring L-1. If you could use them together with their upgraded counterparts, their effects would stack. If you equip the Light Ring L-1 and L-2, for example, which let you still shoot sword beams after taking two and three hearts of damage respectively, then you will be able to shoot beams after a deficit of five hearts now.

Hollow Knight actually does something similar, where some Charms are stronger versions of others, though the system there works even better thanks to the Charm Notches, where more powerful Charms use up more notches. They also could do something similar with the rings, but it wouldn't make much sense, because it's not like one ring would be larger than the others and then waste more space in your Ring Box. And it's best to keep it simple, where the system shouldn't change too much.

One other effect of a few Charms in Hollow Knight is changing interactions with certain characters, similar to the masks in Majora's Mask. And that's even something you would expect from a variety of the Magic Rings, e.g. the Friendship Ring, or basically any ring that acts as a trophy. Imagine Impa being very confident about you in the beginning of a New Game+, because you are wearing the Victory Ring. This doesn't have to be anything major, but some altered dialogues here and there depending on your rings could be interesting.

Got Bayonetta 3: Trinity Masquerade Edition

main box

We interrupt the current Hollow Knight program to show off some more merchandise, specifically the recently released "Trinity Masquerade Edition" of Bayonetta 3, which came out two days ago. And it's one of my favorite Collector's Editions for the Nintendo Switch so far, even though it's not perfect.

cover boxes, steelbook

It came with the game and a clean cover, an artbook, as well as a box with alternative covers for all three Bayonetta games. There is even a blank Nintendo Switch card case attached, which you can use for one of the games. This seems a bit pointless, because why would you use this for just one of the games, but not the others?

The steelbook in the above photo was actually not part of the Trinity Masquerade Edition, but an extra that you could from various stores. Ideally, this would have been part of the edition to make things simpler. Like, Amazon Germany did not deliver the steelbook, despite them having it in the article name, which is a shame for everyone who pre-ordered it there.

alternate cover sheets

I suppose, the steelbook didn't really fit the overall idea of swapping covers. And I really this idea, but the execution is a bit sloppy. There is nothing on the inside, it's just white, and the games' titles will end up on the back of the box. Which is weird...

And then there's the fact that you need the other Bayonetta games on Nintendo Switch in the first place. The My Nintendo Store in Germany had the physical version of Bayonetta up for like five minutes, before it was sold out. They will do another round, but I doubt that it will last much longer, where it's just ridiculous that Nintendo refuses to meet the demand and makes their products artificially scarce like that.

I could import it, where other regions seem to have handled this a bit better, but this would still leave Bayonetta 2, which is hard to find today as well and comes with the first Bayonetta as a download, which I don't need, nor want. Well, it doesn't really matter if you are going to use the alternate covers, but I would prefer to have a normal version as well.

So, for now I will stick to my copies for the Wii U. I have played into all three games, but never got all too far. I love the over-the-top action and the staging, and Bayonetta is absolutely awesome as a character, but the gameplay is a bit "meh" for my taste. But let's see, I was having fun with the beginning of Bayonetta 3, so I will probably keep playing this for now.

The art of Bayonetta 3

Anyway, the Trinity Masquerade Edition also came with an artbook, which is always nice to have. It's softcover, but quite heavy and has some fantastic concept art in it. More of the usual, but I like collecting these, the same with the steelbooks.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Hollow Knight x Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. x Hollow Knight

It didn't take much of playing Hollow Knight to give me a new most wanted fighter for the next Super Smash Bros. title, whenever that game will become a reality. At least when it comes to the realms of 3rd parties, there is no other character that I would like to see join the roster more than the knight.

And I even put in quite some thoughts as to how he should play, where he will be in the same boat as Min Min and Steve / Alex, meaning that there is a lot of potential by keeping his gameplay mechanics close to the game he came from.

Since Hollow Knight also uses directional modifiers for some of its attacks, mainly the spells, you can easily translate the abilities of the knight to the usual Super Smash Bros. input. Here is a rough concept for his moveset:

  • Attack: Nail
  • Neutral Special: Vengeful Spirit / Shade Soul / Focus (Hold)
  • Side Special: Shade Cloak
  • Up Special: Crystal Heart
  • Down Special: Desolate Dive / Descending Dark
  • Forward Smash: Great Slash 
  • Up Smash: Howling Wraiths / Abyss Shriek
  • Down Smash: Cyclone Slash
  • Final Smash: The Void

There are two main gimmicks here. One is that you use the attack button exactly like in Hollow Knight. So, you swing your nail and you can do so in four directions. With the Down Aerial you can bounce off enemies and certain hazards, exactly like in Hollow Knight.

Striking opponents with your nail then fills up your SOUL gauge, which then can be used to perform the three different spells (as marked in italics). Or you can use it to heal yourself a bit by standing still and holding the Special button ("Focus"). So, this is the second unique gimmick.

The question is whether it should be totally faithful to Hollow Knight, in which case the knight couldn't use spells at all without SOUL, rendering three of his attacks inert. Alternatively, you could perform the weaker versions of the spells without SOUL and the upgraded versions when you have enough SOUL. This would probably be a good compromise.

As for mobility, you can reset your double jump and the ability to dash (with the Side Special) by striking a foe or hanging on to a wall, which will make the knight very powerful in off-stage play. Your main recovery will be the Crystal Dash, however, which is the one thing that works completely different from the source material. There you could only use it on the ground or on a wall, but it will propel you horizontally as far as possible. In Smash it probably should work more like Sephiroth's Up Special, meaning you can use it even in the air and you can control the flight angle. And of course it can only last for a certain range or else it would break the game.

There is one more gimmick and that's one of the knight's taunts: the Dream Nail. Striking any opponent with it will briefly show their thoughts. It's basically like Palutena's guidance or the Snake codecs, but a lot simpler, because it will just show a small text box with a line. Here are some examples:
  • Mario: "Here we go!"
  • Link: "....."
  • Min Min: "Ramen!"

Just some silly one-liners for entertainment.

Stage: Colosseum of Fools or Godhome

The world of Hallownest takes place within underground caves, where it's actually hard to find something that feels like a good fit for Smash. Well, there is one place that comes immediately into mind and that is the Coliseum of Fools. This combat arena could be modified to not have a solid ground any longer, basically like the Spring Stadium from ARMS, where thematically it would be the perfect choice and it's also a very memorable location from the game.

They could even include several mechanics here, where it spawns enemies from cages or it has Garpedes running all over the screen. They could even include a Zote cameo this way for the laughs.

However, it's not the only arena in the game, where in the world of dreams you are often in the open sky with nothing but an abyss below you, battling the most difficult bosses. Sounds like the perfect choice for Smash? Because it is!

the Godseeker throwning over a platform in the heavens with an audience underneath it

And this leads us quickly into Godhome, which is the ultimate challenge in the game, where all the bosses come together, and is essentially another coliseum, where you fight for the entertainment of the Godseeker. Maybe the Godseeker even sees all fighters in Smash as "gods". There could even be a nice little gimmick, where the Godseeker always follows the leading player with its eyes...

