I’ve heard a lot about Hollow Knight over the years as an excellent Metroidvania with combat inspired by Dark Souls. Neither of those things have necessarily been appealing to me in the past (though I’m certainly developing an appreciation for how those elements are incorporated). But Hollow Knight has another joy that has caught me by surprise as it is an element of the game I have never really heard anyone talking about: the platforming. While the game starts with relatively simple movement mechanics, your options grow as you find upgrades in the environment. And even the simple abilities you begin with have some surprising applications when combined with the unique mechanics of specific regions. So while in the future I am sure I’ll have more to say about the other (also very strong) aspects of Hollow Knight, in this article I want to geek out for a bit about how much fun it is to move in this game.
The knight starts out with four basic abilities: walk, jump, slash, and heal. In the beginning as you find your feet, only the walking and the jumping seem to contribute directly to the platforming elements of the game. A series of floating platforms you can jump between to move up or down a large space is about as complex as things get starting out. This complexity is expanded slightly by asking you to fight as you navigate these rooms. Small flying critters or bugs that crawl all around the surface of a platform force you to time your jumps carefully and to be ready to slash when you land, or while you are flying through the air. But there’s more the knight can do with your basic suite of abilities that adds a lot of complexity to motion, even before you get any meaningful upgrades to the character’s movement capabilities.
Some of these are tied to specific regions. There’s a mine area for example with a bunch of crystal formations that I managed to wander into much earlier than I had the abilities I needed to get around. However, what I did manage to explore while I was there featured a number of additional complications to the basic premise of move-jump-slash. For example, conveyor belts carrying chunks of crystal ore to be processed change the momentum of your motions, forcing you to either work against the flow of the belt or pushing you along and challenging you to act quickly. This area also featured platforms that were covered in crystal spikes on one side. Once a platform was used, it started a short timer to flip it over to the spiked side. Standing still too long meant being dumped back to the ground below, and once a platform was used, you had to be able to reach it and slash it in order to make it safe to touch again. Many areas have unique localized challenges such as this that make navigating that particular section of the game more challenging. This also has the side effect of helping different regions to stand out from one another, making them distinct and recognizable for when you need to remember where you saw a challenge you weren’t able to navigate during your first visit.
There’s another movement option that the knight can utilize even before learning new abilities, though, one that uses your attack and jump together to get around. When you are airborne and slash downwards to hit an enemy, the force of your blow pushes you back upward. This bounce has just enough momentum that you can use it to stay airborne for extended periods of time (for as long as you have a target to hit). In the second region you are most likely to visit in the game, there are large armored bugs that walk left and right over huge vats of acid. By bouncing off of their carapace using this movement technique, you can cross to the other side of these pits to reach new areas. But you can do this bounce anywhere, and some smaller puzzles to find little items to sell or small upgrades may ask you to bounce in this way. My personal favorite application has been in the mushroom region, where particularly bouncy mushrooms will send you flying a significant distance when slashed. These are used to spring all over a room, and jumping from patch to patch of bouncy mushrooms feels great to pull off as the timing of the bounce is a bit precise.
It would be decently satisfying to move around the world of Hollow Knight already just with these basic movement options and regional platforming challenges. But once you throw in upgrades gained from defeated bosses, things get even more interesting. The first movement upgrade I found (and I think due to the way the game is structured this is likely to be the first movement upgrade for many players) was the dash. The dash quickly launches you horizontally and can be used both on the ground or in the air. Dashing in the air is valuable because it adds quite a bit of distance to your jump. Leap up at maximum height and dash closer to your destination and the knight can cross gaps that were previously impossible to scale. You can dash multiple times but there is a cooldown between them, so it isn’t necessarily a faster movement option when you are on the ground – unless of course you’re using it to quickly get out of the way of an incoming attack.
The other application of the dash relates to narrow spaces where it is dangerous to be jumping around. If you read my first impressions, this was a big hint to me that a dash existed in the game; I could see narrow openings between rows of spikes where simply trying to jump through would result in taking damage, but a burst of forward momentum would allow for passage through. These spots vary in commonality by region and have different variations. For example, in the acid-covered forest region I described earlier there are some spaces where you’ll be moving from platform to platform over a pool of acid with a low ceiling directly above your head. You can’t jump across, but your dash allows you to float over the dangerous terrain and land on safe positions to progress forward. The dash may be a relatively straightforward expansion but it’s a welcome addition to your basic suite of abilities and feels essential to the core mechanics.
As exciting as the dash was, there was another upgrade that immediately elicited a “hell yeah!” the moment that I discovered it. Beneath the mushroom region is a village occupied by dangerous mantis enemies. In their lair you can locate an item called the mantis claw. The claw unlocks the ability to slide and jump along walls. When you leap up to a wall and press against it, the knight will slide down slowly. Pressing the jump button against the wall allows you to kick off and gain some momentum both vertically and horizontally. It is both the Super Mario wall jump – allowing you to bounce between two tall flat surfaces to reach the top of them – as well as the Mega Man X wall jump – enabling you to hop repeatedly up a single sheer surface. This adds a lot to the knight’s ability to traverse a vertical space, covering a big weakness of the dash and bounce abilities. I was already excited for the claw the moment I saw the description of what it did. Then, the game impressed me even further by showing me what was possible with my new toy.
If you’ve read my coverage of other games that have platforming upgrades like Link’s Awakening or Spiritfarer, you know that my jam in these types of games is when the combination of upgrades unlocks new possibilities that don’t exist with each upgrade in isolation. Having both the dash and the wall-jump in Hollow Knight unlocks some very compelling platforming challenges. Narrow columns lined with alternating series of spikes hanging above spiked floors combine both styles of wall-jumping with strategic falling and dashing to carefully navigate a very precise series of movements. This was the first time in Hollow Knight when the challenges of exploration and movement felt as dangerous as some of the battles, and a great sense of satisfaction came from finding the safe path through and successfully executing the required series of movements. Navigating these areas requires you to apply all the skills you’ve developed playing the game so far, providing exactly the kind of challenge I enjoy when platforming.
There’s plenty of good to say about Hollow Knight outside of the way the game utilizes its movement mechanics, but I wanted to highlight these features as they are the ones I’ve heard about least from other players. Whether I’m dashing through narrow passages to avoid spikes or acid, kicking up walls to reach platforms that were previously inaccessible, or bouncing across mushrooms with well-timed swings of my sword, Hollow Knight is kept engaging not just by its combat encounters but by the energy and momentum of moving around its varied and compelling world. I’m excited to see if any of the other movement options that may await me in the future will further expand the complexity of navigating the world, but even if there’s not much beyond this I am still highly impressed with what Hollow Knight has brought to the table in terms of exploration.