Last night I played through the demo for Knytt Underground. It was pretty good, but not great, and it’s a game that’s hard for me to truly criticize because
- I really liked the previous Knytt games
- It plays a lot like the previous Knytt games
- Nifflas seems like a really nice guy, and also yeah Scandinavia ftw
but it didn’t really click for me in the same way that the first two did.
The demo is long. It contains both the first (of three) chapters of the game and a preview of the new gameplay mechanics available later on. In an age where demos are increasingly uncommon at all, this is a good example of one where care has been taken to let players get a taste of what’s to come.
Remember Within a Deep Forest? It’s back, kind of.
Gameplay-wise, the game is basically Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest (yes, you get the power to turn into a bouncing ball) with a stricter storyline, or at least that’s what I could tell from the demo. There’s still a huge emphasis on exploration, but it’s much more directed this time around, mainly due to the quests you can accept along the way. Every so often, you run into other people who hand out quests – such as collecting a number of artifacts scattered around the level – and for me, this is where the game loses some of its greatness.
You see, in the first game you’re a small creature that gets abducted by an alien who then crashes his ship on a foreign planet. The alien is apparently a lazy fuck because from there on you have to explore the huge open world to find all the missing spaceship components so you can go home. That’s the entire story. Okay, so it wouldn’t exactly win any literary awards but it was a good starting point for an adventure where you know nothing about the world. The fact that this world was completely uncharted and for the most part humanly uninhabited made it so much more interesting to explore, with its huge size and variety.
In Underground, you are a girl with an existing name, personality and backstory, and the game apparently takes place right around her hometown. Because of this, you frequently run into people you know, and when everyone else apparently go exploring just like you, it makes the exploration a little tame by comparison. I understand there has to be some sort of objective to the game or it would feel meaningless, but I feel the sense of wonder and mystery dwindles with the introduction of all these characters and their quest handouts.
Of course, with the addition of quest objectives comes the question where do I need to go now? The game includes a map screen which handily shows all the rooms you’ve been to as well as locations of objectives and items. It works well to relieve the frustration I remember from the first Knytt where I consistently visited the same rooms again and again, not knowing how to progress.
In a way, you can see the progression from a purely exploration-based game to a directed, quest-based game through the Knytt series. The first featured no direction apart from an arrow to the closest item (which could very well be miles away behind a maze of tunnels) and the player’s curiosity sparked by the game world. The second one consisted of a bunch of smaller adventures with key puzzles, a very small amount of dialogue, and vague objectives. And now, the third appears to be pretty much quest after (fetch) quest, with plenty of dialogue. Speaking from the demo alone, I’m not a fan of this progression. Maybe the full game will change my mind. I hope.
Yeah, it is pretty charming.
Visually, the game looks fairly good. There are a number of visual effects at play, such as water, light and particles, but I find the world lacking in visual variety compared to the previous games. All ground is pitch black, with the backgrounds providing bright colors. It makes for nice contrasts, and it is particularly reminiscent of NightSky, another Nifflas game. Like I said previously, the problem is that the first two Knytts had a large variety in textures between regions of the world, and this does not. In the first one, you might be in a desert with sand-textured ground one moment, and on a grey, rocky mountaintop the next. Underground lacks this visual variety; here, a desert would be almost indistinguishable from a cliff or a grass field since everything is black. Underground does use a lot of colors for the backgrounds though, and they look pretty good. Strangely, the backgrounds usually consist of photographs of nature and other objects. It looks like they took some inspiration from And Yet It Moves on that front, and I have to admit it’s really charming in its own way. I just miss the old style.
To sum up, Knytt Underground is kind of a mixed bag for me. The platforming is as good as ever and the game world is huge (if less varied), but I feel the introduction of characters and quests wasn’t such a wise decision, one that so far makes the world less fascinating than it could have been. I’ll probably still buy it though. It is a Knytt game, after all.
Finally, a bit of trivia: At one point the game uses the track North & South by D Fast – not the Knytt Stories version but the Get Caught album version. And if you know what I’m talking about, you are such a fucking nerd (let’s get in touch).