But it's arguably a little bit out there and part of the endgame, which a lot of players might not even have experienced themselves. Godhome would be the more epic choice, while the Coliseum of Fools is more grounded and closer to the base game.


The soundtrack by Christopher Larkin is absolutely beautiful and with so many boss themes you can create a pumping playlist for the next Smash Bros. game. Here are some good choices that should be considered:

  • Hollow Knight (Remix)
  • False Knight
  • Decisive Battle
  • Greenpath
  • Hornet
  • Mantis Lord
  • City of Tears
  • Soul Sanctum / Soul Master
  • Dung Defender
  • Hive Knight
  • Broken Vessel
  • Nosk
  • Dream Battle
  • Truth, Beauty and Hatred
  • White Defender
  • White Palace
  • The Grimm Troupe / Nightmare King
  • Gods & Glory
  • Daughter of Hallownest
  • Sisters of Battle
  • Sealed Vessel
  • Radiance

This essentially wrote itself. And speaking of songs...


By the time Hollow Knight will even get considered for the next Super Smash Bros. game, there is a chance that the sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, will already have been released (and I know that some Hollow Knight fans are probably laughing at this statement right now). In any case, the sequel will have some relevancy to all of this.

Since this is Sakurai we're talking about, I can easily see him turning Hornet into an Assist Trophy. It would even fit the original Hollow Knight very well, where she was both foe and ally. But of course I would prefer her to become a second playable character from the franchise in the future, maybe to get even a DLC Challenger Pack based on Silksong.

If the knight from Hollow Knight ever becomes playable in Smash, my next 3rd party most wanted will automatically become Hornet. That's how much potential I see there and how much I already love this franchise from my little time with it.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Hollow Knight – Secrets of the Abyss

The knight in a bowl filled with black liquid held by a bug statue, which looks very reminiscent of the Chozo statues in Metroid games

This post will contain heavy late game spoilers, so it's best to ignore this if you haven't played Hollow Knight yet. I'm just talking about a part of my personal journey through the game here, which is all about an area that I found very atmospheric, but also slightly annoying: the Abyss.


Hollow Knight is all about diving deeper into the world of Hallownest and once you've reached the Ancient Basement you already feel like you've reached the bottom. That is until you open the door into the Abyss, where you descend into the darkest depths of Hallownest.

The enemies down there are very basic, with the Shadow Creepers and Shades, but the atmosphere is so oppressing that it can leave a mark on you. I will never forget the first time I went down there, not knowing what awaited me, all shrouded in black fogs and droning noises. But what awaits you isn't so bad. It's not meant to be, since you're essentially returning to your place of birth. And the Metroid reference at the end made it all the better.

During the endgame you will go down there a second time and enter even deeper and darker territories, just when you thought you've seen it all. But I ended up going down there more than once and it's a long way back up, unless you're smart enough to use the Dreamgate to portal yourself out of there once you're done. I can't even say how many times I've climbed out of the Abyss, because I kept missing things and kept looking for things that I might have missed down there.

For starters, it took me quite some time to realize that the locked door halfway down doesn't require you a special key or stone, where instead it's a Lifeblood puzzle, which leads to the Lifeblood Core. At least you don't have to go all the way down for this one...

Afterwards, I've still went several times down there just to check that I haven't missed anything, but I couldn't figure anything else out. But when I got to the end of the game, where I was trying to get everything done outside of Godhome, I was stuck at 106 of 108%. I've gotten all Mask Shards, all Vessel Fragments, all Charms, all Small Keys, and what not, where I was at a loss about what I was still missing.

Well, one percent was from getting 2400 Essence and talking to the Seer one last time. That felt somewhat unnecessary, but whatever. And the very last thing that I was missing was one of the spells, the "Abyss Shriek", which I didn't realize until I watched some Hollow Knight gameplay on Youtube and saw those gigantic upward spells that people were using.

the knight taking void form, floating above some sort of husk

And you guessed it, it was hidden down in the Abyss, as the name indicates. It's a bit of a cryptic puzzle and I have always been suspicious of the room where you can obtain it, because it was a dead end with seemingly nothing in it. I dismissed it as environmental story telling, where I first thought that this is where the knight hatched. But this wasn't the case.

The hint in this room, where it says, "Our voices... will cry out... again...", when you use the Dream Nail on the pedestal / the egg, also didn't really do it for me, because I didn't connect it to the Howling Wraiths spells, which you have to use here in order to upgrade it to the Abyss Shriek. Well, yes, you're supposedly "howling" with that spell, but I never thought of this attack this way...

Anyway, this would have been nice to have for fighting the Radiance for the first time, but I was able to beat the final final boss without it eventually. So, I climbed out of the Abyss once more, confident that this was it and I'm finally done with the place. Well, I wasn't...

The Hunter's Journal was also missing one entry, where I was at a loss for quite some time. At first I thought it was an optional boss, but there was nothing in the Hall of Gods that didn't come from the Pantheons. And I was sure that I've beaten everything Hallownest at least once...

Then I realized that it might be another creature that can't be beaten, where you have to find the journal entry elsewhere, like the Goam or Garpedes. And of course I couldn't find the Void Tendrils in my journal, so I had to descend to the Abyss one more time to find it.

And it's not like I've completely missed the room where you can find the entry. I saw it once from the outside, thought that I somehow had to open the grate in front of it, where I couldn't find a solution. So, I left the place with the Shade Cloak and called it a day. And then I forgot about it. Well, you can get into the room from the other side and just get the entry, so it's just a very basic Hollow Knight secret room. It's nothing out of the ordinary and it was entirely my fault that I kept missing this.

After all of this, going down into the Abyss became some sort of running gag for me during my first playthrough. Needless to say that I will heavily optimize things in future playthroughs, so I will only have to go down there twice...

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hollow Knight – Choices of Life and Death

Zote's life hanging in the balance

One thing of note in Hollow Knight is how there are a couple of choices to make, which will influence the outcome of certain characters. This may even affect what will be available to you at the end of the game. And in some cases you might not even realize that there was a choice to begin with.

A couple of Zelda games have done something similar, where the most notable examples are Oracles of Ages & Seasons (with the animal buddies and the son of Bipin & Blossom), The Minish Cap (with the two houses for the three Oracles and Gregal), and Skyward Sword (with Cawlin's letter and Peatrice).

On the one hand these kind of choices make a second playthrough more interesting, because they will let you experience something different, but on the other hand they won't let you get an "ultimate" save file, because you can't have it all in one. You really have to pick what you like best, essentially, or play through the game multiple times to experience it all or not to miss anything important.

In any case, it helps to know what choices there are in Hollow Knight to take this into consideration for a second playthrough or maybe even your first. Most of them have something to do with the death of a character and – as already mentioned – you may not even realize that you have a direct influence on some of these.

Spoilers for the game ahead!


Probably the most obvious case is Zote the Mighty, who is in need of saving twice in the early game, even though he won't be admitting to it. At first you will find him in the fangs of a Vengefly King at the top of Greenpath, later on he will be stuck in a net at Deepnest. If you leave him during the first time, he will be found dead later on for the "Neglect" achievement.

