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‘Hollow Knight’ – True Evolution of a Genre

Is ‘Hollow Knight’ yet another Metroidvania or something more?




Initially released in early 2017, Hollow Knight has since gained high praise, celebration and a cult following. This cult, though, is bound to expand into the mainstream due to the game’s recent, and rather auspicious, release on the Nintendo Switch.

All this adoration isn’t without cause, as Hollow Knight (born from a successful Kickstarter campaign) rather triumphantly marries the Metroidvania style genre with “Soulslike” design philosophies, and follows through in an almost perfect way.

At this point in time, this union is by no means unique, especially in the indie hemisphere, where hundreds of games including Ori and the Blind Forest, Hyper Light Drifter and Axiom Verge exist within the same influential flux. Some would say we’re on the verge of over-saturation.

But much like the best of them, Hollow Knight uses the Metroidvania and Soulslike template to build itself its own identity, while adapting its inspiration into something akin to a true sequel.

If you want the very best of what modern Metroidvania can become, Hollow Knight is it.

Hollow Knight

“Hollow Knight”, Team Cherry

Presentation and Story

The term “atmospheric” can, at times, be a rather easy way to say the game has a certain kind of feeling to it without describing it fully, but in the case of Hollow Knight, “atmospheric” is the best descriptor for how the game looks visually.

Misty, damp caverns, post-apocalyptic graveyards, and pollen, mold, and parasite-infested ruins stretch across the underground, ancient, abandoned kingdom of Hollownest.

It’s an anthropomorphic bug world, and a blend of dark and foreboding with occasional comic relief, coming naturally from a setting such as this. If you’ve ever thought that the micro-landscapes of life as a bug seemed scary, especially when involving parasites and such, that’s the feeling Hollow Knight’s setting is great at conveying.

Hollow Knight

“Hollow Knight”, Team Cherry

Much like Souls/Bloodborne, the story of Hollow Knight is told through vague dialogue, environments, and item and enemy descriptions. The world is rich and full of implied history that can be explored if desired, but even without looking into it too deep, the presence of it is enough to tell a story of its own.

The game’s art-style looks like moving, digital hand-drawn illustrations, of a cartoonish make. It’s not my preferred style of art, but I can’t deny that it’s a precise vision that Team Cherry stuck to rather consistently.

Similarly, the music isn’t to my liking, as it is a grandiose soundtrack that at times overplays its hand, feeling like it’s compensating for emotion that is already present through visual design. But I can’t deny that it’s wonderfully composed, and will be to the liking of many who buy into its affiliation with the rest of the game’s art.

All in all, the game’s bible of design, as it were, is fully realized and executed in a way that is identifiably “Hollow Knight”. It’s a unique world, with unique locations and NPCs, and you really want to explore all of it to see what’s around the corner.

Gameplay: Mapping and Platforming

If you’re familiar with how you move around in “Metroidvania” classics like, well, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, you’ll find yourself at home with Hollow Knight. You have a similarly structured, interconnected map of rooms, in a layout that all but steals what works best in the aforementioned games and improves on them with modern sensibilities.

You’ll also find yourself at home with Hollow Knight’s system of progression, as you unlock new abilities (like a double-jump, fast dash, etc.) to reach areas or collectibles which might have been previously inaccessible.

Hollow Knight

“Hollow Knight”, Team Cherry

The world of Hollow Knight is quite massive, to say the least. There are a lot — and I mean a lot — of secrets. So, you’ll be going back and forth a lot, and you’ll be exploring every last room if you intend to find everything — which you might want to do in order to use anything against the unsurmountable odds you’ll be up against

As you trudge through the map, you’ll find yourself performing platforming maneuvers to get from the entrance of a room to an exit, all the while fighting enemies with varied move-sets, and all the while avoiding classic obstacles like spikes, acidic pools of boiling liquids, and buzzsaw blades. The controls are designed to become very second nature, a true extension of yourself, so all of this becomes pretty fun as you “solve” it.

You can view your map as you explore and unlock parts of it, like any good Metroidvania, though the number of secrets in the game make it hard to remember where you need to revisit at times. Each room on your map is shown unlocked at once, even if you jumped in to take a peak. Perhaps progress would’ve been betters shown as a “fade.”

