For many years Nifflas has been developing games on the PC. The two most notable of these titles are Within a Deep Forest and Knytt. Within a Deep Forest had players taking control of a sentient bouncing ball that had to save the world from a bomb. The game focused on the bouncing physics of different types of balls of different weights and materials.
Knytt focused on a little hero of the same name needing to find parts to fix a crashed spaceship so that he could get back home. The mechanics here dealt with the notion of climbing and sticking to walls. Both of these games have now been combined to create Knytt Underground which marks Nifflas’ first move into the realm of console gaming.
Split into three chapters, Knytt Underground has players take on the role of the mute Mi Sprocket as she explores a huge environment. Her aim is to look for human artefacts and complete quests in a Metroidvania style. The first two chapters act as short tutorials to help players understand the mechanics of how Mi and then Bob the ball handle. By chapter three the two characters have magically been morphed together allowing players to change from Mi to Bob at will.
This allows for some situations requiring lightning reflexes as you change from Mi to the bouncing ball mid-air to cannon off the landscape at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles in order to reach new areas. As well as the bouncing and climbing there are different coloured plumes of smoke which give temporary abilities. These range from turning Mi invisible, making her jump higher or turning her into a set that can shoot horizontally or vertically.
Everything is designed as a means for you to get to another locations and this is where Knytt Underground really works well. Nifflas games before this have always focused on short bursts of quick reflexes and skill. When Knytt Underground asks players to do the same it comes to life in a flurry of ever changing physics and colourful plumes of smoke. (Note to developer – a colour-blind filter would really help with those plumes of smoke)
However, in Knytt Underground there are often long stretches of exploration through empty screens to reach these areas. Sometimes the beautiful graphics and sound create a haunting and ambient environment which you don’t mind trekking through. At other times it can all be a little dull as you wander through empty screen after empty screen.
When Knytt Underground works it works well but when it doesn’t it feels empty and lifeless. This isn’t helped by the seeming lack of progress you make. There are numerous quests and items to discover but on completing or collecting them it doesn’t seem to mean much. Of course it all adds up in the end but the game could do with tweaking its risk reward system to help players feel a greater sense of achievement after they have overcome some of the incredibly fiendish screens.
It is worth highlighting just how lovely the game looks and sounds. This game is beautiful and the music is of the highest standard. We expect no less from a Nifflas game and in that department Knytt Underground can never be faulted. When transferred to the Vita (Knytt is cross buy), it looks all the more beautiful.
The Vita seems to be the natural home of Knytt Undeground, which makes it all the more surprising that save points are often miles away from each other. There are a lot of them, but instead of putting them at the start of tricky sections (like in Within a Deep Forest ), they are often located away from the area requiring players to back track.
Back tracking is something that can begin to hinder the experience. We lost count of the amount of times we trekked along a tunnel for five or six screens only to reach a character telling us we needed to bring a certain item to them. This then meant trekking back through all the screens again. There really isn’t a need for this and you wonder if the game would have benefitted from a slightly smaller, more focused, map without many of the empty screens.
Overall, Knytt Underground is a promising start for Nifflas in the realm of console gaming. The look and sound of the game are gorgeous and easily rival the best Playstation Network games. The game itself gives players a huge world to play around but many may well feel that it lacks focus and a real sense of rewards for the skill you need to show in order to progress. Those looking for an adventure set at a slower pace will love it while others will be left wanting a bit more excitement.