Zote's mask on the ground

Most people will probably rescue him during the first playthrough and learn to regret it. He is later found at the Coliseum of Fools for a good joke, but he will then settle at Dirtmouth, where he will tell lies about his victories at the coliseum to Bretta, another character you have rescued. Bretta is at first totally in love with the knight, but if you rescue Zote, he will become her new obsession.

This obsession will manifest in one of the more difficult dream bosses (as part of Hidden Dreams), the Grey Prince Zote. By letting Zote die, this boss won't ever appear in the game, not even at Godhome, where you can make that part of the game a bit easier for yourself. But you will be missing one entire boss...

The Nailsmith

After forging the Pure Nail, the Nail Smith will ask you to strike you down with it, his ultimate creation. And you might be inclined to do so for the fact alone that he has charged you 4000 Geo just a minute ago, despite not having any use for the money with his death wish in mind. But if you spare him, he will settle down somewhere else and find a new passion. It's quite cute. As with Zote, both scenarios will lead to different achievements.



Moving on to a case where there is no clear choice, but just different way of how events can unfold, we have Cloth, a seemingly mighty warrior, who is on her search for an equally mighty foe. She is quite cowardly, however, and likes to do hide underground.

Meeting Cloth for the first time at the Fungal Wastes

At one point you will be able to rescue her from monsters at the top of the Ancient Basin. Depending on when you do this, her fate will be quite different. If you haven't beaten the Traitor Lord at Queen's Garden already, she will join you in the fight and die during the end of the battle. She's happy, however, where now she can join her friend Nola in the afterlife.

But if you have already beaten the Traitor Lord at Queen's Gardens, she will appear at Dirtmouth, unhappy that she was unable to find a proper opponent. She will then leave Hallownest to search elsewhere. Unless you never talk to her at Dirtmouth, she will be gone from the game world at the end in both outcomes, so it doesn't make a real difference at the end. But it's interesting to experience both scenarios nonetheless.

The Grimm Troupe

After having fought Grimm for the first time, you will notice that there is something off, because the map shows four flames for the last part of the ritual, instead of the usual three. The flame at the Distant Village is carried by Brumm, the accordion guy, and he will pledge to put an end to this endless cycle of ever-repeating rituals. If you then meet with him at the Howling Grounds, where you've first summoned the Grimm Troupe, you can now ban them.

huge red explosion with the silhouette of Nightmare King Grimm

Afterwards you will meet Nymm at Dirtmouth, who seems to be Brumm without the influence of the Grimm Troupe, and he will give you the Carefree Melody Charm, which is arguably a lot better than the Grimmchild. Nightmare King Grimm will still be fought at Godhome, so unlike the Grey Prince Zote this is not a boss that you can remove from the Pantheons to make them easier for yourself. But at least you're potentially not missing out anything else by choosing this route.

However, be aware that banning the Grimm Troupe will also get rid of Divine, who puts your late game Geo to good use by turning your three fragile Charms into unbreakable ones. Make sure that you've finished your business with her before banning the Grimm Troupe.

This whole choice of banning can also be missed entirely. In my case, I did the last set of flames from right to left, meaning that the flame at the Distant Village was my last target. As soon as you have collected three flames, however, the fourth one will be gone. So, I wasn't even aware that there is an option of banning the Grimm Troupe, before I looked this up on the Hollow Knight Wiki.

Again, there are different achievements tied to each path. If you want to obtain all achievements, you have to play both variants.


Once you've obtained the Dream Nail, you will come across a lot of spirits all around the world of Hallownest. You can listen to them and let them be, but you can also destroy them with the Dream Nail for one Essence.

On my first playthrough I made it my mission to destroy every single soul out there, mainly because I thought I was supposed to in order to collect enough Essence, which was a bit of a challenge on the Spirits' Glad due to Reveke. And during my second playthrough I let everyone "live", where the option to talk to the spirits again is certainly more valuable than the measly bit of Essence you get from them, because it offers some interesting dialogue here and thee.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Hollow Knight: Godmaster

Godmaster banner art with the knight inside the arena

Godmaster (originally called "Gods & Glory") is the final expansion of Hollow Knight and also the most extensive, or at least the most time-consuming. With almost 40 different bosses in the game prior to this update, it really lend itself to offer some sort of boss rush and boss challenge mode. Godmaster offers exactly that, but in the most glorious way possible.

With boss challenge modes in Nintendo games you often just have some sort of menu, where the most recent example was the last update for Metroid Dread. The Boss Challenge and Gauntlet in Ocarina of Time 3D also comes to mind. It's simple, but does its job. However, with Hollow Knight Team Cherry wanted something more, where it introduces a whole new area and a story expansion, which all revolves around battling boss in many different ways.

But first things first. The update starts by adding two new "rooms" to the world of Hallownest. One houses a special enemy, which hides a new Small Key. And the other is the Junk Pit, where you can find a cocoon, which can be opened with any Small Key. This releases the Godseeker, a creature with a complex mind, which has been roaming Hallownest in the search for "gods", the most powerful beings around. And these gods all turn out to be the bosses you've already fought and beaten during your journey. You also obtain the Godtuner, so that from now any new boss will be documented by yourself.

the entrance of Godhome

If you enter the Godseeker's mind via the Dream Nail, you will arrive in Godhome, where the majority of the expansion takes place. There you can participate in multiple Pantheons, which are essentially your typical boss rushes. But since Hollow Knight has so many and also many difficult bosses, this got split up into four parts, each with eleven bosses in total:

  • The Pantheon of the Master
  • The Pantheon of the Artist
  • The Pantheon of the Sage
  • The Pantheon of the Knight

They will unlock gradually, once you've beaten (most of) the bosses that are waiting inside. But in addition to the bosses that you already know, the Pantheons also introduce some new variants of existing bosses and always end on a completely new boss, which you haven't faced at all before. Some of them are familiar faces from Hallownest, however, where the names of the Pantheons already give you an idea what to expect. Sadly, there is no "Pantheon of Hunter" for whatever reason, where this would seem like a no-brainer.

Anyway, having new bosses at the end may feel frustrating at first, because – unless you are a natural talent at this game – you usually need to learn bosses before you can beat them. And in this case you would have to repeat all ten bosses that came before...

statue of the God Tamer with an Ascended sigil on it

Luckily, you can practice all bosses inside the Hall of Gods. This is a collection of all the individual bosses of the game in the form of statues, where you can replay any boss at any time. They will unlock once you've beaten them in the main game. The exception to this are the new bosses in the Pantheons, where they will unlock once you've faced them once. So, you can practice them here at your own pace, before you try again inside the Pantheons, which will save you from a lot of frustrations.

 All bosses in the Hall of Gods also come in three difficulties:

  • Attuned
  • Ascended
  • Radiant

The attuned bosses are essentially the same as you would find them in Hallownest, but they do have more health, so they don't fall as easily against your late game equipment. These are also used for the Pantheons.

