Inspired by a children's book, and based on scenarios that are reminiscent of the illustrations of Maurice Sendak, Knytt Underground is a wonderful indie joy.
...and then there was an explosion.
I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I think these are the key words to summarise Knytt Underground. This phrase, in fact, is pronounced by Nicklas Nygren, game creator and narrator of Knytt Underground. That's right: the game features Nicklas in person, who uses the most basic narrative devices (the twist) to finish each level in an almost unjustified manner, going so far as to promise the player that the next level will be better than the previous one. In addition, the game pushes the player to go through a physical representation of the game's title in the menu.
From here we deduce that Knytt Undergound is a game that can produce multiple orgasms in the minds of scholars of semiotics and postmodernism, thanks to some of the aspects that the game deals with: self-reference, metanarrative, intermediality. The latter due to the fact that the game, in addition to not hiding from being a video game and not concealing the author, is inspired by a series of picture books for children by Finnish author Tove Jansson, and in particular by the book Who Will Comfort Toffle, published in 1960.
Knytt Underground, then, is a video game based on a book, badly narrated by the author of the video game (though this is intentional), starring a strange aphasic girl responsible for saving the world. In a nutshell: it is a melting pot of styles, tricks and different languages which, fortunately for us, results in an incredibly pleasant experience.
Knytt Underground can be defined as a platform adventure split into three levels, each of them with unique gameplay. I prefer not to talk about the elements that make each level distinctive (this is perhaps one of the most beautiful surprises of the game), but I'd rather talk about the huge scale of the game.
Each level, in fact, is gigantic. Exploration requires a very long time, and often the steps are blocked by complex puzzles that require both a little talent, and clever use of the controls. With regard to the control system, I have the feeling that it lacks a bit of accuracy - in particular during the second level - but in any case the respawn points are well calibrated, and after missing a ledge it's possible to restart the game shortly before a difficult jump or a particularly tortuous passage.
Despite the presence of the author as an omniscient narrator, most of the story is told through the adventures of the protagonist (who, as we mentioned, can't speak) and by the strange characters she meets: denizens of the underworld, fairies, cynical and pretentious little men. Some of these characters give us missions, which can be completely ignored. In any case, by following the assigned missions you can explore parts of the level that you would've otherwise ignored, discovering other puzzles and some incredible strokes of genius in level design, as well as providing a clearer idea as to the mammoth scale of this small downloadable game.
The game's art style is remotely inspired by Tove Jansson's illustrated books, with a darker and more grotesque twist. Some scenes are reminiscent of the more recent films by Tim Burton, while in others it reminded me of illustrations by Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. In a word: awesome. In the PS Vita version of the game it's also possible to interact with the elements in the background, by using the rear touch pad. It's a useless but amusing touch of class.
The sound, finally, is probably the most beautiful aspect of the game. The atmosphere it creates is extraordinary, capable of drawing the player into a new world after just a few minutes. Knytt Undergound, in short, must be played with a good pair of headphones on, preferably a pair able to isolate you from the outside world.
I don't think Knytt Undergound is a perfect game. Its control issues have repeatedly prevented me from understanding how to solve a puzzle, resulting in frustration. However, the size of Knytt Underground, its ability to dive into a new world and, above all, its ironic ability to make wise use of the archetypes of post-modern language, have conquered my heart. Give this great little game a chance. Download the demo. You'll love it.