I like Knytt Underground. But there are things about Knytt Underground I don’t like.
I went in blind, completely unaware of the developer, the Knytt series (which apparently also includes two previous games) or even Knytt Underground’s mechanics. It’s a platformer, that much I knew, with an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. It’s not too dissimilar from Metroid.
The maps are vast, but they’re also a bit aimless. That’s ok, sometimes a little pointless wandering around is actually nice. But when it comes time to have a point, and Knytt Underground does have a point, where you need to be and what MacGuffins you might require aren’t always clear. In fact, most things in the game are not signposted or explained very much at all. On the one hand, it all ties in with its theme of discovery. On the other, I kind of like to know what a power up does when I acquire it. There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of things to learn. That’s mostly a compliment to the game but not always.
Perhaps Knytt Underground’s best asset is ambiance. A subtle wind blowing through the flowers in the background. The sound of water dripping. Lovely music to set the tone. It reminded me of NightSky, and lo and behold, the two games share a developer: Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren. If nothing else, Nifflas sure knows how evoke a mood.
It’s a shame then that the character design and writing are so at odds with the mood set by everything else. The characters look like amateur cartoons, conflicting with the beautiful and artistic backgrounds. The writing may be intentionally silly, but it comes across as dopey. The music says one thing and the dialog says another. It’s a little messy.
The mute, amnesiac main character is a jittery thing, zipping along with unexpected speed. With such a massive world, the speed makes traversal actually very pleasant. But the main character will also automatically cling to any vertical surface to climb at, and at the top, she will leap into the air rather than simply pulling herself up. Between her speed, the automatic climbing and the unnecessary bounce, Knytt Underground has something of an unwieldy feeling that is at times inconvenient and downright frustrating at others.
I really enjoyed NightSky and while Knytt Underground isn’t an unpleasant or boring game in the least, I feel like the latter could have benefited from the former’s explanations/visual cues, and probably its lack of dialog too. Certain parts of Kyntt Underground betray its better aspects, creating a fun, but very uneven, experience.
Knytt Underground from Nifflas is available on PSN for both PlayStation 3 and for Vita for $14.99.