The ascended versions will cause double damage, but they also have more health, and in some cases the battles were modified in certain ways, where usually this means that the arena has additional hazards or got changed entirely. One of the early game bosses also gets duplicated for a very tough challenge.

Finally, the radiant bosses are the same as the ascended versions, but it's "Dread Mode", meaning that you will die in a single hit. You will have to truly master each boss in order to beat this, which can require hours of learning in some cases, but this new challenge also offers new possibilities...

Certain Charms in the game will become useless during the radiant battles, like anything that helps you with healing, but there is one Charm that really shines in this mode and that's the Grubberfly's Elegy. This is the Charm that makes you shoot "sword beams" – or let's better say "nail beams" – at full health, like in a traditional Zelda game. Since its advantage gets removed after a single hit, it's usually not very useful during the main game, except for the Delicate Flower delivery quest, where you are not allowed to get hit if you don't want the flower to break (by the way, the Godmaster update also let you obtain more of these flowers, so you can bring them to different people for different effects and reactions... which may be important).

And since you are also not allowed to get hit during radiant boss battles, you will basically always have the nail beams and therefore the Grubberfly's Elegy becomes a very good choice, because it gives you so many more possibilities to hit certain bosses. Also, since healing does nothing, you are free to use all your SOUL on spells, so you will undoubtedly have a bigger focus on ranged attacks. But there is more...

The Charm system in Hollow Knight has a special trick, where you can "overcharm" when equipping your last Charm, meaning you can put on a Charm that takes more notches than you have left. Doing so will cause you to take double damage, so it's usually too much of a risk during the main game. As for the radiant boss fights, however, this doesn't matter, so you can make good use of this mechanic for even stronger Charm builds than before, completely without any downsides.

So, while the radiant battles are among the most difficult challenges in the game, it's still interesting due to the different setups that you will be able to use freely. From the weakness of dying from a single hit come new strengths... Which is quite unusual for a game.

Some of the radiant bosses are an absolute nightmare, however, mostly due to them being very spammy with projectiles or summonings, where it's just not enough to learn them. Those feel ill balanced for this mode, but the majority of bosses is actually quite fun to master, because you always have the possibility of dodging their attacks. And beating all bosses on the Radiant difficulty will unlock something special, so it's worth for more than just shiny icons on the statues and a menu.

After having practiced all the bosses individually, it's time to get back into the Pantheons. Beating all of them unlocks the "Pantheon of Hallownest", as one final challenge, where you have to beat almost all bosses in a row. While they still have the health and damage values of the "attuned" bosses, they will make use of the more difficult arenas of the "ascended" versions this time for even more of a challenge.

Things then end on a more difficult version of the secret final boss. Of course. By the way, the actual final bosses of Hollow Knight don't appear in Godhome, only their stronger variants. But you can replay them at any time anyway at the end of the game, like in your typical Metroid or Zelda.

the Knight fighting the Gruz Mother with all bindings

If you still don't have enough after all of this madness, the Pantheons also offer four different Bindings, which will make your life harder in different ways:

  • Nail Binding
  • Shell Binding
  • Charms Binding
  • Soul Binding

The Nail Binding will reduce your nail's damage to a maximum of 13 (the best nail normally does 21). The Shell Binding will only allow you to have a total of four Masks, which is one less than at the beginning of the game. The Binding for Charms disables them completely. And the Soul Binding only leaves you with a maximum of 33% SOUL, so that you only get a single heal or spell cast at any given time.

You can choose to do them all at once, where the symbols at the gate to the Pantheon will have a radiant glow to them. But to truly see every secret within Godhome it's "enough" to complete each Binding individually.

I'm personally not the biggest fan of late game challenges that cripple you on some way, where the DLC for Breath of the Wild was a huge offender in this category. But the main difference is that these are only additional challenge on top what you already have at Godhome. And this place makes complete use of all your endgame equipment and abilities at first. It's where you truly will show what you're made of in this game. The Bindings and the radiant boss fights then offer some additional challenge beyond the "normal" stuff, just in case you're seeking for more.

And yeah, it's a lot to do. It's so much that Godhome feels like a whole game within a game, where you can spend as much time here as with the entire rest of Hollow Knight. Which is probably why Team Cherry also added the Godseeker Mode in addition, which unlocks after beating the first three Pantheons. In this mode you only have Godhome and nothing else. You start with all meaningful upgrades from the main game, so you have all abilities, all Mask Shards, all Vessel Fragments, all Charms, and all Charm Notches.

So, if you just want to get into boss fights, then this mode is a good choice. The only downside is that it gives you the Grimmchild over Carefree Melody and you also don't get to use Kingsoul, where ideally this mode would offer you all possible Charms. Salubra's Blessing, which refills your SOUL while sitting on a bench, also isn't available, but it's not really needed anyway, because all benches inside the Pantheons are next to a hot spring. And the Hall of Gods doesn't allow you to take SOUL into the fights.



Well, since the core of Godmaster is really just replaying the bosses in all sorts of ways, this can be considered as massive padding. But it's all optional content and it's well done for a boss challenge, where the game really wants you to keep playing it forever. If you enjoy the boss battles in Hollow Knight, then Godmaster can entertain and challenge you for a long time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Hollow Knight: Lifeblood

Lifeblood banner art

Lifeblood was the third content update for Hollow Knight and is probably the weirdest one, because it doesn't really have a clear theme. It was mainly about paving the way for a Nintendo Switch version of the game, improving various things under the hood.

The title and banner first made me believe that this update either added Joni's Blessing, Lifeblood Core, or both, but these Charms and their respective areas were already part of the base game. In fact, nothing in the update has anything to do with the game's Lifeblood mechanic, which gives you additional blue Masks that can't be healed (like the yellow hearts in Breath of the Wild).

With that in mind, "Hiveblood" probably would have been a more appropriate title, because the Hive has seen the biggest update here. A lot more details got added to the area, but also a new boss, the Hive Knight. It's by far the "simplest" of the DLC bosses, where it's really just a normal boss added to one of the game's areas as if he was always meant to be there.

Entering the Hive

That he wasn't always meant to be there is quite noticeable, though, because it's one of the longest and most dangerous routes of "bench to boss" in the game, even with multiple shortcuts in place. If you don't have the Dreamgate yet, it's quite annoying to attempt this fight again, because you spent way more time going back there than actually fighting the boss. Otherwise it's actually refreshing that they have simply added a normal boss to make the Hive more wholesome, instead of some other insane endgame challenge.

By the way, the Hiveblood Charm, which is now guarded by said boss, is one of those cases where a Charm isn't worth all its costs and downsides. Not only does it use up four Charm Notches, but its regeneration effect takes ten whole seconds and is limited to a single mask. And if you get hit in the meantime, it's lost anyway. If it kept regenerating you, it would have been something that may be worth considering, but the way it is implemented it should only cost two notches, really. It's still good for any platforming challenges, mainly inside the White Palace, given that you have the patience for it.

