Indie developer Nicklas Nygren is known for creating unique and imaginative platformers, and his latest release is no exception. Knytt Underground mixes artsy visuals with novel gameplay mechanics and lets players loose to explore the largest Metroid-style world map I've ever seen. While the characters and puzzles held my attention for the long haul, the directionless narrative fumbles its way to a profoundly disappointing ending.
At the heart of the tale is a mute sprite named Mi Sprocket who is chosen to undergo an ancient quest to ring six bells in order to save her subterranean world, which is full of interesting lore and atypical characters. However, Knytt Underground's real draw is exploring the world. Mi's small but unique skill set, including the ability to morph into a ball and bounce off of surfaces, aids you in solving countless environmental puzzles. Most involve reaching a seemingly unattainable ledge or avoiding deadly enemies, and solutions rarely feel repetitive. One area involves using the momentum from a large fall to bounce your way to safety. Another requires chaining together a series of one-time use power-ups – like floating sideways until you hit an obstacle – to navigate multiple screens. Some areas are mazes filled with moving blocks and hidden paths. None of the solutions are mind-blowing, but they do make you feel clever from time to time.
Slowly but surely, the sprawling branches on your map fill out into a solid rectangle of more than a thousand rooms. Exploring every map cell becomes a grind and requires a lot of backtracking, but I was compelled to see what happened when I rung the final bell.
Unfortunately, the ending is an utter letdown. Nygren – who appears as an in-game character during the wrap-up – states outright that the adventure is more about the journey than the ending; I might have accepted that explanation if the game had at least tried to offer a meaningful conclusion, but the tongue-in-cheek ramblings the game offers instead are a miserable substitute.
Exploring Knytt Underground's vast world and learning about the eccentric cast of characters and surprisingly deep lore can be fun – just don't expect any kind of rewarding conclusion to be awaiting you at the end of your adventure.