A tiny heroine. A mysterious world. A gigantic world. This is the combination that makes up the amazing world of Knytt Underground, a Metroid-style adventure platformer which recently found its way to the PC after a brief stint on the Playstation 3 and PS Vita. Is this epoch of microscopic proportions worth a second look on a new platform, or is just small enough to ignore?
Knytt Underground is one of the latest games from indie developer, Niffilas, maker of such moody and atmospheric games as NightSky. It is an incredibly moody and atmospheric platformer, with a taste for the dark and mysterious; much of the screen is occupied by the occluding black masses that make up the platforming land.
Players take control of Mi Sprocket, a microscopic girl, tasked with saving her equally tiny people and world. As Mi, players traverse the insanely vast world with a basic set of platforming skills, you know, jumping and climbing, along with a variety of special context sensitive abilities, allowing her to rocket across the screen and even defy gravity, all the while collecting various treasures and meeting a variety of characters along the way.
There’s no denying that this is a game that is certainly played for the gameplay rather than any semblance of narrative and story. While there is a fantastic sense of world and scale with vibrant backgrounds to contrast against the black platforms, the characters themselves never really manage to pull players in, appearing at only a few centimeters tall on the screen and seemingly having not too much to say besides assigning quests and remarking on the nature of the game world.
Speaking of the world, the world on display in Knytt Underground is huge. The game takes a cue from the Metroid tradition, and offers up a fully explorable world, complete with the obligatory Super Metroid style grid map. The game is split up into three chapters and each chapter offers a gigantic map to explore. Looking at the in-game map, any one screen is represented by a square and there are dozens, if not literally hundreds of screens to all be completed and explored to progress as well as find the myriad of secrets hidden throughout.
This large playfield is hindered by only two major setbacks: The first one is that Mi herself isn’t exactly the easiest character in the world to control. While she moves with grace and ease, jumping is extremely floaty and is automatic upon climbing over the edge of any any corner, making long stretches of rocky platforming an ease, but giving difficulty to some parts of the game that calls for precise movements.
The other major issue is that while there is a lot of content to the maps, they are unfortunately filled with many screens where you are simply traveling from Point A to Point B. In a game so reliant on platforming this would typically be easy to overlook, but after crossing through screens at a time before encountering anything besides lengthy running and brief hop or two, its redundant nature begins to wear thin. This is only exacerbated by the fact that the game puts its dramatic visuals front and center with lite mostly ambient music, making the game feel like a walk through a trendy art gallery more than an exploratory platformer.
When the game does offer up some solid gameplay, it most definitely delivers. There is some really creative platforming hidden away in Knytt Underground, especially once you find the aforementioned physics-bending special powers. There’s even some creative twists on the platforming and its use for stealth once enemies and hazards are thrown into the mix, since Mi doesn’t really have offensive (or defensive) moves in her toolset. It’s just that it takes a lot of time to get to these sections, and screen after screen of moody atmosphere doesn’t really feel compelling enough to stick with the game until these parts occur.
This isn’t a complaint that quiet games or moody games can’t exist in our current gaming climate. I welcome games that are willing to be brave enough to not be the next big action game, and for that I congratulate Knytt Underground in spades—its art style is incredibly beautiful, especially on larger screens. The soundtrack is also successful at setting a mood. However, falling back on a sense of mysterious awe doesn’t really work if there not an ultimate payoff or even a moment-to-moment reason to keep playing. It can be done well, and has been done well in the past by many other titles.
Knytt Underground, however, fails to give that reason to keep playing. If you’re looking for stylish games that simply exude an air of mystery and darkness, then this game might be exactly what many players are looking for. But if you need some substance to back up all that style, then this game might not be as tightly knit as it needs to be.
[+Some cool powers and puzzles here][+Very effective atmosphere][+Beutiful environments][+Gigantic map] [-Gigantic map][-Sometimes monotonous gameplay][-Tiny visuals can be hard to see][-Rough controls]