Otherwise the update buffed one of the other bosses, the Traitor Lord, and added map markers as a new feature. Like anything useful in the early game, those have to be bought at first, before you can put them on your map. It's a very good addition, though, where it's weird to think that this wasn't in the game right from the start.

But that's really it. As already said, the focus was really on improving the performance, making the game possible to run on the Nintendo Switch.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Hollow Knight: The Grimm Troupe

The Grimm Troupe banner art

The Grimm Troupe is one of the two bigger content updates for Hollow Knight, the other one being Godmaster. It comes with new enemies and bosses, several new Charms, a complete side story, and the infamous "Path of Pain" challenge.

The Grimm Troupe

Overall this DLC feels very unique in tone compared to the rest of the game. Lighting a red flame in a certain place will summon the Grimm Troupe, a nightmarish circus ensemble, to the town of Dirtmouth. Accompanied with accordion music, you will learn about their ritual, which requires you to collect flames from all over the world of Hallownest. These flames are protected by the Grimmkin, ghosts who resemble the Poes from the Zelda series, where you have to defeat them all to earn the flames.

You will have to equip the Grimmchild Charm during all of this, which spawns a small companion to your side and marks the location of the flames on your map. For each step you need three flames and once you've completed a step, the Grimmchild will grow stronger and even start attacking enemies with fireballs.

The overall concept of integrating DLC feels a bit similar to The Champions' Ballad, so it's essentially just a scavenger hunt with markers on your map, where something that wasn't there before has been added to the environment. There are some interesting picks among these locations, where the flames might even lead you to places that are still unexplored, but it doesn't really add any new areas. It's just fighting new enemies that have shown up in old places, which should sound familiar to fans of Breath of the Wild.

Troupe Master Grimm

After two rounds of this you will face the leader of the Grimm Troupe, Grimm, in a battle, which he describes as a dance and shares many similarities to the Dracula fights from the Castlevania series. After your "performance" there is one last cycle for this whole ritual, but you may notice that something is off. And depending on whether you investigate things in the right way or not, you will be faced with a choice of completing the ritual or banning the Grimm Troupe from Hallownest...



If you complete Grimm's ritual, it will lead to one of the most difficult boss fights in the game and you will obtain the completed Grimmchild as a Charm, which isn't really that good (and seemingly dismissed as one of the most useless Charms by the community). If you banish the Grimm Troupe instead, you will have an easier time and get the much better Carefree Melody Charm, which regularly protects you from damage.... So, this seems like an easy choice (if you knew that there even was one to begin with).

But the Grimm Troupe also comes with a very helpful NPC, called Divine, who can turn your fragile Charms into unbreakable versions for lots of Geo. Since Geo has rarely any use in the later game this is a very welcome deal. You just need to make sure that you have gotten everything from her before you swing the ban hammer or else this will be missed entirely.

Otherwise the DLC also added three new Charms to existing locations in the game: Sprintmaster, Dreamshield, and Weaversong. Sprintmaster makes you walk slightly faster and creates a good combo with Dashmaster, while Weaversong spawns three small Weaverlings (spiders) that will attack enemies. It can also be combined with Sprintmaster, where the spiders will run faster and further. And together with Grubsong they become a good source for SOUL, where I even used this combination for the Colosseum.

Dreamshield isn't that interesting, though. It makes a leaf circle around you, which may block an attack and then will regrow after a short while. You will probably get better results from Carefree Melody, given that you have it.

The Path of Pain

In the endgame of Hollow Knight, there is one area that focuses on a series of platforming challenges, the White Palace, where you have to bounce of flying bugs, moving buzz saws, and retracting spikes to get to the end. The DLC made this area accessible again, even if you've already beaten it, and added a hidden section to it, which is far more difficult than anything else found in the White Palace for an optional challenge – the "Path of Pain".

starting point of the Path of Pain with some balcony

The name says it all. This challenge has such a reputation that it's actually one of the main reasons why I had shied away from the game for years. I know myself. Whenever I enjoy a game – and Hollow Knight is very much enjoyable – I will try to complete it and put myself through even the biggest tortures (unless it somehow involves Cuccos). The Champion's Road in Super Mario 3D World is a great example of this or any similar endgame level in a Jump'n'Run. It's this one over-the-top challenge at the end that you want to achieve just to truly be done with the game.

Now, this was before I knew anything about Godhome, which can be far more ridiculous. And the Path of Pain really is completely optional. It doesn't add to your completion percentage, it doesn't give you any item, there also is no achievement / trophy attached to it. All you get is a small "cutscene" and an optional entry to your Journal, where it's doing a Knuckle, so the Journal will be considered as complete with or without it. It's the same type of reward that you get for collecting all 900 Korok Seeds, except that this is not just literal poop. So, Team Cherry really stressed the fact how this isn't something that should be done by anyone for a reward, without giving you nothing at all for your troubles.

Still, if you're a true completionist you want to go for these kind of things, simply because it's there. But to be honest, by the time I got to the challenge, I was completely up for it. The platforming mechanics of Hollow Knight are a lot of fun and after you've beaten the White Palace you may be looking for more. And more you will get...

lots of thorns and blade saws

It took me three attempts and multiple hours to get through this monster, but beating it felt fantastic. The last room is evil and I actually died there once, which puts you back right at the start... And that I still had the motivation to try it again, instead of uninstalling the game out of frustration, speaks for itself. You will have mastered most of the sections by then and there is even a shortcut, which lets you skip some of the more troublesome sections, so I got back to the end rather quickly. It's little things like this how Team Cherry manages to keep you motivated, no matter how hard the challenge is.

And the high stakes at the end made the whole thing so much more thrilling to beat, because otherwise you're just learning each section step by step. So, the Path of Pain even feels mostly fair. The sections can be quite long, but there are multiple checkpoints and most of the checkpoints have a special Hollow Knight totem, which gives endless soul, so you can keep fully healing yourself. This makes things rather manageable, even though it will take hours to beat this on your first try.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Hollow Knight: Hidden Dreams

Hidden Dreams banner art

Hollow Knight has seen a multitude of updates for one and a half years, where four of them came with free additional contents. These four content packs even got their own name: Hidden Dreams, The Grimm Troupe, Lifeblood, and finally Godmaster.

These are completely interwoven with the base game, where you probably won't be able to tell that certain things got added retroactively if you play it now for the first time, but the Hollow Knight Wiki provides an excellent overview of everything. So, let's take a look at all of these updates individually, because it's an interesting case study of how to add content to an Action Adventure title similar to Zelda and Metroid.

A commonly used mechanic for this is the Dream Nail, which lets you enter dream worlds. This was already used in the base game to introduce additional boss fights and areas, where the DLC follows this example. In case of Hidden Dreams it adds two new dream bosses, the White Defender and Grey Prince Zote.

The latter only appears if you have saved Zote twice in the early game, a character with an attitude problem, who thinks he is the greatest of all time. His delusions reach Bretta, another character you've saved, who turns from a fan of the Knight into a fan of Zote. So, you're actually entering her dream and gradually have to ruin her image of Zote.

