Republished on Wednesday 28th October 2020: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of November's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Take a deep breath before you take on this deceivingly simple game because Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition everything but an empty shell. With the game having its official release last year on other platforms, this time around, PlayStation owners can enjoy its re-release as a complete package with four additional DLC levels that make this Metroidvania platformer even more worthy of its resounding acclaim. At a time where side-scrolling indie games are dime a dozen, it begs the question: how is this one any different? Rest assured for this golden nugget is worth mining out.
The journey hands you off in control of a nameless insect with nothing but a trusty needle acting as its sword to defend itself. The knight's silence gives the famous Link a run for his rupees as it utters no words nor sounds that could even hint as to who you are and what your purpose is. It uses this silence to its advantage as the environment and the NPCs that inhabit the world are the ones whom you rely on to get a sense of the story.
Interactions are nicely sprinkled throughout and they offer enough information to maintain the alluring mysteriousness of the story. The majority of encounters with other characters emphasise the tonally dismal atmosphere with conversations that can sometimes make you question their reliability and sanity. It is fair to say that the story, much like the rest of the game, is far from simple. Thus exploration becomes integral so that you may uncover more of the world's sombre background.
Despite the game's implication of emptiness in its title, the subterranean locations you uncover are a delight to journey on. With a thematically cohesive art background akin to the location's name, every venue distinguishes itself from one another without losing its surrealist sombreness. Hallownest, the game's crumbled kingdom, gathers a hefty amount of places for you to uncover. From the opaque mustard colour that gives the Fungal Wastes its visual identity to the medium spring green that governs the platforms of the Greenpath, Hallownest is far from being devoid of a heartless visual spectrum.
Just as you slash you enemies to suck their souls, the combat and platforming will have you at times breaking your body and soul in gleeful pain. As mentioned earlier, exploration is vital to progress the game. Successfully exploring areas will require you to master the art of jumping. Meanwhile, enemies will grant you SOUL, which comes in the form of white energy spiralling around your character. It is then stored in your Soul meter which you can then use to refill your health bar, soul vessels, by maintaining pressing the circle button.
When confronting bosses and in the brink of death, the game forces you to think wisely to either cast your spell or refill your health, since both use SOUL. It becomes a literal game of managing your resources, or in this case SOUL. If you do end up dying, not only do you lose a fragment of your SOUL meter, which will hinder how much you can intake, but you will also lose your own soul, appear at your last save point, and lose Geo, the equivalent of money. If that does not sound enough of a penalisation, after arriving at the spot where you died, which is where you dark soul resides, you have to fight it.
Dying a second time without having restored your missing soul will make you permanently lose your Geo. Evidently, the game is not shy in punishing those who are not quick in their feet, and alongside general enemies serving as obstacles, the journey is enjoyably challenging without feeling like cheap contrivances. A minor gripe that we came across would be the actual fight with your dark soul as it only requires of two hits in order for it to rejoin you. It makes it underwhelming, especially when the background music that accompanies the upcoming confrontation scores it as a fight to remember. Yet, the actual boss confrontations are quite memorable.
Bosses are the ultimate test to showcase your ability to time things right. You will have to know their pattern, and without a health bar hovering over the enemy, fights can take an intense turn making you grip your controller as you pray that you are able to swiftly dodge the enemy's attack just in time to not lose your last health icon. Sure, you can refill your SOUL as you strike the enemy, but some enemies won't even let you breathe to stop and refill your health. With no indication as to whether your opponent might be in the brink of death, you will constantly be faced and tempted to consume your entire SOUL for a spell attack and hope it will die with that attack. Having to constantly make choices is part of the fun.
The reward at the end of the struggle does pay in the end. You will gain skills that will allow you to backtrack to previously inaccessible areas for the lack of that particular skill. You can go back and tackle paths where the end result is a mystery until you reach it. You might end up rescuing trapped innocent bugs or find your way to another lost merchant. There is a plentiful assortment of collectibles that make exploration much less of a burden and rather more of an addiction to explore every turn.
As with every piece of media, in order to capture the atmospheric essence of the story, the appropriate use of soundtrack and general sound within is needed. Christopher Larkin sets the foreboding grim tone of the game with the main theme titled 'Hollow Knight', also the main menu theme. Composed of mainly piano arrangements mixed with violins, Larkin never fails to slip in a variation within the melodies. A sense of wonder overtakes locations like Greenpath with softer and playful arrangements. A boss fight that takes place right in Greenpath has fervent violins building urgent intensity which reflects the overall breakneck of the fight.
As for the additional content for which this version being titled Voidheart Edition, it definitely adds much more to the experience. If the base game wasn't big enough to explore and tackle, then buckle up because the added content definitely amps up the amount of time you will spend with this game.
Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition shines bright, which is ironic considering its solemn presentation and challenging gameplay. Offering a plethora of collectibles and content to explore as well as unrelenting confrontations, the game delivers a sensational, mysterious journey which will undoubtedly test your platforming skills.