Hollow Knight’s art style is beautiful and haunting, with the dark colour scheme evoking a sense of longing and melancholy, furthered by the other atmospheric elements of the game, such as audio and storytelling. The combination of hand-painted backgrounds, stylised character designs, careful use of colour, and fluid animations creates a beautiful cinematic experience. Various gameplay elements and mechanics are separated from the environment via colour, style, animation and design, allowing the player to make sense of the visual information that they are presented with.
Hollow Knight, while evoking a sense of melancholy and longing, follows an unwavering protagonist whom ventures into the ancient city of Hollownest. The adversity he faces, and friends he makes along the way, further contrast his small stature, and back-footed nature, as he ventures through this ruined world. Starting off with just a cracked nail, the player becomes more and more powerful as they continue their adventure, coming across various archetypes, themes and elements, some light-hearted, some dark.
Gameplay revolves mainly around melee combat, general movement, dashing/dodging, and jumping. There is an energy-like resource that one collects, from both within the environment and fighting enemies, that allows the player to heal and charge up/use certain abilities. Adding to this would be the various ‘nail arts’ (special moves), and ‘charms’ that one may equip. These charms, equipped while sitting at a bench (save and healing station), allow the player to upgrade and specialise their character for different playstyles.
There are various hidden areas, upgrades and mechanics within the game, with the player being encouraged to seek them out. They may provide benefits such as; upgrades/charms, extra quests/lore, maps, and transportation routes.
The currency, Geo, is collected within the environment and from enemies, allowing the player to purchase upgrades from various NPCs, usually hidden throughout the environment/s, for their character.
Health-wise, the character has a few ‘points’ of health, of which can be added to (the ‘energy meter’ can be added to/upgraded as well) via the purchase and discovery of items/upgrades within the environment/from NPCs.
A unique visual style is present in Cuphead, of which borrows from and pays homage to the Western cartoons of old, blending water-colour backgrounds with graphic cell-shaded animations and characters. Readability is paramount, with platforms, projectiles and enemies standing out from the background via the stark contrast between outlines and flat shading versus water-colour backgrounds and landscapes, the textures, volume of detail, and animations separating them from each other while still maintaining coherency.
The game revolves around two characters, Cuphead (main character) and Mugman, whom accidentally stumble upon the Devil’s Casino. There they are tricked into signing over their souls to the devil, who assigns them a task; collect a series of soul contracts from the indebted residents on the isle they inhabit to gain back their souls, or they remain under the Devil’s possession for eternity.
The themes, of course, involve hell and gambling, as well as various tropes and clichés spawned out from the era of animation upon which the game is based.
The gameplay revolves around general movement, crouching, dodging/dashing, jumping and shooting, with various upgrades, weapon types and supers available via an in-game currency, earned within the optional run-and-gun levels within the game.
The gameplay revolves mainly around dodging various attacks, and learning the levels/bosses, progressing through a series of creative and unique boss fights. A parry function is present, allowing the character to charge up their super abilities by jumping when about to encounter any pink projectile or object within the game environment.
The character has limited HP, with each hit lowering the counter, of which can be added to via an upgrade that can be purchased with in-game coins.
Ori and the Blind Forest:
Similar to Hollow Knight in regard to beauty and aesthetics, the hand-painted approach, focusing on aesthetics and readability, works wonderfully. Certain colours, like in Hollow Knight, are reserved for certain gameplay elements and mechanics. However, there is a greater range and intensity of detail, colour and atmosphere, with a variety of emotions being created through visual and auditory storytelling, furthered by the fantastic character and environment design.
The story, focusing around a small monkey-like being, involves heartbreak and adventure, crafting likeable, hateable, and quirky characters of which are communicated through visuals/design, audio, animation and gameplay. The once vibrant forest inhabited by the main character has fallen into ruin via the meddling of a gargantuan owl, the man villain, causing the environment to become hostile and dangerous, with the trees bearing no fruit and monsters lurking around corners. The caregiver of the main character, within the opening sequence, meets their end due to the declining nature of the environment. This spurs the main character on, hoping to solve the issues pervading its home.
Gameplay revolves around general movement, shooting, jumping and swimming, with the character gaining extra abilities throughout the game that allow them to traverse previously inaccessible areas, of which is something that occurs within Hollow Knight as well.
The character has limited HP and ‘charge’, of which can be restored and upgraded via traversing the environment and discovering upgrades and areas of rest.
Shovel Knight, similarly to Cuphead, pays homage to what came before. In this case, however, it harkens back to the Super Metroid era of platforming, with the distinctive visual style of the platformers back in the day being revitalised. The pixel art aesthetic, evoking a sense of nostalgia in both new and old fans of platformer games, is executed beautifully. The sprites and backgrounds are not too complex, they are, instead, rather graphic and simplistic via their limited individual palettes and colour schemes/combinations.
The main character must attempt to rescue his friend, Shield Knight, and to do so he must defeat the members of “The Order of No Quarter”, who have been sent by the main antagonist, the Enchantress, to defeat him. The game touches on topics of heroism, friendship and evil.
The gameplay revolves around general movement, jumping, attacking with a shovel, as well as various upgrades/special abilities that the character may purchase from a hidden vendor/NPC throughout most levels, or from NPCs within villages. The shovel that the main character possesses allows him to fight enemies, dig up treasure, or aim below him when attack enemies while jumping to bounce upon them.
An element of risk-and-reward is present in this game, where the player may choose to destroy checkpoints to gain greater treasure. Upon death, the player drops some of their currency, of which can be retrieved via collecting the flying sacks that spawn near where they last died. A similar mechanic is present in Hollow Knight, where upon death you lose a portion of your max energy, of which can be resolved via defeated your ‘shade’ near where you last died.
Completing the game allows the player to choose New Game Plus mode, allowing them to replay the game at a harder difficulty.
Super Metroid, being one of the older platformers, still holds up strong to this day. As stated above, Shovel Knight borrows from this game in regards to aesthetics, with the pixel art style in this game being extremely ambitious for its time, with bosses being packed full of detail, contrasting nicely with the thematic environmental backgrounds.
The main character, Samus Aran, pursues Ridley, the main antagonist, who has stolen the Metroid larva Samus delivered to the Ceres Space Colony after her previous expedition. This larva, having believed her to be its mother, had imprinted itself upon her.
Gameplay focuses on running, jumping, crouching and shooting, with other special movement options such as wall jumping (similarly to Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight), as well as the “Moon Walk” ability.
Power-ups are available throughout the game, allowing the player to unlock special abilities and areas of the game, similarly to Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest, two games that also feature backtracking that is unlocked via exploration.
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