White Defender drumming on his chest

The White Defender on the other hand is a stronger version of the Dung Defender, a fellow knight of Hallownest and one of the few bosses who isn't infected. After his defeat, he rests in a secret cave made out of dung and dreams of himself as the best.

What makes these two fights special, compared to other dream bosses in the game, like the Lost Kin or the Soul Tyrant, is that they can be repeated for even stronger variants, which deal more damage. The White Defender has five versions and the Grey Prince Zote has a total of ten, where the latter also tanks more in addition. And this feels completely excessive.

Since this was the first content update, Team Cherry probably wanted to give players a little more to do than just two new bosses. But in the picture of the complete game it's just too much if you truly want to clear everything. It later also became completely redundant with the final content pack, Godmaster, which lets you replay all bosses in varying difficulties, including one-hit killers. With that in mind, there was really no need to stretch these two new boss fights out like that...

At least the White Defender is a lot of fun to fight against. Especially the music and the sounds he makes, while drumming on his chest like Donkey Kong, are so motivating that you may just keep going. It's a really cool boss. The same can't be said about the Grey Prince, which is one of those cases where Team Cherry has overdone it a bit with the difficulty. Plus, the whole idea is like turning a completely smug Tingle into a monster that will annihilate you with ease. Luckily, you have the option to keep this entire fight completely out of the game...

Easier Travels

The two new bosses aren't the only thing that came with the update, which has also added the Hidden Station and them Dreamgate ability. The additional Stag Station is near the White Palace and I can't imagine going through the game without it, because then there's no quick route back to the Abyss. And this is a place that you will need to visit multiple times, at least when you're attempting the endgame. I've used this station more than some of the others, so it certainly was a useful addition.

Equally convenient is the Dreamgate, which allows you to place a portal almost anywhere in the world. You can return there at the cost of a single Essence, which isn't much and certainly worth the time saved. It's especially useful for bosses that require you to backtrack a dangerous path on each try, like the Hive Knight (who got later added in the Lifeblood update) or the Traitor Lord. So, not only does this save time, but also frustration.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight logo

2022 hasn't done much so far for Zelda and Metroid, outside of two challenging updates for Metroid Dread. But this is the ideal time to check out some other games in the Action Adventure genre, where there are some real gems waiting for you. One of those gems is undoubtedly Hollow Knight, which is one of the most beautiful, challenging, and longest Metroidvania titles out there, but it also has a few elements that you would normally expect from a Zelda game, like villages with shops.

The title came out in early 2017 with several DLC updates to follow. The development of the DLC then led to a sequel, which was announced back in 2019 and will most likely come out next year. If this history sounds exactly the same as Breath of the Wild's, then that's because it is. The main difference is that we knew from the start what the sequel will be called: Silksong. That and the DLC updates were actually for free.

Hollow Knight and its upcoming sequel are the only major games by Team Cherry, a small indie studio from South Australia with only three developers. They were inspired by several NES classics, including Metroid and Zelda II - The Adventure of Link, and managed to create an instant classic of their own, where its hand-drawn art style and the smooth gameplay will stand the test of time. But let's take a deeper look at the experience...

The Depths of Hallownest

Labeled as a higher being, you descend as an unnamed knight into the lost kingdom of "Hallownest", a world of bugs and other insects, where many of them wear masks as their faces, including yourself. Some of them are friendly and you can talk to them, but the majority will be hostile. Slowly, but surely you will uncover the secrets about the kingdom and yourself by going deeper and deeper into the earth.

You can compare this to Super Metroid, where you start at the surface and then descend into the depths of Zebes. Early on in Hollow Knight you come by a monumental cocoon, where it's pretty clear that this thing has the same purpose as the statue in front of Tourian. But it's not clear at first what you need to do to open it, where it's part of the journey to find this out.

Memorial to the Hollow Knight. In the black vault far above. Through its sacrifice Hallownest lasts eternal.

What also differentiates this from Super Metroid is the scale of the world, where it just feels massive in comparison. It also keeps expanding more and more from what you are initially expecting. You may remember what seemed like a secret in the corner of an already explored area and return there in anticipation of a hidden item or something like that, only to enter yet another large area. The game just keeps going, where it can easily take 30 hours or more to explore it all on your first run.

The progression of the game is almost entirely item-based, where it's quite linear in the beginning, but then starts to open up more and more. What makes this work is that there are usually two different ways into an area, which gives you a variety of options of where to go next with your current equipment. There are even items in the game that you can potentially skip, because of how it all comes together. It's quite interesting and makes every playthrough more unique, where the Metroid series could learn a thing or two here.

Sequence breaking is also possible, where the developers even left some intentional shortcuts, e.g. by bouncing off enemies to get to areas that would normally require the double jump. It's highly satisfying to experiment, which gives this game a lot of replay value, outside of doing the different achievements.

What's even more admirable is that Team Cherry is not afraid that the players might miss something. There are a ton of cleverly hidden areas, as well as a huge variety of optional bosses. Think about how many Metroid and Zelda games even have an optional boss fight to begin with. The bosses in the Palace of the Four Sword, the Hardhit Beetle from the Color Dungeon, Monk Maz Koshia, or Phantoon from Other M come to mind here, but these are rare exceptions and most of it only got added as additional content (though, the latter is the case for Hollow Knight as well). This game actually has more optional bosses than all Zelda and Metroid games combined.

the knight in a dream world

For a long time Nintendo put great effort into designing their games in a way that won't you let miss anything major. Team Cherry on the other hand built a game that's full of secrets, where there is always something more behind the horizon and that something may as well be a new boss. Exploration is heavily rewarded in Hollow Knight, because you will often find more than just a chest full of money, though there is plenty of that as well.

A big part of the story is also told via the environment, so exploration isn't just about finding items and bosses. The game rarely has any cutscenes and certainly avoids to just blatantly tell you what's going on. You have find that out for yourself and put all the puzzle pieces together, where the lore of Hollow Knight is an entire topic for itself.

Stag Stations will make your way through Hallownest more convenient, where they are connected to each other via tunnels and can be used for fast travel. There are also benches as your typical Save Stations, but both are fairly scarce, so the game can get sometimes a bit exhausting when exploring new areas.

Maps are obtained from a cartographer, who you can find once per area, somewhat similar to Tingle in Majora's Mask. But unlike Tingle he will only give you a rough sketch and you will have to fill in the details yourself, where the knight does so whenever he rests on a bench, once you've obtained the quill.


Jump 'n' Slash

What makes Hollow Knight so good and addicting really is its combat and movement. You start the game with a single jump and a basic melee attack, where you will gradually unlock additional abilities. The execution is always kept very simple, but the resulting possibilities give this game a lot of depth, where Team Cherry shows how it's done.

The Metroid series has been struggling with this quite a bit, where the controls in Metroid Dread feel overloaded and unnecessarily convoluted at times. Like, you need to hold multiple buttons at once, while actions like Shinesparking require you to perform a series of different inputs. There is none of that in Hollow Knight. The Crystal Dash for example, which shoots you horizontally through the air until you hit something, is very similar to the Shinespark, but is simply performed by holding ZL while on the ground or while sliding down a wall.

