I couldn’t tell you when Knytt Underground got added to my long list of untouched PlayStation 3 games, but it did at some point. Thanks to PlayStation Plus, of course, a service that lets me download a high number of titles to collect digital dust until I randomly decide to play them or am inspired by an outside source to see what the deal is. This time around, I was inspired, greatly so, and we can look to Matt Mason’s posts over at Obtain Potion for the push, specifically Living Under a Rock and Let’s Find Another Deux Machina, as I really had no idea what Kyntt Underground was for the longest time. I figured it was some indie puzzle game, and it definitely is that–but so much more.
At its most basic form, Knytt Underground is about subterranean exploration. You play as a young woman called Mi Sprocket who is mysteriously mute, as well as, eventually, Bob, a magical bouncing ball. Naturally, the two characters play very differently from each other; you use Mi to climb up/down walls, and Bob can bounce around the room and reach previously unattainable areas, as well as tether himself to certain robots. For Bob, it’s all about physics, and sometimes that can be a bit tricky to master, especially when a single bounce can send you zooming across the screen, possibly to a new area, before you even have a moment to react. The game is split into three chapters and an interlude, with chapter one focusing on getting Mi to the fairy village and chapter two focusing on becoming Bob and learning what he can do. Chapter three seems to be the real meat of the game and is both awesome and intimidating.
See, it’s easy to get lost in Knytt Underground, both metaphorically and literally. There are a lot of rooms to explore, with a number of exits, and while some of them are simply dark, narrow corridors to run through, others are expansive openings, with high ceilings that any spelunker would love and, more times than not, something absolutely stunning to look at in the background. Take the purple forest, for instance. The first time I arrived there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was underground, and yet here is this string of large trees, swaying in a reddish-purple haze, dancing with the cavern wind. It got a little Inception-like there, this other world in this other world, and I just stood there, unmoving, absorbing it all. Other backgrounds are just as gorgeous, with plant life literally glowing in the darkness, lava that looks devilishly hot, and mushrooms that look too beautiful to eat.
However, something about Knytt Underground has me greatly conflicted. Really, I’m just not sure how I feel about it. It’s a stunningly gorgeous game, rife with bright and vibrant flora, the kind of nature you’d expect to see examined in close detail on the newest BBC documentary about the planet Earth, all backed by a soft, ambient soundtrack of rushing waterfalls, dripping ceilings, and gentle breezes. Yet..it’s goofy. The characters are silly and look like someone’s first attempt at webcomic art in the early 2000s, and the things they say are inane, such as obscure discussions about the Internet. I’m namely talking about the two fairies that accompany Mi after you reach the village and speak for her during her muteness. Visually, it’s extremely jarring. Tonally, too, though I suspect something is trying to be said here. Also, most of the quests you take on are pointless, with Mi going to great lengths to find certain people or keys for locked doors only for it all not to matter; the person you were looking for already returned home, and the door magically opened by itself.
At this point, I’ve dabbled in chapter three for only a bit, but eventually felt overwhelmed, especially considering the size of the map is roughly ten times that of the previous chapters. I mean, I can see areas highlighted in red on the map as places of interest to go–most likely these are the bells that Mi needs to ring to stop the apocalypse–but getting there isn’t a simple hike. You have to now use both Mi and Bob the ball in combination to reach new pathways, and sometimes doing that can be a lot of trial and error. I’m sure I’ll pop back into this visually stunning underground realm soon enough, but I need a little breather in the meantime.