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Snapshot: Knytt Underground


Knytt Underground is the kind of game you can easily get lost in. I mean that in both the metaphorical sense of an engrossing experience, and the literal sense of a game in which I wandered around until I found where I was supposed to be.

Somehow, Nifflas's latest combines discrete chapters and an open, explorable map, and makes that seemingly impossible combination work. And it's pretty funny.

Knytt Underground is a side-scrolling, open adventure set in a subterranean environment in what seems to be the future. Forgive the term, but it's of the "Metroidvania" variety, meaning you can go anywhere you want if you have the right ability. It stars Mi Sprocket, a mysteriously mute sprite accompanied by two fairies, and Bob, a bouncing ball ... thing ... with eyes. Mi can climb walls, and Bob can bounce, as well as grapple from certain enemies. You get the ability to switch between these two characters at will, and their base abilities are enough to get you around most places. Movement is quick, and the platforming physics have a good feel to them, although the ball character can get out of control really quickly. Thanks for that, physics.

What you'll find as you explore the 1,800 rooms is a mysterious story of two factions called the "Myriadists" and the "Internet," a weirdly sarcastic script that changes depending on which of your two fairy companions you choose to let speak for you, and a lot of secret paths hidden in normal-looking walls.

Snapshot Knytt Underground

You'll also find a large number of quests given to you by people you meet, which show the game's subversive edge better than anything else. It always seems like your fetch quest is a failure, or pointless: you'll go to find someone, and they won't be where you expected them – but they'll show up back at the starting point, technically completing the objective without your help. Or you'll go looking for a key to a locked door, only to find it open when you get back.

This seems like Nifflas commenting on the arbitrariness of quest systems: the important thing is that you went to this other place and back, regardless of what the game explicitly told you the task was supposed to be. It'd be kind of demoralizing if it weren't so funny.

Between quests, however, there's a lot of wandering. In keeping with the style Nifflas displayed in NightSky, there are a lot of quiet, quietly beautiful rooms to explore, though so much serene wandering results in getting lost frequently. This seems to separate it from other Metroidvanias, for good and for ill. There are a lot of rooms that seem like they're just there to build atmosphere, and they do, but they also increase distance between objectives.

I admit I don't fully understand everything that's going on in Knytt Underground – the reason this is a Snapshot instead of a full review is that I decided it would be better to write something now instead of spending the rest of my life exploring. But I already know that it's interesting enough to be worth checking out if you feel like getting lost in a new world.

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