Crystal Dashing through a crystal cave

And everything else is that simple as well, but also perfectly responsive. It already starts with jumping, where your jump height is intuitively linked to how long you hold down the button, like it should be, but you also have a high level of air control, letting you take corners. Progressing through the game will earn you a dash, a double jump, as well as wall jump and wall cling, where you can even effortlessly jump up on a single wall. But this is not just some neat trick, like it used to be in Super Metroid, it was made part of the exploration and even the combat.

While in the air you get to perform one dash and one extra jump, given that you have found the corresponding items. However, whenever you touch the ground, hold on to a wall, or bounce off an enemy or certain hazards, this resets and you get your jump and dash back. This allows for some very interesting platforming mechanics, where the game makes good use of them on certain ends, especially with the "pogo" move by swinging down with your nail.

Yes, you mainly fight with a nail, which is the weapon of choice for the bugs of Hallownest and works like a sword for the most part. So, unlike Metroid, this game is a lot more focused on close combat. The pogo is one of the most satisfying moves to pull off in this, where this is similar to the Down Thrust in Zelda II - The Adventure of Link, except that you have to keep swinging downwards in the right timing, you can't just hold the button.

Holding the nail button will charge nail arts, which release more powerful swings, including a spin attack. In addition, you will fight with spells, which is your primary way of attacking from a distance. There are three different spells, depending on the direction you're inputting before the cast, essentially like in the Super Smash Bros. games.

Spells require SOUL, which is mainly obtained from striking enemies. In the environment only some statues and certain rare objects will give you SOUL, so this is different from Death's Door, where you could refill your magic meter by destroying pots and alike. But this is not the only difference, because SOUL can also be used to slowly heal yourself by holding down the button. This renders you immobile and thus an easy target, but if you manage to find the right window of opportunity it can make the difference between life and death.

Whenever you get hit, the feedback is rather excessive, however. Rarely any game hits you this hard visually, where large black and white lightning effects will come out of both sides of you. Stronger hits even fill a good part of the screen with black effects. And the impact of the sound is quite strong as well. So, yeah, if you get hit in this game, it will let you know big time, where it's sometimes a bit distracting.

Your health is made out of masks, where you start with five, but will be able to expand this in typical Piece of Heart fashion via "Mask Shards". The containers work like in Tri Force Heroes, however, so there are no half or quarter masks of damage. It will always take whole masks, usually just the one, but heavy-hitting attacks can also cost two or more. But there isn't a lot of room for mistakes and healing yourself at the right time can be extremely valuable during a battle.


Over 160 Foes

And battle you will a lot, because Hollow Knight has a large variety of different enemies to offer. Each area has unique sets of enemies, so that things stay always interesting. Of course some enemies are technically just reskins of others, but for the most part you will keep facing new threats, where the enemies also offer very different mechanics. For example, your foes may split into autonomous pieces, spam projectiles, stomp around like crazy, and so on.

The real highlight, however, are the over 40 different bosses (with all the expansions), many of them optional, as already mentioned. In fact, in order to beat the game you have to roughly go through a third of them, which is more on the lines of your typical Metroid game. But there are special dream bosses that you can challenge (but don't have to), stronger versions of some of the previously beaten bosses, as well as various additional bosses that you will only find via exploration.

the knight facing its Lost Kin during a dream battle

What all bosses have in common is that they can and have to be mastered. Similar to Metroid Dread, many of the bosses will prove to be fairly difficult at first, but you will be able to learn their patterns and there is always a way of dodging your enemies' attacks. The game can be very much overwhelming and demanding, where some of the most difficult bosses may take hours to master, but it's never really unfair. Victories in Hollow Knight are earned and it feels fantastic to do so thanks to how smooth and responsive everything plays.


If you die – and you will probably die a lot during your first playthrough – you will end up on the last bench and leave your "Shade" near the location where you have found your demise. Defeating the Shade will give you all your Geo back, the game's currency, but will also make your SOUL vessel whole again, which otherwise will be missing a third after a defeat.

The knight on a bench in the City of Tears, sitting next to Quirrel.

So, this is somewhat similar to games like Dark Souls, where this feels needlessly punishing and may even trap you into going back to a place that just keeps killing you, because the battle is still too difficult for you personally, but you also don't want to give up on your Geo. In some cases the Shade will wait for you in a safe spot, but not always.

And you will also quickly miss something like the checkpoint system in modern Metroid games, which instantly lets you retry a boss. Instead, you will have to go through the road of "bench to boss" again and again, where the game loves to punish you with repetition, especially with some of the tougher challenges, which in return can lead to some frustration.

However, it is often part of the challenge in a very traditional video game sense and Hollow Knight miraculously manages to keep up your motivation despite all of its rather archaic practices. Often you will be able to open up shortcuts to get back to where you need to be. Later on you will find the Dreamgate ability to place your own warp points. And most of the very difficult bosses take place inside dream worlds, where you don't really die, so you can instantly try again on a failure. The game knows where it needs to offer some concessions to keep you going.

Collect and Shop

If you don't want to die, collecting Mask Shards to increase your health is usually a good idea. They are some of the few things that you will collect during your adventures by finding hidden rooms. It wouldn't be a good Action Adventure without something like that, but unlike Metroid it doesn't send you on a block-based hunt for tiny secrets. Usually, there are walls or floors that can be broken, which sounds simple and a little too obvious at first, but is often quite clever and fun to find.

The most common thing to discover are Grubs imprisoned in glass jars, where early on you will meet the Grubfather looking for them to return. Hee will then reward you with Geo and other useful items. As already mentioned, "Geo" is the game's currency and will be dropped by most enemies, but can also be gotten from ore depots. In addition, there are relics found all over the world, which can be sold for some higher amounts. The advantage of those are that they are not lost on a death, so you can just keep them in your inventory until you truly need the money.

the map shop with Iselda

And there is quite a lot of need for money in the early game, where you can buy maps, markers for your maps, useful equipment, and more. At first it will feel like you can never have too much money, but this will change later in the game, once you've purchased all the important items. But that's something all too familiar to Zelda fans.

You can compare this to the Mabe Village Shop in Link's Awakening or Beedle's Shop in Skyward Sword, where there are lots of useful items, which you want to have right away, but can't afford. You always have the option to grind for them, but you get enough Geo on your travels, so that it's fun just to explore and return to the shops whenever you can buy something good.

Most of the secrets in the game world will give you ore deposits for money or items that can be sold. Even the Grubs that you're rescuing just earn you more Geo in the end, so most of what you do in the sidelines is for money. Otherwise there are the already mentioned Mask Shards to collect, as well as Vessel Fragments for more SOUL, Pale Ores to upgrade your nail, keys to get access to certain areas, and – by far the most interesting – Charms.


Charms give a variety of perks and can be equipped whenever you are resting on a bench. You can compare them to the Magic Rings from Oracle of Ages & Seasons, but you can actually equip more than just one, where it feels more similar to the Adventure Pouch in Skyward Sword and its Medals. The latter is also a better comparison, because you will usually have to think about what you want to bring on your next journey, since you can't swap your Charms in the middle of a battle.

