Actually, Hollow Knight’s Tough Platforming Is Fantastic

Actually, Hollow Knight’s Tough Platforming Is Fantastic
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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.

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 favourite 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.


  • Colour me as one who will never do this. Crazy amount of skill, time and practise is required for this.

  • Without trying to bait the keyboard-warriors who find everything too easy… I think overall Hollow Knight is difficult to a flaw.

    I’m generally sh*t at platformers and they aren’t really my thing, but I was enjoying Hollow Knight (I like Metroid type games more than the traditional level based platformer) until I got to the second boss (it’s a female? on a broom or something) where I died about 15 times and rage-quit.

    The game needs an easy/ casual mode for people like me. Hell even a health bar on the bosses so I know how close I am to getting past them would be nice. Between having to work my way back to the boss and the hardcore-types online talking about how hard certain bosses are later- I just can’t find the will to proceed.

    I did a quick check online and apparently some ridiculously high % of Steam players never pass the same boss, so it’s not just me. I understand the game is supposed to be hard but most games also have difficulty settings, just call the ‘normal’ mode ‘recommended’ (don’t want to offend anyone who’s a bit un-co) and have a ‘casual’ mode for chumps.

    • This is going to sound like bragging, but I actually beat her in one or shots. The first time you fight Hornet is more about patience and hanging back while you learn her pattern. In fact the entirety of this game is about just learning the boss/enemy patterns.

      If I’m being honest there was only one or two bits that caused me to get angry and keep on trying. The above mentioned White Palace (although I wasn’t aware there was another level in it, I might have to go back and try that Path of Pain) and the DLC Boss Nightmare King Grimm. I did him for about an hour (or two) literally making zero progress for the longest time, until something just clicked and I beat him nearly without taking a hit. Youtube that fight if you want to see a hectic fight.

      I do understand the rage quit though… Dark Souls 1 took me about 2 years and many walk aways/coming back starting again for me to get through it.

      • Yeah, Hornet….that’s the one!

        I must just suck. I had a bunch of goes at it and she kept killing me.

        Like I said if he has a health bar or something I may well have persevered because there were a few times that I hit her quite a bit. I must have been close!

        I just think that I’ve finished a LOT of games over the years. If I can’t get through then there’ll be a lot of people who straight up shouldn’t buy the game because they won’t be able to enjoy it for more than an hour or so.
        I don’t think that’s good game design when you’re launching on the Switch and not selling the game as terribly difficult from the outset.

        I like hard game too… but for me the balance of Hollowman was off.

        • One thing I had to get past was the shock/annoyance of when you get hit it’s quite a jarring experience/noise/screen blur and shake. It makes it difficult to focus on your character plus you usually react going “Ah damn it” and hesitate for a moment which can lead to you getting double hit. If I remember, her particular fight is all about getting in one/two hits and then backing off and dodging. I think she only has like 3-4 moves you need to remember.

          I just checked the stats – 54% of people have beat hornet. I’d say given previous stats on bosses/games (where alot of people buy the game and don’t play it or play for 5 mins and never return) that’s a reasonable amount of owners In comparison 64% have beat the first boss.

          That boss I was referring to – 4.1% <- See that dude is hard. 😀

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