Over Christmas break, I picked up a variety of small games. Most were impulse buys, but the one I’d been desperate to get my hands on was HOLLOW KNIGHT. I love side-scrolling metroidvania type games. There’s something about the light puzzle solving of unlocking new areas, combined with figuring out the rhythms to defeat certain enemies (hit, hit, dodge, jump over fireball, hit, jump, hit, hit) that fills me with immense satisfaction. So it is no surprise that I have gone down the rabbit hole with HOLLOW KNIGHT – and act of literally going down a hole is part of what is making me so in love with this game.
Light spoilers for HOLLOW KNIGHT ahead.
When you begin HOLLOW KNIGHT, you have no map, nor does one magically appear in your menus as you begin to explore. It’s not until you find an NPC mapmaker that you finally unlock the ability – but it’s an ability you’ll still have to work at to use. You see, your map only fills in when you have a moment to take a break and draw it yourself, and that only happens when you take a rest on a bench (the game’s in-world save points and healing stations). The result is that when you enter a new area, the game just shows you off your map in a blank zone; it isn’t until you run back to your save point (or find a new one) that you’ll have any true idea about how much you’ve explored and where you are or what branching paths you missed while fumbling about.
The result of this style of gameplay is two fold. First off, it creates a certain amount of tension, aided in part by the scarcity of save points. When I enter a new area and see the dreaded “no map available,” it’s up to me to decide how far I want to poke ahead. Am I heading towards the next major area, or just darting down a side path? Will I remember how to get back to my save point? Like DARK SOULS, when you die, you drop all the money you’ve made killing monsters and have to run back to pick it up. Unable to see the lay of the land, you fumble about, hoping that you’re going the way you want and haven’t mistakenly entered into a giant loop that’s spitting you back into an area you’ve already explored, or that if you die, it’s not TOO long a journey back to find your coins.
But while the lack of easily found maps adds tension, it also gave me a sense of accomplishment. Whenever I make my way to a bench and sit down to save, the “map updated” alert gives me a little rush. How far did I explore? Where exactly did I go? Seeing a new area inked in on my map is rewarding, concrete proof of my explorations, and the same feeling I get whenever I cross something off a list. Examining my new map section is also tantalizing – there’s a gap in that wall indicating a path I missed, where does that go? There’s so much to explore in HOLLOW KNIGHT, and I look forward to each and every new corner I can put on my map.