I swear I’m heading back to Resident Evil soon. I just sort of got distracted by a nice shiny indie game with high reviews and a chance to play it for free. Indie games, for those of you not in the loop, are a refreshing departure from Triple-A, big game industry games who constantly repeat the same tired tropes over and over in a cheap attempt to make more money. Indy games are passion projects, works of art freed from the constraints of capitalism to grow and shape themselves as unique and innovative gems. So, naturally, it’s an open-world Metroidvania platformer that tries to carve a name for itself for being tough-as-balls.
Hollow Knight is the worst game I’ve ever wanted to finish. Or the best game I’ve ever panned. Eh. I’m not sure. I like Metroidvania games, and I often wished there were more 2D Metroids or a little more meat to Castlevania, but It’s one thing to draw out a 4-hour game to 10 hours. But the over 30 hours I sunk into Hollow Knight is like being caught smoking and forced to smoke the whole pack. And much of that is just padding with trolling on the part of the game designers—the platforms are tiny, the checkpoints are an endangered species, and even with the weapon upgrades, the bosses (and some regular enemies) feel like plywood piñatas. There are about 30 bosses in the game, and not a damn one of them knows how to die just before the Groundhog Day battles get boring and tedious.
Multiple lives have always been a staple of video games. Generally, I like to think that the handful of deaths don’t count, and that all the successes meld together to tell the story of an impressive video game hero who survives against all odds. Unfortunately, at a certain point, the sheer quantity of mortal coils you shuffle off starts to form the narrative of a compulsive gambler losing game after game trying desperately to hit it big once. One day alone I spent roughly two hours trying to fight a single battle. Every time a gate slammed closed behind me, I’d have to clear my schedule for the next two days.
Maybe the metastasized difficulty added replay value when I was a kid and owned about ten games total, but I’ve got a job now. Come on, Hollow Knight! I’ve got shit to do! Other games to play! I can’t afford to be wasting my life on your sorry bug-ridden ass! Hollow Knight is that professor who assigns homework as though you’re not taking any other classes for six months.
While it makes a lot of people’s must-play lists, I can’t help but get the impression I’ve played this before. The plot came from Bioshock. The music came from Journey. The expansive travel-anywhere-from-the-beginning came from Breath of the Wild. The art style came from Shovel Knight. Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an eclectic pastiche of good ideas from elsewhere, especially if you feel like playing a wilderness survival critique of Ayn Rand with mythological overtones and absolutely no checkpoints, but I feel like I could have played all those other games back-to-back instead and saved a little time.
I finished. I clocked in with a 67% completion rate and, no surprise, the worst of five endings. And I mean really bad; not only was everything the same at the end of the game, but nothing ever changed to begin with. I could down two liters of milk while eating a porterhouse steak smothered in cheese and habanero sauce, and I’d probably feel more complete and satisfied with the ensuing bowel movement.
For all the sense this makes, Hollow Knight’s problem is that it is such a good game that I have to keep playing, as frustrating as it is, that it’s good enough to get through in spite of its flaws, but those flaws are still shaving a good three or four years of my life, absorbing it like soul…and then giving it to other people.
Seriously. Two days before I posted this, I watched a 2019 SGDQ speed run of Hollow Knight, and halfway through, Team Cherry—who designed the game—called in with a $10,000 donation.