Hollow Knight Xbox Game Pass
Image: Team Cherry

I keep hearing that 2021 has 'no games' - but my backlog says otherwise. Even not counting the years of games I'm yet to catch up on, this year is already adding a stupid amount into my pile. Then there's Xbox Game Pass, a service which continuously adds more and more games for me to discover and test. Sometimes they gel with me, other times they're not for me. Then on the odd occasion, one will just absolutely absorb my life to the point where outside of work, I'm jumping back into its world.

Hollow Knight is one such offender.

This isn't some underrated game that slid under the radar. Hollow Knight has a massive following, huge critical praise, and a sequel on its way that the gaming community is clawing to get their hands on. But I completely missed it - despite being a huge fan of the metroidvania genre. I think it was the difficulty that put me off, which many cited as being as hard as Dark Souls. While I don't fully agree with that sentiment, my experience has been extremely tough, with some downright rage inducing bosses. I mean, just look at this one I finally accomplished earlier this week.

This difficulty is part of the reason I'm so helplessly addicted to Hollow Knight. It took me an embarrassing amount of times to beat this boss. I even travelled to other areas, gained new skills, and then returned to have my butt handed to me again... and again. But this was all part of the fun, and the 'one more run' sentiment that Hollow Knight has etched in my brain has me constantly coming back for more.

It's not all boss battles and controller smashing difficulty, though. The metroidvania elements of Hollow Knight's world are probably some of the best the genre has to offer. I absolutely love the fact there's little to no hand holding within its world design. Each area is a labyrinth, within a maze, within a rubix cube. I've lost count the amount of times I've exclaimed that I'm lost, but that's the beauty of it, and what makes piecing together its world so satisfying.

Everything interconnects in a seamless way and is much more complex than other metroidvanias. There's still a lot I don't understand, and I'm reluctant to dive online and discover the answer. There have been so many moments when experimenting has garnered the right result, or something has just clicked into place. It's such a mysterious world and every single corner is littered with secrets, characters to meet, and new abilities to gain. It also helps that the game has a hugely non linear structure, meaning there's no set objective to tackle, and exploration is foremost the most important task at hand.

Getting around is an absolute blast, too. The controls feel precise and intuitive, and being a platforming guru (I'm being big-headed, but it's true), it provides just enough challenge to make certain decisions meaningful. What I mean by that is that the game invokes the Dark Souls sentiment of if you die, you lose all your experience. In the case of Hollow Knight, it's the money you've obtained, so deciding whether to attempt an optional platforming gauntlet for some goodies delivers a fantastic sense of risk and reward gameplay.

But I think what Hollow Knight ultimately nails (no pun intended for those who have played it), is its sense of mystery and discovery. What keeps me going is constantly finding something new, and if one particular path is proving troublesome, taking a different direction. I'm taken back to my younger gaming days, when the internet wasn't around and we were all forced to figure out all the game's challenges and secrets ourselves. Hollow Knight has that same mentality, and as a result, has had me returning to it for the past few weeks in every spare moment I have. 30 hours in and I'm still nowhere close to the end, and that's a-okay with me.

Sorry backlog - you're going to have to wait.

Have you played Hollow Knight? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.