Hollow Knight

“Hollow Knight”, Team Cherry

Exploration is one of the game’s strongest draws, especially once you have all kinds of abilities that let you go to all kinds of new places, but this issue can get in the way of that, working against the game.

A way to circumvent this is manual waypoints (introduced in a patch after the game’s release), which come in a variety of styles and colors. It’s not the most ideal solution, but it’s sure to help you a lot on your journey to 100% (and more) the game.

Gameplay: Difficulty and Strategy

So you might be thinking that all of this sounds pretty brutal, and well, it is! Hollow Knight is not a walk in the park; it’s a rather challenging affair that will often have you facing threats you’ll not even know how to even come close to hitting once when you first face them.

However, much like the Souls/Bloodborne games that it takes several cues from, the game’s difficulty is dependent on how well you can learn your enemies’ patterns and respond to them accordingly once you build you up your reflexes.

If you’re familiar with “Soulsborne,” you’ll know that once it all clicks, it clicks, and the satisfaction present in that is abundant. It is very similar in Hollow Knight. If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy the playstyle of Souls but wants the same satisfaction born out of that design philosophy, you’ll definitely find it here.

Hollow Knight

“Hollow Knight”, Team Cherry

Your strategy isn’t limited to just reflexes and memory, however.

Hitting and defeating enemies fills a “soul” meter with a liquidy bug juice, which can be “focused” to heal and/or perform special attacks. When you die, in addition to losing your “Geo” currency, you also lose half of your meter. Recovering both your Geo and your meter means going back to where you perished and defeating a shadow apparition of yourself. However, if you die on your way, even if you lose your Geo, you do gain your meter back

Throughout your adventure, you can collect and purchase “charms” — accessories that can be applied to a limited number of “notches” for the player character. These grant special perks and abilities, like a protective shield, faster healing, better defense, temporary extra health, or a quicker focusing of your “soul.” Each “charm” takes up a different number of “notches,” so which ones you equip for a task at hand is part of the strategy. As you progress, your number of available “notches” increases via rewards and collectibles, opening up more possibilities.

Beyond that, there is an “overcharm” mechanic where you can equip a “charm” that exceeds your limit of “notches” as long as you have at least one “notch” open. The consequence of this is losing twice the amount of health when hit, but depending on your strategy, it could be a risk well worth taking!

Hollow Knight

You’ll meet a lot of strange characters on your adventure (“Hollow Knight”, Team Cherry)

While all of this could sound like a little too much, it’s these layers of strategic choices that really open up the possibilities of what you can do within Hollow Knight. Its difficulty blends well with all these options, helping you tilt the odds in your favor. How you use the arsenal provided to you is as much a part of the game as being good at reflex reactions.

True Evolution

Hollow Knight is what I consider to be part of the “true evolution” of the genres it borrows from. It’s a wholly unique experience that, simply put, is a joy to play as a video game at its core. Not only does it present itself in a way unlike most games with which it shares its genre, but it also takes established ideas from its inspiration and applies them in a way that shows a deep understanding for the craftmanship of how to make a game that’s fun to play.

Most of all, it’s “sui generis” status shows that there is always room for improvement within the most tried-and-true concepts.

Gaming learned and went forward with Super Mario Bros. Hollow Knight continues that tradition with its own modern inspirations, and does in a form that represents growth, not just nostalgia.


  • Solid Metroidvania-style exploration and map design, with lots of secrets and collectibles. Atmospheric visual design, bug-themed world a joy to explore
  • Fair but challenging and rewarding difficulty; lots of interesting enemies and boss fights, including secret versions of boss fights
  • Simple but deep customization with “charms” and “notches”, lots of different options on how to approach challenges
  • Wonderfully crafted world that tells its story via gameplay and art, rather than exposition
  • A lot of free DLC added since 2017 release, with a major free expansion planned for release in 2018


  • Re-visiting areas can be annoying because of how map tracks progress, hard to know at times where to go back to
  • Music is crafted beautifully but doesn’t always mesh well with the suggested ambiance of the visuals

