System: Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Mac)
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Upon first glance, Knytt Underground looks small. The main character, Mi Sprocket, is very tiny, and she only takes up a miniscule part of the game screen.
The first couple chapters of this Metroidvania-esque 2D platformer do little to disavow this idea. The first chapter introduces Mi and her gameplay mechanics, but it can be finished in an hour. The second chapter is even quicker, as a new character, a bouncy ball, is used to speed through the playing area.
Then the third chapter appears.
All of a sudden, this relatively pedestrian game world is opened up into a MASSIVE new environment. Over 1,800 rooms are now accessible, each one different than the last. No longer does the game feel small — now it’s nearly overwhelming.
With the game now completely unlocked, both Mi and the ball can be used at whim. It is imperative to take advantage of both characters, as some areas can only be reached with one of them. Mi is a gifted climber, whereas the ball can jump/bounce much higher.
The name of the game here is exploration. This is an enormous world full of little nooks and crannies, with plenty of secrets hiding in the dark. There’s always something new to discover, and it’s easy to get sucked into the digging experience. There were times that I would sit down to play a quick session but ended up playing for hours instead. There’s something to be said about wanting to keep pushing forward, just to see what the next room has in store (and then the next, and the one after that, etc.).
Part of what makes the game’s exploration so addictive is that the atmosphere is so engaging. The often-dark visuals are simply gorgeous, aided by occasionally breathtaking backgrounds that sway back and forth. In the 1,800+ rooms, there are a number of locales to discover, meaning there is plenty of eye candy. I kept advancing simply to see what I would stumble upon next. Adding even more to the game’s alluring aesthetics is a beautiful ambient soundtrack that lends way to a zen-like, almost cathartic experience.
It’s unfortunate then, that these moments of zen are sometimes interrupted with a haphazard attempt at storyline progression. The game’s plot is nonsensical, full of sprites, fairies, pixies and other fantasy creatures. Not-so-veiled attempts at religious allegories are brought up, as there is an ongoing dispute between the Myrmidons and the Internet (atheists). Pieces of the narrative are put together via quirky dialogue that is stumbled upon while pursuing side quests, but even after putting in a good dozen or so hours into the game, I was just as confused as I was at the beginning.
The story and the ensuing head-scratching dialogue add little to the game, and I would actually have preferred if there were no narrative at all. There is a damn good exploration game underneath this, and improved writing would have really pushed this in the right direction.
As it stands, there’s still a lot to love with Knytt Underground. The in-game world is so big that it’s easy to get your $15 worth just by casually exploring the area. I kept finding myself coming back to this game, simply because of its relaxing gameplay and visually stunning atmosphere. It should be noted that this is also one of the select few cross-play titles available, meaning that it can be played on both the PS Vita and PS3 with cloud saving capability. For those interested in Metroidvania games or platforming exploration in general, Knytt is certainly worth a look.
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)