Nicklas Nygren, who most will know by the name 'Nifflas,' has proven himself time and time again to be quite the impressive creator, coming up with intriguing concepts on a regular basis. The Knytt series has quite the cult following on PC, and this Wii U specific edition takes the idea and expands upon it to make what is undeniably one of the most engrossing gaming experiences since the magnificent Super Metroid. Quite the comparison, right? Well, in terms of map exploration, hidden secrets, and the collection of items that aid progression, it truly is magnificent and right up there with Nintendo's classic effort. Where the similarities end is in the other gameplay elements, which focus more on objective-led ventures and 'fetch' requests, with the ultimate aim to ring various bells dotted around the map in the hope of fulfilling a prophesy and preventing certain doom. There are no boss battles and only on the odd occasion is the player required to actually destroy an enemy in order to progress beyond them - normally avoiding them is the order of the day.
Knytt Underground is split into three chapters, but the first two are mere tutorials to get players accustomed to the unusual gaming mechanics employed throughout. To start with, Mi Sprocket is taken control of; a mute Sprite (small human-looking character) that can cling onto walls and scurry upwards or downwards, providing access to all manner of seemingly unreachable locations. Once the initial challenge is completed, the next task is to work through a small map area as a ball that can bounce and respond to real-world physics as closely as could be expected from what is meant to be a not-so-serious gaming adventure, as opposed to a simulation. Clearly, aspects of NightySky have been lifted and perfectly transplanted into Knytt Underground, and it is really great to see the wonderful puzzle game being integrated so well into a grander 2D platform expedition.
Mi Sprocket is the sprite in question, being able to transform into a ball at will, and being accompanied by two fairies that help act as her voice, since sadly she is unable to converse with those she meets on the journey. The epic quest is to ring the six bells of fate…if failing to do so every six hundred years, a chain reaction will commence and the world as they know it will be obliterated. Or so people are led to believe, anyway…
The two fairies act as the flip sides of people's conscience, one being downright evil and the other pure - at least that is how things come across, to the point where one of the two sadly delves into profanity on far too often a basis as to become almost puerile in nature. There are moments of comedy gold, though, normally revolving around certain sarcastic conversations, but after the initial chuckle upon being shocked when reading the first bout of expletives, the impact soon wears off and it becomes distracting whenever it crops up.
Playing on the big screen with the map on the GamePad is one option, but personally it worked extremely well with all the action on the GamePad alone, bringing up the map with a simple button press. There are definitely benefits to the dual screen, with the map shown constantly rather than having to be brought up with a quick button press, but on a personal note the whole game felt greater on the contained, smaller screen of the GamePad.
Along the way, there are magical balls of light that can be found dotted around certain locations - white kills enemies, blue shoots Mi horizontally, red gives a quick upwards boost, yellow shoots Mi vertically, green allows for free movement around an area, whilst pink makes her invisible for a short while. These are used sparingly so as to not reduce the difficulty, and - as with switches that open doors on timers - are not always right next to the obvious place of use. Frustrating at first, this gradually becomes a challenge that is highly addictive and there is one particular secret off-map area where a combination of coloured balls must be used in just right way…and wow, patience will be tested, but the feeling of satisfaction afterwards makes it all worth it.
Talking of frustrations, some may find the story to be rather disjointed and the objectives a little too obtuse for their liking. There are times where the fairies will stop Mi from interacting with non-playable characters for no particular reason, and certain missions cannot be accepted either. Annoying? Well, it all becomes part of the process, and it all makes sense after various events take place. Why can a fairy friend not be spoken to at one point and not another? After a particular trigger event, suddenly it becomes clear. Question Marks appear on the map when there are items of interest, and flashing squares indicate where players need to guide Mi most of the time, so there is always something pointing in roughly the right direction. However, some may find that navigating the map can sometimes not be as straightforward as expected. Saying that, though, tracing a pathway through the intricate maze comes with practice and soon enough players will be sending Mi leaping around, quickly switching into ball form and back again to swiftly charge through corridors, cling to walls, bounce over enemies, and so on, using nifty shortcuts along the way. Shortcuts… The amazing amount of hidden passageways is one of the highlights, leading to eagle-eyed gamers looking for even the tiniest of discrepancies in the surroundings. Spot something? Try to bounce there. Unable to do so? See if climbing and launching off a wall gets Mi there. Still no luck? Try finding a route higher up, transforming into ball to pick up enough velocity to hit the ground below hard and bounce higher than before, and then quickly change back into sprite form to cling onto a tiny protruding ledge. Bingo! It is indeed that addictive.
The huge world, quirky missions, oddball extras and other worlds to visit, and the stunning soundtrack that contains nearly five hours of music, all make Knytt Underground an absolute marvel to play through. If only the pointless expletives were omitted, and a little more emphasis on story development had been included, this would have been nigh on perfect. A serious must-buy on Wii U eShop.