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Knytt Underground (PlayStation 3) artwork

Knytt Underground (PlayStation 3) review

"You've probably never heard of Knytt. It's pretty underground. *laughtrack*"

Fans of indie games may remember Knytt and its sequel, Knytt Stories. With those previous efforts, developer Nifflas showed that it’s possible for a game to feel tiny and huge at the same time. Those titles’ minimalist graphics and story did nothing to stand in the way of their atmosphere, nor did they get in the way of a sense of adventure and exploration. Knytt Underground, a sequel to those two games and their predecessor (Within a Deep Forest), is also their equal in terms of both setting and gameplay. It tells the story of a future when human beings are said to have long since eradicated one another. The surface world is uninhabitable, so the various fantastic creatures that once lived underfoot now live underground.

You play as Mi, a sprite who lacks the ability to speak. She’s accompanied by two fairies who do the talking on her behalf. Due to a freak The Fly-style accident, Mi finds herself able to transform between her true sprite self and the form of the ball from Within a Deep Forest (yes, the exact same ball character… hundreds of years later). As a sprite, she can run, jump, and climb walls. She can also pick up various single-use power ups that help her get around by sending her flying in certain directions. As a ball, she can bounce, which means jumping higher and moving faster. The ball can also use a magnetic beam to swing from certain objects and access hard-to-reach places. Using the ball form to launch toward high spots before immediately switching back to sprite form to grab onto walls and climb is a key skill. The practice takes a bit of getting used to, but it makes platforming much more fun and interesting. The controls are tight and movement is quick, though sometimes it can feel like Mi moves a bit too quickly to easily negotiate some platforming segments that require more precision. It’s also possible to get stuck on corners from time to time, but that doesn’t crop up often enough to really pose a serious problem. Death is also a very temporary setback, since there are checkpoints on every screen.

Knytt Underground is a Metroidvania type game despite featuring only the one power up (the aforementioned ability to switch between the two forms). Once this ability is gained early on, a huge world immediately opens up. That world is divided into individual screens, as in The Legend of Zelda for NES. The original Knytt had 385 screens and it already felt like a huge, vibrant world. Knytt Underground has a whopping 1,800 screens. Mi’s quest is to find and ring six bells to stop the end of the world, and those are handily marked on your map, but try to resist the urge to make a beeline toward them as soon as you learn about them. Each bell is blocked by a door, which in turn is guarded by a jerk who wants you to collect a certain number of doohickeys (such as flowers or glyphs) before you will be allowed to pass. These objects can be found simply lying on the ground in various places, or they are doled out as rewards for side quests you might complete.

Side quests are almost all fetch quests, meaning you’ll start by talking to an NPC and then he or she will tell you what loot is needed and where you can find it. You collect the item or items in question and return to the individual who offered the quest to collect your reward. Essentially, side quests are tiny versions of your more obvious main quest. Your actual goal is to probe the whole world and collect things. Don’t worry about what exactly you are asked to fetch in order to gain entry through those doors. Just sit down, relax, and play. Leave no stone unturned, and once you’ve scouted the whole map (or at least most of it), you’ll be ready to seek out the bells and complete the game. Then, if you’re still having fun, you can continue your search for the many, many secret areas that don’t even appear on the map. The underground is chock full of secrets, and most of them are very well-hidden.

Knytt Underground does feature an overarching story that provides additional context for your actions if you want it, but that story is the game’s biggest weakness. The sprite society is split into two factions: the Myrmidons (a religious group) and the Internet (a group of atheists who believe they have a lot to learn from leftovers from human civilization, despite also having a knack for misinterpreting pretty much everything they find). The Myrmidons have placed their faith in a prophecy that states the world is about to end, and they’ve chosen Mi to ring the six bells that will avert that looming disaster. It sounds like it could make for an interesting premise, but the execution is lacking. Nothing terribly important happens between the point when Mi sets out on her adventure and the moment she completes it. Nothing momentous happens in the actual ending, either (at least not in any ending that most players are likely to see; there’s a secret alternate ending that some may discover, though nobody seems to have found it yet). The writing is bland overall, and the sole reason Underground carries an ESRB rating of “M” is that NPCs like to randomly drop completely unnecessary f-bombs.

The poor dialogue does nothing but break the excellent atmosphere created by the ambient soundtrack and colourful, detailed backgrounds, which are juxtaposed against the pure black foreground ala NightSky (another Nifflas game). Considering you’re essentially spelunking through a giant cave, there’s a good amount of environmental diversity. Magma-filled passages, an underground forest, a dark void, and an ancient factory are some of the areas you’ll find yourself traversing.

Despite a disappointing story peppered by dialogue that does its best to ruin everything, Knytt Underground is a pleasant, relaxing experience. Fans of the other Knytt and Nifflas games should absolutely not miss it. A bit of the charm from the earlier games’ tiny sprites is lost, but Underground is a Knytt game on a much larger scale. There’s lots of good stuff to find here, and the less enjoyable elements are easy to ignore. If the idea of exploring a huge, maze-like world with some clever platforming and a relaxing atmosphere appeals to you, definitely check this game out.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (December 23, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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