Actually, Hollow Knight's Tough Platforming Is Fantastic

Illustration for article titled Actually, Hollow Knight's Tough Platforming Is Fantastic

It’s not every day you get assigned to write an article about how your boss is completely wrong, but this morning during one of our many discussions about the fantastic game Hollow Knight, Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo told me to write [Editor’s note: suggested you write] about how wrong he is about the nails-tough platforming sections. Because they’re actually great.


Hollow Knight, which came out last year but only arrived on Switch in June, when many of us discovered it, is a game about a little bug doing big things. It’s a Metroidvania full of secrets, with meticulous design, satisfying movement mechanics, and brilliant boss battles. There are also some tough platforming sections that require you to use those movement mechanics—like a forward dash and a double jump—to navigate spikes and pits.

And then there’s the White Palace.

The White Palace is a dream world that’s optional to complete the game but required if you want to see the true ending, and it’s one of the toughest things Hollow Knight has to offer. Most of the game’s jumps have the difficulty level of your average Super Mario Bros. level, but the White Palace goes full Super Meat Boy. There are menacing saw blades and pixel-perfect jumps and moving spikes that require you to stand exactly in the right place if you don’t want to die. Hollow Knight is a punishing game, but usually that’s because of bosses, whose patterns you’ll have to gradually learn and master. This is something else entirely.

Stephen didn’t like that.

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I’m a little different, though. I live for tough platforming. I cut my teeth on NES platformers and spent many, many hours grinding through the PC Jumper games (made by Matt Thorson, who is now best known for the 2018 platformer Celeste). When Hollow Knight suddenly transformed into a punishing platformer, it cemented its status as one of my favorite games of this generation.

I see Stephen’s point, of course—the rest of Hollow Knight doesn’t quite prepare you for the obstacle course that is the White Palace, and it’s a jarring request from a game that never asks you to do anything else like it—but it’s brilliantly designed, with enough variety to never feel repetitive and enough leeway to never feel like it’s impossible to pull off. It feels like a good, fair use of traversal mechanics that you’ve been using for less complicated movement in other sections of the game. It’s like a test to see how much practice you’ve gotten.


After I spent a few hours completing the White Palace, I went back in to take on a completely optional area called the Path of Pain. This one you don’t even need to finish for the true ending. If you’re curious, I recommend you skim through this YouTuber’s hitless run at the Path of Pain. Your reaction may be “This looks amazing” or “I will never, ever do this.” If you’re anything like me, it’ll be the former.

What’s smart about the Path of Pain is that—like Celeste—it limits your friction. There are plenty of checkpoints as you go, so you’ll never have to replay more than 20-30 seconds worth of jumping and dashing. At each checkpoint, there’s a statue that gives you an unlimited well of Soul (this game’s version of magic), which means you can heal yourself infinitely and never worry about dying, losing all the progress you’ve made so far. Each section of the Path of Pain requires precise, perfect skill, but never luck. When you screw up, you know it’s your own fault, not because the game threw some cheap obstacle or random attack at you.


And when you beat the Path of Pain—as I did on Wednesday night—it’s more satisfying than anything else in what is already an incredibly satisfying game.


I feel like I land squarely in the middle between you two.

On one hand, I massively enjoyed the platforming sections. They also really forced me to understand and get used to all of my movement abilities on a very deep level, and what I’m capable of with them. Within the five or so hours that I spent playing the White Palace, my skill in the game increased dramatically. I finally figured out how to perfect the finicky wall grabbing mechanic (I had SO much trouble at first learning how to time my analog stick movement to get the Knight to jump in the right direction after a wall grab), Learned nifty tricks like the drop-dash-jump thing, Learned to prioritize dashes and double jumps, and just all-around felt so much more comfortable with the controls and all of my traversal abilities. It made the rest of the game almost a breeze.

That being said, the rest of the game felt like a breeze because nothing came even remotely close to that crucible. It’s like night and day compared to the rest of the game, and feels so out of place that it legitimately breaks suspension of disbelief.

Prior to the White Palace, the world felt cohesive, sensible, like every obstacle and every platforming section had a place, a purpose, an explanation, some grounding in reality. Here, the king apparently just decided to stuff a bunch of sawblades all over his castle for no obvious reason. it’s not even prefaced with any sort of explanation in the lore, no “this is a trial to prove that you are worthy“ or whatever. Apparently the king just really fucking loves sawblades I guess.

(I wonder if he had to like go through all of that shit every day after he got up in the morning just to get to his throne room. That’s a fun thought.)

I guess ultimately my feelings are: it’s a super fun section, but abstractly it just feels completely out of place.