It's been a few years, but the Knytt series has finally returned! Knytt Underground pulls in design elements from several of Nifflas' (Nicklas Nygren) other games, including Within a Deep Forest, NightSky, and Saira, and creates a beautifully atmospheric game of exploration. There's a big world to run, climb and bounce through, packed with secrets that can only be found by mastering some unique character switching moves.
Humans vanished hundreds of years ago after nearly destroying the planet in a large-scale war. The creatures who survived are mostly Sprites, Fairies, and other tiny critters living in underground tunnels (some with cute houses!). They're all curious about what happened above so long ago. Getting herself tangled up in the middle of all this is Mi, a mute Sprite who loves nothing more than exploration. She starts an innocent journey that eventually leads her to the world's last hope for salvation: ringing the six bells of fate. But, really, couldn't all that stuff be an old superstition? Guess there's only one way to find out.
Knytt Underground's gameplay combines standard platforming elements from the Knytt series with the wildly entertaining bouncing mechanics from Within a Deep Forest. The first few chapters kick the story off and let you learn the ins and outs of controlling Mi and "Bob", both of whom encounter characters who need simple tasks completed in exchange for passage forward. Mi can walk, jump, and scale walls, and when she encounters colored flowers she can initiate special abilities that let her fly across the screen with the press of a button. Bob is more rubbery in nature and can bounce both far and high, just like those dodgeballs you got hit with in elementary school. Bob can also hook and swing from certain machines to gain access to out of the way areas. Separately these characters can get quite a bit done, but if you combine their powers you're pretty much an unstoppable exploration machine.
With the press of a button you can switch between Mi and Bob, instantly changing back and forth whenever you like. This opens up so many new moves it's almost scary to think about. Who needs ability upgrades when you can bounce off a wall, switch characters, climb up a block, drop down, switch again, bounce off an angled floor, switch again, grab a green flower and fly across the stage like a comet, all while lava bubbles below and robots fire at you from all around? It's exciting and satisfying as well, and it forces you to look at each room with an entirely different perspective.
Analysis: If someone asks you "Hey, what's a good indie game to play?", any release from the Knytt series is the correct answer. Knytt Underground has a lot to live up to, but it manages to be both comfortingly familiar and creatively original in the same stroke. The character switching is by far the best feature, turning the game's sprawling world into both a test of reflexes and an exercise in puzzle solving. The level design reflects your new abilities with elegance, and each time you run across familiar territory and suddenly see how it works with each character, you'll smile and feel like the cleverest little detective in the world.
The Knytt series has always been about atmosphere, and Knytt Underground certainly does not disappoint. Gone are the basic pixel graphics, replaced with more intricate artwork and photorealistic images decorating both the background and foreground. The music is soothing and ambient, setting the perfect tone for a quiet underground world of small creatures frightened about their fate but hopeful for the future.
Knytt Underground is much more map friendly than earlier Knytt releases, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. For most, having a visual representation of visited rooms is a boon, and the icons that show you save points and quest locations make getting lost a thing of the past. Don't expect it to be a straightforward affair working your way to the next point of interest, as the world is a twisted complex of tunnels.
There's more personality in Knytt Underground, from the humorous writing to the quirky but relatable situations Mi and Bob find themselves in.It's a brilliant culmination of years of atmospheric exploration gaming, and it's got just about everything you could ever want in a game. Not only will Knytt Underground fill you with warm feelings of video game enjoyment, it'll reignite your passion for Nifflas' previous releases.