Review: Knytt Underground
After some hours into the game I found a secret area somewhere in the world of Knytt Underground that led me through a hidden tunnel that you’d otherwise never see. After a few moments I emerged on the other side of an all new area in which a disco dance party was taking place. I’m not sure if that was the moment where things clicked for me but I do know that at that moment that I understood what makes Knytt Underground so great.
No, it’s not that the game features a disco party hidden from the rest of the world. Knytt Underground hearkens back to games that let you explore and discover a world all on your own. Knytt Underground equips you with the tools necessary to travel throughout its massive world and leaves everything to you. You’re presented with a world that is yours to explore and ultimately save. That is if it actually needs saving.
The game places you in the role of Mi, a mute sprite, who is tasked with ringing the six bells of fate in order to prevent the prophesied end of the world. The idea presented within the game is that every so many years the bells must be rung to awaken the Gods who will thus prevent the end of the world. Every time someone must be chosen to go about this quest and this time that person just so happens to be you. This is mostly the only thing that’s ever straight up told to you throughout the game. The rest, which you’ll mostly find throughout your journey, will be revealed as you complete new quests, discover hidden areas, and meet new people. Even after finishing the game I still found myself unlocking new areas and learning new things about the backstory of the world as well as a little bit about my own history.
What you’ll find is a world split between religious and non-religious groups and characters that offer up dozens of distinct ideologies. You’ll find that certain characters seem to tell a side to the story that fits their own agenda while others might reveal a different truth. Which I actually found quite fascinating as the main religious group within the game holds the belief that all religions offer a small truth that, when combined, would show the full story. In that same way you’ll find that, after much exploration and questing, you might be able to paint a better picture as to what this world is really all about. On top of this, Mi has two fairies that follows her around offering up commentary as well as speaking on your behalf. One fairy naturally shows a desire to want to believe in religious ideas while the other clearly wants to have none of it. It’s here where I think some of the writing in the game falls flat but it’s also between these two characters where the writing really nails the overall feeling of the game. Not to mention that you’ll make discoveries about the two fairies that will likely leave you shocked.
Knytt Underground gives you a world map that is made up of a 48×30 solid grid with each square on the map representing a single room. It’s not unlike any other Metroidvania that you might have played in the past in that respect. However one key difference being that Knytt Underground, after finishing the tutorial (Chapters 1 and 2), gives you everything that you need to explore the world. You won’t be unlocking abilities that will grant you access to new locations later on in the game. Instead you’ll have everything you need as soon as you hit Chapter 3. (This only takes around an hour or so.)
As you explore the world you’ll meet new people, collect all sorts of artifacts, and complete quests as you make your way towards each of the six bells within the game. The first five bells within the game are all guarded by someone who will ask you for a specific number of items or a small payment. Apparently there is a hidden path past these guards enabling you to skip payment but I was unable to find them in my playthrough. Though the fact that that is even an option is kind of amazing. For those unable to find those paths you’ll be completing quests and exploring every inch of the world to find the items that you need. Luckily the best part of Knytt Underground is that the traversal is absolutely fantastic. As Mi you can climb walls, preform wall jumps, you can transform into a bouncing ball to propel yourself towards hard to reach places and so much more. With just a few simple control mechanics that take no time to grow accustomed to you are able to traverse every aspect of the world presented to you. All it takes is a little ingenuity and you’ll be able to reach any section of the map with little problem. Just as well Mi has access to special abilities that allow for a single-use high-jump, long range attack as well as a couple other abilities. Getting through the main game will mostly be a piece of cake but it’s the content that’s hidden from sight that will put your skills to the test.
Without giving too much away there’s a secret area that goes off the main map and presents Mi with a series of challenge rooms that require the utmost skill in all of Mi’s abilities. It’s some of the most challenging platforming and reflex-intensive based gameplay I’ve experienced in quite some time. Yet it’s also incredibly rewarding. There’s a massive world to explore and as you’ll discover there are moments where this game will absolutely not mess around.
After all of the time that I spent exploring the world of Knytt Underground I made my way towards the final bell in my journey to save a world. At this point I had learned so much about the history of this world and why things are the way they are now. I had heard the stories of so many people and pieced together what I believed really happened. Despite some occasionally poor dialog everything up to that point had all been done so well. Then the game just sort of ends. Literally. There’s a vague sequence that hints at something more but it’s too vague to know for sure. In a sense I know why the ending was done in the way that it was but at the same time it suffers from feeling a little anti-climatic. That said there’s a secret ending that can be unlocked after finishing a certain set of tasks that totally blew my mind in an unexpected yet kind of awesome way. I think.
Despite that I look back at Knytt Underground and think very fondly of my time with it. There are so many hidden secrets within the game that I just can’t wait to find. Knytt Underground lives and thrives off of the sense of wonder that is missing from so many games these days. There’s something really amazing about being able to discover and learn all about a world on your own. It’s a game that will not spoon feed you story beats and it’s not going to help you out with anything. The world is yours to uncover and the game is made better because of it. There are people who will likely never see the challenge rooms, who will never dance to disco music, who will never meet some rather important characters or witness major character revelations. You’ll never be pointed in a specific direction and you’ll never be told what to do. Knytt Underground is a fantastic game that is an absolute blast to play while offering a sense of scale and discovery that you simply just don’t find in many games these days. There are things that I haven’t mentioned and there are reasons why this game is my PSN Game of the Year from 2012. But it’s those things that you need to experience for yourself because this review just wouldn’t do them justice.
A copy of this game was purchased for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation Vita version of the game.
What I Like:
- Traversal throughout the world is tons of fun
- Coming up with different ways to exploit your abilities to reach hard to reach areas.
- Discovering all sorts of hidden secrets within the game
- Uncovering the story and background of the world purely through exploration feels rewarding
- Filling in the very large map
- Challenge rooms are tough as nails but incredibly rewarding.
- The revelation from the secret ending is pretty great.
What I Dislike:
- Dialog sometimes fall flat and it can be a little too self aware at times.