Monday, July 28, 2014

Knytt Underground - Bounce and Climb 'Til You're Bored

Platform: Wii U, PC, PS3, Vita     Genre: Platforming/Adventure
Knytt Underground (pronounced with a "k" that isn't silent and the "y" like "i" as in "it") is kind of like a Metroid game, but also kind of not. It's kind of like a sequel to Nifflas' other games, Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest, but also kind of not. While it has all the exploration, atmosphere, and spiffy audio/visuals of said games, it unfortunately left me feeling less satisfied than any of them. But that's not to say that Knytt Underground is a bad game; it may just be a pretty alright game rather than a great game.
The gently swaying over-sized plants in the background are an interesting artistic touch.
This is just one of many differently styled areas which each have ambient music
and sounds to set the mood.
Knytt Underground, like its predecessor, Knytt Stories, is all about exploration. There is no fighting at all and the only enemies are the occasional robots and environmental hazards which act more as elements of platforming puzzles than as enemies. If you mess up and die (it only takes one hit), you'll be mercifully reset to the beginning of the screen, just before the obstacle. Save points are also kindly signified by arrow signs in adjacent screens to make it less likely that you'll wander down the ever branching paths without encountering one. The game extends over the course of three chapters, although the first two chapters are more like tutorials for the core gameplay elements of climbing, using special location-based abilities that let you fly temporarily and with limited mobility, and bouncing as a ball. In the third chapter, you're able to transform between the main character's climbing/ability-using form and the ball form, which allows you to get all over the place with some pretty unique physics-based platforming.
The robot on the bottom electrifies the water when you get close. The one on top shoots.
The white orb gives you one robot-killing shot. The green orb lets you fly temporarily.
You can turn into a ball and bounce at any time or climb walls as a sprite.
Figure out how to get where you want.
This third chapter is where the majority of the game takes place and you'll spend it with the goal of ringing six bells and saving the world (or maybe not - the legend could be a myth as some characters suspect). In order to ring the bells, you'll have to find miscellaneous items to pay the gatekeepers by doing quests for people which are mostly just doing tricky platforming and finding hidden passages. The map is huge and there's a ton to explore. There are even extra secret areas outside the boundaries of the map with extra challenging challenges. Unfortunately for Wii U owners, there's not much reason to find these exceedingly well-hidden and difficult challenges because all they gain you is an achievement. Even the other hidden items are unexciting to get because they offer little benefit except to get you past gatekeepers or to offer you back story on characters that you likely won't see again (although the dialogue is well written and often amusing). By the way, this dialogue between your two fairy companions and the people of the world is the sole reason for the game's M rating; there's some usage of F-bombs, among other vulgar language. Shoutout to ESRB for giving a game with swear words the same rating as Grand Theft Auto.
You are Mi. You travel with the super optimistic Dora and her super negative friend Cilia.
Mi is mute, so these two fairy companions do most of the talking.
Unlike typical Metroidvania games and Knytt Stories, there aren't really any upgrades that allow you to access new areas. Instead, you have access to the entire map from the start (of Chapter 3). In my book, this is a huge problem. Because of this design choice, finding items is unexciting, and backtracking and exploring gradually becomes more of a chore since you never get any new abilities to change up the way you explore. It's great the the world is so big and that there are so many secrets everywhere, but after the ten or so hours it'll take to explore it all, you'll likely be getting bored. And while the story has some interesting themes and characters, the openness of the game results in the story being just a bunch of disconnected scenes rather than something that can build on itself much.
Not that this game is stupid by any means.
The Final Word:
There is certainly some fun to be had in Knytt Underground, but after several hours of it, it gets old. If you're looking for a nice, relaxing game with lots of exploration or if you're just a fan of Nifflas, this game might be for you. Just know that this isn't really a Metroidvania due to the lack of new abilities and that it might not be for you if you require nonstop action in your games.

For another mellow exploration-based game, check out Ico. Or, for a Metroidvania game that actually has combat and upgradeable abilities, give Guacamelee! a try.