The Switch isn't exactly lacking for quirky Metroidvanias, with the likes of Yoku's Island Express, Dandara and SteamWorld Dig 2 all stretching the genre in new and interesting directions. Hollow Knight, though, is arguably the most striking of the lot. Team Cherry's platform-adventure has long been awaited by Switch owners in the know. The game has attracted considerable buzz - and no small amount of fan art - since its PC debut last year. Now Hollow Knight has taken its console bow, and it doesn't disappoint.
You take control of the titular knight, a tiny bug warrior in an insectoid world gone to seed. The art style might be cartoony, but this is a surprisingly mournful setting from the off. The once-mighty kingdom of Hallownest has crumbled, its communities either abandoned or driven mad. All but a few lingering eccentrics have disappeared into the ground, drawn downwards by a mysterious miasma. It's a beautifully melancholic canvas onto which you must gradually paint in the details. In time-honoured Metroidvania fashion, that involves venturing into the unknown to map out the world, conquering lumbering bosses, and expanding your ability set so that you can access new areas.
Structurally, then, Hollow Knight doesn't offer much that's new, but it's in the execution that it really shines. At the core of the game is a crunchy sword-and-magic combat system. Our knight might carry a so-called 'needle', but this spindly blade lands with a heck of a thwack. The recoil from each hit sends both you and your enemy back a little, which is both empowering and potentially endangering - particularly when battle takes place in the midst of a precarious platforming section.
Thankfully, the movement system is just as tight. Whether you're using the left Joy-Con stick or the D-pad on the Switch Pro Controller, our hero responds beautifully. It's no great spoiler to reveal that one of the first abilities you acquire is a dash, and this quickly becomes a staple part of your calculations throughout your adventure. It grants you extra speed on the floor and additional range and manoeuvrability in mid-air. Your magical abilities are fuelled by a smart system that feeds on the souls of defeated enemies. Given that your knight's first magical ability is to heal himself, it means that the best form of defence really is attack in Hollow Knight.
Not that you can afford to be too gung-ho about your business. This is a challenging game, with many of the regular grunts employing unorthodox movements and lighting-quick attacks to cause you headaches - particularly in combination. The bosses, meanwhile, will have you failing repeatedly with their formidable health bars and varied attacks. There's a Dark Souls-like system at play here too, which means that you'll drop your soul along with all of your Geo (the game's currency) when you die. You'll need to backtrack and literally fight your own spirit to regain them.
To explain what really sets Hollow Knight apart from pretty much anything else on the eShop, though, we need to go back to its world design. This is a decidedly 2D game, but it's so thick with detail, shade and texture that it feels positively three-dimensional. The world is full of items and foreground elements that exist only to be broken or smashed through, adding to an enthralling sense of physicality - and it all runs at a silky smooth frame rate in both docked and portable modes.
The sound design is equally inspired, from the dank drip of a drizzly city to the distinctive (and hilariously human) babble of its characters. The map maker's contented hum and a certain boss's prideful goading when you near his lair are particular stand-outs.
Like Yoku's Island Express and Celeste before it, Hollow Knight feels like it's found its natural home on Switch. The game's beautiful 2D world, tactile combat and impressive bevy of secrets constantly drag you in for more, and it proves to be as strong an experience on the move as it is on your TV. On an eShop that's already filled with top quality indie games, Hollow Knight is one of the very best.
Hollow Knight is a big, beautiful, forboding Metroidvania that's absolutely thick with detail. From its punchy combat system to its charming art and sound design, this is one of the finest adventures you can have on Nintendo Switch.