The relatively young Ripstone is beginning to develop a reputation amongst the PlayStation community for delivering interesting digital products that other publishers might shy away from. From Pure Chess to the extensive PlayStation Mobile support, Ripstone’s catalogue demonstrates bold projects delivered through the most modern of distribution systems. Their latest title, Knytt Underground, is no different.
Developed by Green Hill under the watchful eye of series creator Nicklas Nygren, a.k.a. ‘Nifflas,’ Knytt Underground is the first console edition of the popular Knytt series which originally found fame via simple browser based releases. The success of Knytt was always based on its immediacy and deeply imaginative design, and given that it’s this basis that has brought the series enough respect to come to consoles it would be remiss of the team to change the formula now. Knytt Underground, then, is exactly what the audience demands: more of the same.
Knytt Underground features only one gameplay mode accessed via walking to the correct part of the scenery. Thus, with no introduction, longwinded tutorial or training modes, players are taught the basics of Knytt Underground’s gameplay mechanics: if you want to walk right, press right. Everything the player needs to understand is taught by way of visual recognition. You are expected to have a minor understanding of the platform videogame genre – for instance, that there will be a jump button and that it will execute a jump manoeuvre – but beyond this all of the videogame’s actions, challenges and mechanics are taught organically.
Beginning with perhaps the simplest introduction possible, the player meets a cartoon rendition of series creator Nifflas and is informed by their own character that he’s a liar, and should be ignored. They’re then asked to visit the player character’s sister by the player’s character, simply informed that she is ‘up.’ Such vagueness is part of Knytt Underground’s charm, as it never actually tells the player what to do. This is all about freeform gameplay in which the player sets their own goals, with progress denoted only by the slow and gradual completion of a map than comes simply from exploration.
Designed with one eye keenly on the 2D Metroid titles, players will find that there are many paths they cannot yet follow, with a puzzle to be solved or action to be taken in order to gain access. Sometimes this will require the collection of items for a character, others it will require access to new abilities. The fast pace of the platform action means that players won’t tire of the backtracking as they might in some titles, but also means that player dexterity is put to the test very early in the adventure and constantly thereafter.
Knytt Underground doesn’t feature enemies as such, but it does offer challenges that are presented in the same fashion as the almost non-existent tutorial. Laser beams, electrified water, fireballs; it’s obvious that these things will hurt you, and so avoiding them is the best tactic. However, Knytt Underground isn’t a videogame about penalising you, it’s about helping you to face its challenges better prepared through developing your skill, and as such any death will be met with an instant restart in the exact same room.
The visual quality of Knytt Underground is frequently awe inspiring; brimming with personality and fantastical venues akin to the likes of Trine 2: Director’s Cut despite using an art style that features significantly less details. Using colour and shadow to evoke feelings from the player that inspire atmosphere by way of basic human perception, Knytt Underground very cleverly captures the ideal that most will recognise a broken tree as being spooky or a decaying stone statue as likely to be hiding secrets from an ancient civilisation. Given that players can enjoy Knytt Underground on both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, Green Hill have had to take into account the capabilities of both systems, especially as the continued pursuit of modern technological advances by Ripstone has lead the videogame to be one of the first titles that allows players to sync their save data between both formats, enabling progress on either format.
Available to download for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vit now – for one single price – Knytt Underground is a remarkable production. Cleary devised for gamers with some experience already under their belt, thought not necessarily those who regularly move with the ebb and flow of the core gamer market, Knytt Underground provides as much intrigue as it does challenge. The emphasis relies heavily on the player’s sense of intrigue and aims to stimulate it through the lack of outside pressures such as time limits or punishments. Successful in all these regards, Knytt Underground is a gem in the PlayStation Network line-up that demands to garner attention from the gaming masses.