GOTY 2018: The Top 10 Games of the Year: #6
Welcome to the Tenth Annual Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year list! Using our tried-and-true methodology (i.e., we play a lot of games and argue until we’re tired,) we've finally narrowed down the 10 games that we feel accurately represent the best and most important that 2018 had to offer.
#6 – Hollow Knight
Team Cherry | February 24th, 2017 (whoops) | Windows, Mac, Linux, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Hollow Knight is, in a word, deliberate.
It's not a game where you can just rush into the fray and stumble your way to the finish line. Like the Metroidvanias and Soulslike games that it inherits from, Hollow Knight challenges the player to study first—to observe the world its developers have crafted and to learn how to survive in it.
This first step is painful, probably, for a lot of us. We've mostly been conditioned to push back against opaque design and non-optional challenges of skill. The mainstream games industry has found a reliable path to ROI by molding just about every major franchise to fit this sort of homogeneous, third-person, over-the-shoulder action/RPG hybrid archetype, where the difficulty is tuned such that ample patience will allow you to stumble your way to the conclusion. So when you arrive in Hollow Knight's ruined kingdom of Hallownest, you may be surprised to find how damned difficult this game is from the outset.
Then again, it wears its inspiration proudly on its sleeve. Hollow Knight may appear to be a 2D action game with a heavy emphasis on exploration in the Metroidvania mold, and it certainly owes a debt to that lineage. But its intricate boss encounters, subtle means of communicating direction and narrative to the player, and high-risk environments all firmly establish Hollow Knight as a student of the Dark Souls subgenre of isolationist, deliberate, survival-oriented role-playing games.
Anyway. That's enough about what Hollow Knight has in common with other great games. Let's talk about what makes it unique.
Hollow Knight is an epic gothic legend told at a miniature scale. It's a dark, dismal fantasy tale of a ruined kingdom and a land of restless spirits, but it's also a cute cartoon about weird little bugs that are kinda neat to look at. Its score is brilliant, wide-ranging and, at times, even operatic, but it also knows when to lean into its sillier musical instincts. (The superlative-laden Grey Prince Zote, and his bombastic battle music, really drive this point home for me.) And it is a richly layered narrative steeped in an intricate and original history that trusts the player to piece all of its disparate story beats together over time. This results in a participatory narrative—one that feels earned by the the player's engagement—instead of a recitation of a lore handbook doled out over a series of cutscenes.
I could spend a long time praising the craftsmanship of each artistic and technical discipline that went into its development, but I don't need to. Just play it for a few minutes and you'll see what makes it special: the expressive character animations, the dense and atmospheric environment art, the haunting and varied music, the intricate player moveset, the restrained and refined mechanics and systems design are all plenty laudable. But Hollow Knight also benefits from the tonal consistency and artistry that comes from a tiny team of talented folks working diligently to ensure everything in their game fits. Nothing feels superfluous or discordant; everything is in its right place.
I've played an awful lot of Metroidvanias and Soulslikes. I'd even say I've come close to mastering a few of them. In my opinion, and in every meaningful way, Hollow Knight is the new pinnacle of both genres. It probably belongs in your life. If you go in with an open mind and a willingness to learn how to play by its rules, you're in for a challenging, engrossing, and delightfully original experience.
– Nick Cummings