The Amazing Spider Tank

The Amazing Spider Tank
Spider-Tank, Spider-Tank. Does whatever a Spider-Tank does. Can he swing from a web? No he can't, he's a tank. Look out! He is a Spider-Tank!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hollow Knight Initial Review

This, like most of my articles, tends to be on the lengthy side, so feel free to scroll down to the bottom for a more concise pro/con list.

Hollow Knight is a new game I only found out about less than a month ago. It was a Kickstarter effort from the unknown indie Australian studio, Team Cherry. If I had heard about it earlier, I would have backed it instantly. Hollow Knight is a 2D action adventure game in a sprawling, connected, underworld. It has a Metroid-esque feel to it, although I would compare it very favorably to Salt and Sanctuary. You play as the title character in a cavernous world inhabited by bugs. You have to fight your way through the impressively large world, exploring new areas, and discovering what happened to the locals in a way that reminded me of Dark Souls. There are tons of enemies to fight and learn about (over 130!), as well as 30 Bosses to defeat. There are maps you have to find and plot out, abilities to learn and equip, and jumping puzzles through an amazing landscape.

What really caught my attention with this game is the amazing art. It is beautiful, evocative, eerie, and wonderfully atmospheric. When I am not being attacked by the various denizens I like to just stand back and look at it all. There are gentle waterfalls, lush greeneries sparkling with lights, crystal caves, and intricate and abandoned cities. The music is also amazing. It reminds me of a Miyazaki film, and in fact, I could easily see it being made into an anime film that I would immediately buy. There is just this tinge of sadness and intrigue guiding you along as you try and find what happened to the world. You can't help but feel sorry for the various husks you run across, or the old man weeping for his grub-children, or even killing an enemy when you know they only got infected by whatever evil is plaguing the land.

The gameplay has a lot of platforming, with an equal amount of combat. You start out with 5 health, and anytime you get hit by an enemy or projectile, you lose 1 health. You start out with a special ability that has you "gain souls" by hitting enemies, and then if your soul gauge is filled enough, then you can spend them to heal 1 health. It is a nice balance that keeps you from getting too frustrated when you mess up. If you die from an enemy you lose all of your money (Geo in the game), and your soul meter thingy is cracked. You respawn at your last save point and have to find your way back to where you died and fight a shadow of yourself in order to get back all of your money and repair your soul meter. If you happen to die before defeating your shadow, you lose everything. Luckily, Geo is found in all enemies and there are plenty of them as they continuously respawn if you leave the room.

The platforming takes a little getting used to, as you jump higher depending on how long you hold the button. Once you get used to it it's very well done, it just feels different from most platformers. The combat is very similar to Plague Knight and other classic action games. You need to figure out your enemy's attack pattern, which will most likely include some kind of jumping, and then attack when you have a window. The enemies are varied enough to give you a lot of different difficulties, and the bosses can be hard, but it never felt unfair. I always knew what I did wrong, so there was a fair learning curve.

In terms of difficulty I have been finding this way easier than Salt and Sanctuary or Dark Souls, however I have only played 10 hours so far, and am far away from the end of the game I feel. The developers say that for 100% completion will take around 30 hours, which I easily see happening to me, which is a ridiculous deal considering the $10-$15 price tag. There are loads of achievements including speed runs which I would be trash at, but I look forward to hearing what the community can do. This game is not a cakewalk though. The platforming combined with the action gameplay can be very hard. Fair, but hard. You can quickly get overwhelmed by enemies and you will assuredly die many times. I don't mind that but this game is probably not for little kids.

Also, speaking of the community, so far it feels a lot like the best parts of Salt and Sanctuary and Dark Souls. It is still early, but I look forward to reading a lot about the lore that people have discovered, and the tales told by players that have searched every nook and cranny. There is no PVP section yet or anything, but I could see it implemented later. The developers have left it open that there could be DLCs if the game sells well enough, and it really should because I am loving the game.

The map is staggeringly huge. In classic video game fashion, the map you have is very bare bones. Even the map received with the deluxe edition is severely lacking in information. The world is much more vast than the map looks, as each section is filled with passages and rooms and stages. It is a huge world that you can easily get lost in in a good way. Similar to the first Dark Souls, you will constantly be surprised when you unlock a door and find yourself in familiar ground, finally discovering a secret passage that links two areas previously unreachable.

I have heard people complain about the map. The map above is not the map you get at the beginning of the game. Heck, you aren't even given a map at all! You have to find the map first. Then in each large section you have to find Cornifer the Cartographer and buy his portion of the map to expand yours. Then, when you are in your town/sanctuary you can buy various things for the map like locations of venders and even a compass (that you have to equip) that marks your location on the map. There is a lot of exploration in this game and there isn't really an easy way around it. To buy all the various map pins and stuff from the vendor costs over 1,000 Geo, and considering the beginning enemies only drop around 5 each, it can take a while to buy everything. I don't think it's a huge issue, as a grinder like me amasses stuff like that while I am gleefully exploring, but I have to acknowledge that that gameplay isn't for everyone. This is similar to complaints about Dark Souls. The game doesn't hold your hand, you have to figure out where to go and how to unlock things. It's a challenge.

I love the various characters I've discovered so far as well. From Cornifer the Cartographer, to the self proclaimed and grumpy, "knight of the people", Zote, Hollow Knight is just teeming with memorable creatures and stories.

There are also a lot of items and abilities in the game. You start out with only 3 slots, and some abilities take up 2, but over time you will gain more slots and abilities and you can really shape your character. For example, I love gaining extra souls from enemies and auto summoning the Geo that explodes from the enemies so I don't have to pick each piece up. You also have various abilities that unlock as you play including a mid-air dash and a hadouken-like soul fireball that incinerates enemies. With the promise of additional characters to play as, and with the limited amount of items you can hold, I see this game as having a lot of replayability and experimentation.

Heck, and this is all with only 10 hours of gameplay. I might only be a 3rd of the way through! There are so many other abilities I have yet to unlock, and characters to meet! Apparently I will eventually learn how to invade the enemy bugs' dreams, and will learn more about the lore there. I can't wait!

There have been a few technical glitches, all framerate stutters. They haven't been crippling but it definitely has been noticeable. Every once in a while it boots me to the desktop and I have to frantically click back into the game before an enemy hits me. It has only happened a couple of times though. The worst section for this is the drowning city. I have heard the developers are aware and are figuring out how to fix it. It definitely isn't game breaking though.

Anyway, if any of this even sounds remotely intriguing, at least go watch some videos or trailers or something, because if nothing else you will be gifted with a treat to the eyes and ears. Check out this game, as it may be my surprise hit of the year. I hope you enjoyed this "little review", I plan on talking more about the game as I delve into it even more. Happy gaming!

Here is a quick pro/con list for people:

Beautiful Art style
Tranquil soundtrack
Over 30 hours of gameplay for $10-15 for a dedicated gamer
Tough, but fair, gameplay

Framerate issues
Lack of map and direction can leave a player confused at times
Tough gameplay if that's an issue for people

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