With the release of exclusive titles like The Unfinished Swan, Derrick the Deathfin, and Journey, the PlayStation Network has quickly evolved into the perfect venue for indie developers. In partnership with Green Hill and Ripstone Publishing, Swedish developer Nicklas Nygren (“Nifflas”) brings his latest (and largest) iterations of the Knytt universe with Knytt Underground.
Taking a cue from the Final Fantasy series, you won’t need to play previous entries in the Knytt series to understand what is going on since each game is based on different characters. The original freeware title focused on a Knytt boy who was abducted by an alien, while its sequel Knytt Stories consists of five original shorter stories about Knytts in their universe. Knytt Underground is the third entry and is affix in the same world as its predecessor. Set in the future, hundreds of years after the disappearance of humans; sprites, fairies and other various lifeforms wander about underground tunnels.
Composed of three chapters, you take control of two characters. The first is a mute sprite named Mi Sprocket, who is chosen to perform a religious ritual that will supposedly save the world. Along her journey, Mi will develop special powers like the ability to travel across long distances both horizontally and vertically and decrease in size to fit through tight spaces. The second chapter leaves you controlling a rubber ball named Bob and his fairy companion Rob, while the third chapter combines both characters and allows you to toggle between each. The plot and dialogue is kept to a minimum and occasionally very cryptic, but it’s the gameplay and art style that will compel you to complete your journey.
Knytt Underground‘s charm is quickly brought to the forefront as soon as the game loads. With no introduction, overly drawn-out tutorial or training modes, you adventure begins in a title screen/hub level that mimics the presentation of Playdead’s Limbo. Once a chapter is chosen, the free-form gameplay allows you to progress through the level and gradual complete sections of the map by simply exploring and backtracking – think Metroid. The in-game map allows you to keep track of areas you have explored as well as pointing out any of the 60 portals (save points) you have activated. Solving puzzles, acquiring new abilities, and completing quest for the in-game inhabitants will allow you to gain access to new paths. Knytt Underground provides you with an amazing amount of freedom. You have plenty of rooms to explore (1,800 to be exact) and no two rooms are the same.
The foreground is predominantly black, but where the game really comes to life is its implementations of backgrounds that mimic lush, vividly colored artwork. Plants and various flowers blossom underground, while up on the surface; trees sway in the wind against a purplish sky. As you progress deeper underground you will come across towns and areas dimly lite, shadowy areas composed of machinery. Throughout the majority of your journey the faint movement of your character roaming through tunnels or the splashing water will be only some of the sounds you will hear. Knytt Underground does contain a soundtrack but it is activated at certain sections. When it does kick in, you are treated to some of the most tranquil and soothing instrumentals I’ve heard this year.
Each character controls differently, Mi is quick and nimble as she leaps around climbing walls like a spider, while Bob bounces around using angles to clear gaps and reach higher platforms. It will take sometime to get adjusted to the way each character handles. Mi moves across the level as if she is on a permanent sugar rush and her instant attachment to walls can get frustrating, especially during some of the timed sections. Bob the ball on the other hand may have you wishing his chapter ends quickly. Although you can control his movement by increasing and decreasing his bounce, properly angling him to clear gaps or to simply traveling down a corridor can be nightmarish. While playing as Mi I rarely died, but as Bob I continuously fell into pits of acidic liquid or rolled off of edges.
Knytt Underground doesn’t focus on combat but along the way you will come across some opposition like projectile firing robots, laser beams, electrified water, and fireballs – to say the least. Avoiding them is your best tactic, but there is no penalization for dying as each death will respawn you in the same room. The gameplay is very solid, but at times you may wish it presented a little bit more of a challenge. Similar to When Vikings Attack!, Knytt Underground supports the cross buy deal which means you will get both the PS Vita and PS3 version for one price. Playing at home on your PS3 and then uploading through a cloud system and transferring your progress to the Vita is a nice addition.
Knytt Underground does a solid job at being an adventure game with platforming and exploration elements. Aside from the touchy controls, the great art style and simple mechanics make this a entertaining title that is accessible to everyone.