Game – Knytt Underground
Version – Wii U eShop
ESRB Rating – M – Mature
Price – $13.99
Release Date – 19/12/2013
Publisher – Ripstone
Obtained – Review copy courtesy of Ripstone
Navigating a huge map full of beautiful, imaginative caverns and taking on tough platforming challenges are the main constituents of Knytt Underground, and it’s (almost) the perfect combination of gameplay and style.
Hundreds of years ago, the planet was nearly destroyed at the hand of humans. Some of them sought refuge in the sky, while others known as “Sprites” dug their way into caverns below the surface. In Knytt Underground you play as Mi, a brave Sprite troubled by her mysterious case of mutism, and guide her on a quest to ring the six bells of fate before they bring about a chain of events that will surely destroy the world. Along the way, you’ll meet a cast of strange characters that will guide you on your path.
The game’s dialogue is a direct contrast to the world around it. While the environments are dark and mysterious, the characters are lighthearted and humorous. This noticeable difference is jarring when the game begins, as the grand majority of what the characters have to say is childish and with a strained effort to be funny. The game’s “M” rating comes from some needless swearing that adds little to the narrative, the removal of which would have certainly opened the game up to a wider audience. Throughout the majority of Mi’s adventure she is accompanied by two fairies that represent optimism and negativity, and the player can choose which one responds to certain situations. Although the results are inconsequential, it’s interesting to see how the various characters react, and admittedly they become more likable and grow on the player as the game progresses.
Gameplay & Controls
Knytt Underground takes place over the course of three chapters, but the first two mainly serve as introductions to the game’s story and mechanics. In the third chapter, the world opens up and Mi’s adventure becomes far less linear. By the time Mi is ready to set out and ring the six bells of fate, she already has all the abilities she needs to get virtually anywhere on the map. Mi herself can only move around, jump and climb up walls, but she can transform into a ball in order to get more height and distance out of her jumps, and use power-ups to navigate the environment and avoid obstacles. Knytt makes excellent use of all these abilities in puzzles and challenges, and there are always points where the player needs to cleverly combine them to progress. Even some paths that may seem impossible to navigate can be traveled with a bit of thought, and that’s what makes Knytt Underground’s gameplay so incredibly satisfying.
The only true element impeding Mi from her quest are characters blocking pathways to the bells, which usually require some sort of fetch quest to open. While these types of quests are typically intrusive in other games, the fact that you’re constantly exploring every nook and cranny of Knytt’s world means that you’ll naturally come across the items you need as you progress. Some quests-givers even mark the locations you need to visit on your map, which is a convenient touch that gives your adventure a sense of direction.
Visuals & Sound
While the excellent platforming challenges are the main reason you’ll want to play Knytt Underground, the environments are the driving force behind some of the less involved areas. Not all of them are packed with enemies, puzzles and story elements, but they all have interesting visual effects to gaze at. The game’s foregrounds consist almost entirely of black shadows, while background elements range from shadowy cog wheels and ominous rock formations to vibrant and colorful plant life. This art style allows for a surprising amount of variety with regards to the game’s atmosphere. Some areas are bone-chillingly creepy and others are mesmerizing, foreign and full of colour.
Just as characters’ dialogue contrasts the mood and tone that the environments present, so too do their designs. While the environments use real-life art assets in fantastical ways, such as constructing houses out of mushrooms and throwing gigantic flora here and there, the character designs are cartoonish and stand out glaringly. These designs may stand out less as the player grows accustomed to them, and in some cases they even add a bit of diversity to the cast of characters and varying races, but they could have surely been approached from a more sensible art style that remained coherent with the rest of the game.
The simultaneous horror of exploring the very depths of the Earth and whimsy of a magical fantasy world are equally expressed in this wonderful amalgamation of art and music. Putting the character designs aside, Knytt Underground is truly a wonder to behold.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Knytt Underground is an excellent game that is more than worthy of your $13.99. It is lengthy, challenging and features gorgeous environments. Though the story is only moderately interesting and dialogue is hit-and-miss, the gameplay and atmosphere are so gripping that they will drive you to complete the game. If the “M” rating is throwing you off, don’t be alarmed unless you’re easily offended by rare bits of salty language.
+ Many hours of content (upwards of 10, including extra content not included in the main story)
+ Great, unique platforming challenges
+ Switching between forms and using special abilities in clever ways to progress is very satisfying
+ Stunning visual style and atmosphere
+ Occasionally charming and funny dialogue
+ Off-TV play
– Inconsistent art style, mainly due to character models
– Needless swearing has garnered this an “M”rating
– Some forced humour and childish dialogue