I was extremely excited to play Hollow Knight: Silksong in the Nintendo Booth at E3 2019, and what I found there was a sequel to one of my favorite games that simultaneously felt incredibly familiar and entirely new. It’s unmistakably Hollow Knight, but with the speed cranked up to 11 thanks to the nimble nature of its new protagonist, Hornet.
Hornet’s basic movement doesn’t seem any faster, but her attacks and abilities certainly are. Your mid-air downslash has been replaced with a diagonal dive thrust (completely uprooting strategies I had developed in the first game) and she can grab edges to hop up onto high platforms right off the bat. It felt like I had to relearn a game I was already intimately familiar with – that was jarring, but once I did, I think I started to like its combat and movement even more than the original.
In the midgame demo area I played – which you can watch in the video above – Hornet already had a handful of abilities unlocked. Those included long-range kunai that only refill at benches when you spend a new currency called Shell Shards, as well as a proper sprint – no more spamming dash! – that can flow into a huge jump or hard stab that actually pole vaults you elegantly over the enemy you hit.
But the single most impactful change was her heal. Instead of the long charge to heal a single hit point at a time like its predecessor, Hornet’s heal is almost instantaneous and refills three hits at once. That’s an insanely powerful upgrade, but it also uses all of your magic meter (a spool of thread in Silksong) and can only be used at all if it’s full. That rework had drastic repercussions on how I played – ones that ultimately made its fights feel a bit more strategic than before.
It created constant moments of tension where aggression was the only way to survive. Hollow Knight’s boss fights could sometimes feel desperate, trying to find any safe moment to heal and knowing you were near doom while at low health. Comparatively, Silksong’s feel like proper duels. Being able to heal so much so quickly means low health moments are make-or-break opportunities where you could easily swing back into full force, but you need to get hits and fill that bar entirely to do so.
You can flow through Silksong at lightning fast speeds as a result. It feels like a direct response to the slower, less agile nature of the original, taking what was great about that game and not being afraid to seriously change it to fix its inherent limitations. And those tweaks to common complaints about Hollow Knight don’t stop at combat – as far as I can tell, you don’t drop your money on death this time around making it a little less punishing, and there’s more nuance to your abilities now that your options beyond the basic swing don’t all use the same magic meter (I really like those new kunai).
The world, one of my favorite parts of Hollow Knight, also seems more rich with detail and more vibrant with color. Bright green bushes, red hot lava, more variation in backgrounds, and a brand new cast of enemies to discover (and get killed by). It’s a gorgeous game and even just the two areas I saw have me hungry to discover more – with teases to a still nuanced but slightly more explicit story now that your protagonist can actually speak.
So here’s my bold claim: Hollow Knight is one of my favorite games ever, but I think Silksong has the potential to be even better. Obviously there’s a lot more to what makes the first game great than just the combat, and if its map is a letdown or the bosses just aren’t that interesting then it could, of course, still fall short. There are a million questions that I couldn’t even begin to get answers to in what I played.
But what I do know is that the framework I saw in this demo has set Silksong up with a chance to surpass the original. I couldn’t imagine how that would even be possible before I tried it for myself – and, frankly, I would have been pretty okay with just more Hollow Knight. But Team Cherry isn’t taking the safe path, and that excites the hell out of me.