I have a confession. I’m using an invincibility mod to play through the brutal, boss-infested Metroidvania game Hollow Knight. I first played it back in February 2017, when it came out, completely mesmerised by its dark atmosphere and magical soundtrack. The first hour or two completely captivated me, wandering around the eerie catacombs of a strange, forgotten world. But I hit a wall pretty early on when I reached Hornet – one of the first major boss battles of the game.
Hornet zips around the battlefield. She can hurl her piercing needle at you and have it bounce back with a ghostly white thread. My reactions were not able to match her speedy attacks and I couldn’t accurately land a hit as she ran circles around me. After an hour, I finally defeated her, and then decided I needed a break. I left the world of Hollow Knight for a year, not really wanting to face the many boss battles that were yet to come.
I felt pretty low knowing that there was more of that beautiful subterranean world that I wouldn’t get to experience due to a lack of skill. I’ve never been that patient when it comes to learning combat patterns and sharpening my reflexes.
Fast forward to the beginning of this month, December 2018, which is when I decided to return to Hollow Knight, ready to face those mysterious biomes and the bug bosses that lurk in their depths. My return isn’t on account of me honing my skills in the months between my visits. The reason I’m back is that I’m able to play through the game equipped with a special weapon – a cheat.
The invincibility mod for Hollow Knight can be turned on and off in-game so whenever I’m having a problem with a difficult boss or area I can switch on the mod, deal with the enemy and move on.
I know, I know: I can hear your gasps of judgement from here. I understand that I’m not playing the game ‘correctly’ but I’m really enjoying my time with Hollow Knight with this mod and have zero regrets.
I had a similar experience with the tough-as-nails platformer Celeste, although there was no need to install a mod. Celeste has a variety of ‘assist’ options such as double jump, infinite grip, and invincibility so that anyone can enjoy the game regardless of their skill. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also has a great list of difficulty options so you can adjust the way you approach puzzles, exploration, and combat. As more games adopt this approach it communicates that we’re more accepting of people enjoy games for more than the challenges they offer.
By using this cheat in Hollow Knight, I finally get to experience the rest of the stunning world that the game has to offer, and there’s a lot of it. There’s the haunting orchestral soundtrack, the different bug characters, its gorgeously gloomy visuals, exploring the huge map, finding the hidden breakable walls, saving all the cute grub babies, and the small details like following the musical hums and loose pages that lead you to Cornifer the map maker.
One aspect that surprised me the most about the game was its rich lore. The world of Hallownest has been long forgotten, its history sealed away in the dreams and memories of the characters. It tells the tales of fallen heroes, the wrath of gods, and the different histories of the bug colonies. What’s left of Hallownest is the husk of a civilisation as the majority of the population is now missing or dead.
My favourite part of the map is The City of Tears; a beautiful metropolis where it always rains. It was once the beating heart of the kingdom but now its mechanical elevators, endless libraries, and tram systems lie abandoned and empty. The music is quiet and sombre so you can hear the light pitter-patter of the rain. It’s a serene area where you can enjoy a short moment of peace before launching back into the surrounding enemy infested areas.
This is where I met my favourite character in the game, Quirrel, a bug equipped with a nail-sword and a mask perched on top of his head. Although he has a weapon, Quirrel tells you that he’s more of an observer than a warrior, a lonely wanderer who has lost his memory. You bump into Quirrel over the course of the game, finding him resting on a bench or at the edge of a lake gazing across the water. If you strike up a conversation he’ll always let you in on what he’s pondering at that moment.
In the City of Tears, he muses out loud about the endless rain that encompasses the city, and wonders where the water comes from being as we are so far underground. He asks questions about the world that make me want to find the answers. He really captures the whimsical nature of a true wanderer, one who can inspire curiosity in others.
To think that I never would have met Quirrel because I didn’t want to cheat, and that to do so is usually looked down upon, is quite sad. I would never have got to explore this gloomy world, with its memorable characters and wealth of lore, I’d never even have got the chance to find out why it’s constantly raining in the City of Tears.