The first thing that struck me when playing Knytt [pronounced: Ker-nytt] Underground was how much it reminded me of the work of Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson. The game’s picturesque yet haunting atmosphere and wide eyed character designs reminiscent of Jansson’s Moomin books.
The game’s mute protagonist Mi Sproket shares many characteristics with Jansson’s Toffle from ‘Who Will Comfort Toffle?’ [original title: Vem ska trösta knyttet]. Likewise, the game’s post apocalyptic setting in which humanity has wiped itself out and destroyed the planet’s surface in the process, forcing the Knytt peoples of sprites and faeries to seek a new life underground reminded me of Jansson’s final Moomin book, The Melancholy of Moomin Valley. In which another young boy, Tortle, travels to Moomin Valley in order to live with the Moomin only to find it abandoned. The Moomin are long gone, replaced with other strange creatures that have all been drawn to the same place seeking answers from the valley’s former inhabitants that they’ll probably never find.
Much like the creatures drawn to Moomin Valley, the sprites and the faeries that inhabit the underground are lost, desperately attempting to understand why the humans vanished and hopefully stop it happening again.
Sproket, along with two fairies, which she uses to communicate with others, are sent on a mission to ring the six bells of fate in order to stop the world from dissolving. However, as you traverse the game’s humongous map, encountering all kinds of weird and wonderful characters, it becomes apparent that nobody actually knows what will happen if you don’t ring the bells because you’re the first one to ever need to do so. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
The game itself is split into three chapters, the first two act as an introduction to the games main mechanics. The first has you traversing the world as Mi and introduces you to the basics of running, jumping and climbing along with the games one shot power ups which fire Mi off in various directions and are used to solve the majority of the game’s puzzle sections.
In the second chapter, you play as Rob the ball, introducing players to what will become Mi’s second form and the interesting bouncing mechanics that go along with it.
Although the opening two chapters are quite large, especially if you take the time to explore, they are really just a prelude to the much meatier third chapter, which brings the games two disparate platforming styles together. This simple act makes an already challenging game into an absolute mind melter at times. Although a lot of the game’s rooms act as filler, they do a marvellous job of framing the parts of the map that contain the games numerous and incredibly devious platforming puzzles. Your reward for completing each of them is a trinket of some kind left behind by the humans needed to convince one of a group of opportunists that have constructed doors in front each of the six bells in hopes of making a quick buck to let you past.
In fact the world of Knytt is full of characters ready to take advantage of our innocent hero. Every sparsely lit settlement you pass through home to new people in need, not all of them are as honest as they first appear and you don’t have to be either. On several occasions you’re free to literally take the money and run if you choose to. There’s no recourse for your questionable actions either, apart from your own conscience bugging you.
It is incredibly nihilistic but brilliant, once you finish the quest and the credits roll, some will undoubtedly feel cheated by the game’s abrupt ending. However, as you traverse the tunnels it becomes abundantly clear that the quest for the bells is almost a secondary objective. The most important part of Knytt Underground is not where you end up, but the journey itself and what you do along the way,.
The winding tunnels of the underground are as beautiful as they are varied and dangerous, from settlements built into giant mushrooms, rusting mechanisms and hazardous automatons left behind by the planets previous inhabitants to dark perilous depths and fissures that drip lava onto the unwary. The stark blacks of the foreground perfectly complimenting the games beautiful backgrounds along with a minimalistic yet emotive score that punctuates every step of your journey, creating an almost dreamlike experience which sucks players in and refuses to let go until the final bell chimes.
In short, Knytt Underground is one of the finest games on the eshop, an intelligent and thoughtful exploration of the nature of blind faith wrapped in an incredibly slick, enjoyable and rewarding Metroidvania style platformer. If you’re in the market for a game that’s deep both literally and metaphorically I’d recommend giving Knytt Underground a whirl.