But the Charms are a whole lot more interesting. There are over 40 of them in total and they offer a huge variety of different abilities, bonuses, or boosts. They can increase the speed, damage, and range of your nail. They can give you more SOUL in different ways and make your spells much more powerful. They can summon different creatures to aid, let you heal faster, obtain more Geo, enhance your ability, and more. There are even Zelda-style nail beams at full health.

screenshot of the Charm menu showing the Wayward Compass

There are so many good things to choose from here that you will always have a hard time to decide what to pick. You start with three Charm Notches in total, which can be upgraded to eleven as another thing to collect. Charms will use up a different number of notches depending on how powerful they are. The Quick Slash ability, which is insanely good, for example takes three notches. Some of the Charms seem unbalanced and cost way more than what they are worth, but for the most part it got put together quite smartly, so that you really have to think about your choices here.

And that makes for interesting gameplay options, because every player can find a very unique style based on their Charms. You can go with brute nail strength, you can focus on spells, or you can try a gimmicky summoning set. Charms can have synergies, where combined they can give you additional perks. For example, there is the Spore Shroom, which creates a poisonous cloud while healing, and the Defender's Crest, which adds a damaging stink cloud around the knight. Combine the two to make the poison cloud larger and slightly deadlier.

It's a lot of fun to experiment with different combinations and see what they might can achieve. Of course in the end you will most likely just settle for something that makes your nail better, because this will always be your most important weapon. It's similar to how you will just stick to the Red, Blue, or Green Ring in Oracle of Ages & Seasons. But it's still a lot more interesting than the Magic Rings were in the Oracle games.

The only bigger problem with the Charms is that certain behaviors that you would take for granted in an Action Adventure of this caliber are locked behind them. Hollow Knight really doesn't give you anything for free, where it starts with the fact that you can't see your position on the map by default. For experienced players this may not be an issue, because they know the world of Hallownest already in and out, but for newcomers this will be heavily confusing. And then they will need to equip the Wayward Compass Charm in order to see where they are. It only costs one notch, but whenever you are exploring this is one notch that could be used for something helpful in combat instead.

Then there's Steady Body. When you first play Hollow Knight you will immediately notice how striking enemies will make you recoil. This can be especially troublesome when in the air or on the edge of a platform and honestly takes quite some getting used to. Don't want that annoying behavior? Equip Steady Body! It's the single most useful Charm in the game, since it lets you put a lot more pressure on your enemies, and it only costs one notch, but that's still one notch that will be blocked for 95% of the time, simply because the default fighting behavior is so awkward without Steady Body.

Both the Wayward Compass and Steady Body can be purchased early in the game from shops, so it's not something that you may miss by any chance. But in both cases the player is simply off worse than you would normally be in a game like this and then needs these Charms to compensate... So, this leaves a bit of a sour taste, but at the same experienced players may take these drawbacks in order to equip something more useful for them, so it's still interesting.

Pure Melancholy

Before we get to the end, let's talk about the general feel of the game. And to make one thing clear: despite its cute visuals, Hollow Knight is not a happy game. It may not be the level of "misery porn" you get from FromSoftware, but it's certainly not the feel-good experience that you get from your typical Zelda.

The world of Hallownest has a distinct sadness to it, where you will come to grasp what has happened to the kingdom and what your role in all this is. Most of the people you meet are also tragic characters. There is the saying of "no good deed goes unpunished", where Hollow Knight really lives that out and often makes you question your choices. Why are you there? What are you doing? Should you really help that person over there?

the knight and a Moss Knight staring at the Lake of Unn

Sometimes the things are exactly what they seem to be, sometimes they are quite the opposite. You can never be sure and for a small world of bugs Hallownest certainly feels very alive and many-faceted. It's an interesting journey, but one that will leave you a little empty inside at the end. But this is what makes Hollow Knight so refreshing and an unforgettable experience, similar to how Majora's Mask will always be remembered for its melancholic and dark tone.

And the music by Christopher Larkin really nails it. It's one of the most beautiful video game soundtracks out there with some very memorable tracks, like Greenpath or the City of Tears, and motivating boss themes, like Hornet's. Or the use of its rather sad main theme, especially in the finale, is absolutely fantastic. It truly makes sure that the experience sticks with you.


Endless Challenge

You've collected all Heart Containers or Energy Tanks, got the best weapons, breezed through the final boss, watched the credits... and that's it, you're done with whatever Zelda or Metroid game you've been playing. Sometimes there is an extra mile, like a boss rush or a 2nd Quest mode, but for the most part these type of Action Adventure games usually end right when you got the strongest and got really good at them.

Not so with Hollow Knight. Team Cherry really did their all to offer entertainment to those who are seeking a challenge. And when you first beat the game, you will instantly notice that this is just the beginning and not just because the normal ending may seem a little off. The endgame of Hollow Knight is huge and there is so much to do here that it can easily double, triple, or even quadruple the play time, depending on your goals.

the knight in front of a huge skull inside the Colosseum of Fools

Other than the many additional bosses, where some of them are fairly difficult, there is the Colosseum of Fools for fighting waves after waves of enemies. Then there is an entire area dedicated to tricky platforming, which includes the infamous "Path of Pain", a Kaizo-like challenge. The real final boss of the game is a big challenge of its own, which can take hours to defeat for the first time. And if you still haven't had enough, the game introduces "Godhome" to battle it out against all bosses, both individually and in different boss rushes.

There is also the "Steel Soul Mode", where will have to go through the game without dying even once. The game doesn't have a death counter, but for those who want to prove that they could do it with a shiny "000", there is Steel Soul Mode. Plus, there are achievements based on speed-running, and more.

For a completionist this game is a nightmare and may have a couple of checkboxes that will forever stay unchecked. But... it's so much fun to play that you will be up for the challenge. Once you get to the point where the ludicrous Path of Pain even becomes available, you will already have mastered the platforming of this game on a level where you're looking for something more. Or once you got good at defeating certain bosses, you may be looking for something more. And Team Cherry gives you more. And then some.

For a singleplayer-only game (at least without mods) Hollow Knight is truly masterful with a very high skill ceiling and can be taken seriously on the same level as most competitive games. It even has started a variety of Youtube careers based just on this single game. If you're up for it, Hollow Knight can entertain you for multiple months. And the game always manages to keep your motivation up, no matter how difficult it may get.

But most of the endgame challenges were added via the various DLC updates, where we will look at all of these separately...


If this wasn't made clear by the review yet: if you're a fan of Action Adventures like Zelda and Metroid, then Hollow Knight is an absolute must-play and might as well be the best of what the Metroidvania genre has to offer. It's a modern classic, which will lure you right in with its charming style and smooth gameplay, while it will keep you hooked for a long time with a variety of masterful challenges.

Needless to say that this blog will follow Team Cherry's future projects, starting with the long-awaited Hollow Knight: Silksong. But before that we will dive even deeper into Hollow Knight, starting with its four major expansions. Stay tuned!