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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Game Reviews

‘The Touryst’ Review: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted



There’s an acceptance of a certain rhythm when traveling alone: often an itinerary-less trip will be filled with quiet solitude and uneventful meandering; yet, when those exciting moments of interaction and discovery are inevitably stumbled upon, they tend to be of the highly memorable variety. The latest offering from Shin’en Multimedia, The Touryst, shrewdly captures this relaxing, energizing roller coaster. It’s a quirky little getaway that encourages players to explore its gorgeous voxel island delights at their own pace, letting them bask in the peaceful surroundings and doling out treasure for those curious to seek it out. The result is a soothing weekend sojourn of puzzles, platforming, and mini games under the sun that is also winds up as one of the best indies on the Switch.

There’s no doubt that atmosphere plays a big part in what makes The Touryst so successful, as the vague setup and sparse narrative casts a mysterious aura over the proceedings. Who our mustachioed vacationer is or why he agrees to find glowing blue orbs for some random old man is pretty much left to the imagination. Is the player curious about what they could see and find out there among the green palm trees, sandy beaches, monolithic temples, and sky blue waters? Then they will follow their nose regardless of the lack of any story motivation, and The Touryst has sprung its trap. The urge to see the sights and have an adventure is a must here, and so the wandering begins.

Luckily, The Touryst is filled with charming things to stumble upon around almost every corner, be that a scuba diving boat operator on a Greek isle that facilitates swimming with the fishes, a seaside dance party in need of a hi-tech energy boost, or a bustling business center complete with an arcade, art gallery, and movie theater (for those times when you just need to sit down for a while). Personality abounds, as long as friendly players aren’t shy about talking to strangers (the best way to get the most out of a trip to a new place). No matter where one’s feet take them, there are plenty of mini-stories at play thanks to the native inhabitants and fellow tourists, with these weirdos offering interactions both puzzling and profitable.

But there’s more to life than racking up coins via side quests; there’s something eerily odd buried beneath the tropical destinations of The Touryst that beckons to be uncovered by just the right explorer. Towering mounds filled with ancient devices and clever puzzles hold secrets that promise that this vacation will be one for the scrapbook. These short ‘dungeons’ are the meat of the game, providing a variety of platforming and logic challenges that range from overt to opaque; sometimes even finding the way in to these ominous structures is a puzzle in itself, which only further drives an overarching sense of discovery.

Smartly, The Touryst rarely telegraphs solutions to its tests (or in some cases, that there even is a test), and instead encourages experimentation. Inside temples, players need to determine why certain lights are glowing and others aren’t, understand how sequences work, pay attention to rumbling feedback, and decide just how to deal with once-dormant mechanical creatures that now awaken to stand in the protagonist’s way. Things can seem opaque at times, but Shin’en has managed to hit that sweet spot that keeps poking around from getting too frustrating. But just in case, there are plenty of beach chairs and cabana beds to lie down on and think. Or, just soak in some rays and enjoy the scenery.

Regardless of the difficulty players may or may not have with the crafty puzzles or surprisingly challenging mini games (good lord, surfing and those 8-bit arcade throwbacks can be tough), The Touryst is still a sight to see. Shin’en has created a buttery smooth island-hopping environment that is a pleasure to peruse. Go off the beaten path and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets, gently pixelated waves, crunching grains of sand, and flopping flora. The visuals seem so simple, yet at times can be stunning to behold, especially when spotting some of the smaller details that have been added to make these place come alive. A depth of field style entices players to see just what that blurry landmark off in distance is, and the soundtrack seamlessly shifts between relaxing and intriguingly uncanny. That developers have achieved this with what are surely the shortest load times on Nintendo’s console makes the experience all the more immersive.

Like most vacations, The Touryst is destined to be over too soon for some players, but trips like these aren’t meant to last forever. The five hours or so it takes to see all there is to see is highly satisfying throughout, and the vague hint at the end of a followup will have many Switch-owning puzzle fans looking forward to getting future time off.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.



It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club has also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produces hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode as I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience, I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery



Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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