Few games have surprised me like Knytt Underground. It starts out innocent enough, featuring good looking backgrounds and the kind of 2D platforming we've seen hundreds of times before. But then it takes an unexpected left turn that leads us straight into one of the gutsiest games of the year. And just when you think you've gotten a handle on what makes this underground world tick, the game throws in another wrinkle. With an enormous world to explore and a deeply personal narrative that will keep you guessing, this is one of 2012's best games.
Knytt Underground's story is split up into three chapters, though even that is something of a ruse. The first two chapters work as tutorial stages, giving the player a chance to get used to completing missions and surviving a plethora of platforming puzzles. In the first chapter we take control of Mi, a silent protagonist with a penchant for climbing. In chapter two we take the form of a bouncing ball, a form that allows players to make huge leaps and speed through the cavernous environments. These chapters end just as they're getting started, both in the same violent way.
It all leads to chapter three, where the game merges the ball and the silent hero into one of the most agile platforming heroes to ever grace the screen. Mi now has the ability to switch between her human shape and the bouncing ball, giving the player a character that can quickly make her way through even the trickiest underground labyrinth. And it's a good thing she's that nimble, because it's going to come in handy when completing the game's 34 quests.
Knytt Underground doesn't stray too far from Metroid and Castlevania. Mi spends much of her time exploring the gigantic world and filling in the pop-up map. The game comes packed with close to 1,500 rooms to explore, dozens of items to locate and a lot of hidden secrets (and even extra games) to dig up. Needless to say, Mi's quest is going to take more than a few hours.
The good news is that Mi isn't alone in her journey. Along for the ride are Dora the sun fairy and Cilia the moon fairy, who act as the ambassadors to our mute protagonist. As the descriptions imply, these two are polar opposites. One is optimistic and always ready to give people the benefit of the doubt; the other is cynical and foul-mouthed. It's up to the player to decide who speaks for Mi, leading to some incredibly awkward situations.
As Mi travels around the underground world talking to its citizens, she discovers, much to her horror, the world is doomed. Thankfully there's something she can do about it. This involves traversing the huge world to ring six bells. But not everybody agrees that this will save humanity. Before long we're caught up in a battle over faith and destiny. Knytt Underground goes from being just another "Metroidvania" platformer to an incredibly deep, often dark story about religious doctrine and its believers.
I wasn't ready for the game's sharp left turn. For hours the game lulled me into thinking that it was a squeaky clean platformer, the type of thing Nintendo might have published in another era. And then all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, Knytt Underground turns into something that would make South Park blush. Not only is the dialog littered with four letter words, but the themes go into decidedly controversial topics involving sex and violence. Things go from bad to worse as you travel around this enormous world completing quests and ringing bells.
Part of what makes this adventure so surprising is the amount of detail that has gone into the world. With 1,500 areas to fill, the developer has crafted a fully realized world with numerous cities, vacation spots, universities, residential neighborhoods and even an amphitheater. What's even more impressive is that these citizens have a history and their own mythology. Digging deeper uncovers a storied past that explains where these characters came from and how we had a hand in their creation.
Knytt Underground is sure to be one of the most controversial games of the year. It's daring in all the right ways, poking at hot topics and digging into the origins of religion. Even if you ignore the deeply personal narrative, you'll find that Knytt Underground offers one of the most elaborate game worlds ever created. It's a marvel that will keep you going for dozens of hours!
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!