Some games can define a genre on a personal level. They might not be the best or biggest in that genre, but their features can touch the player in ways no other games can. I installed Knytt the other night with the biggest smile on my face because it’s just that kind of title for me, the very essence of the exploration platformer. There have been bigger and better entries in the genre since then, including two sequels to Knytt itself that both improve on the formula, but there’s something elemental about this game that stays with me forever. For such a compact package it feels like a grand, polished journey unlike any other you might have played.
Knytt is an adorable little critter that lives in a tiny village of similar critters nestled in the mountains. He (or she, it’s hard to tell) wanders off to a hilltop only to be abducted by a similarly tiny UFO. Speeding away from home the craft strikes a tiny asteroid and crashes on an alien world, leaving Knytt and his tiny abductor stranded. Luckily Knytt can run, jump, and climb all over this foreign land to find the missing pieces of the spaceship needed to get it space-worthy again. His journey will take him to snowy peaks, shadowy caverns, rocky deserts, and lush jungles all populated with strange and wondrous creatures and landscapes to behold.
There’s not much to cover with the gameplay, which is pretty standard running, jumping, and wall-scaling. Freely climbing walls does open up the world a lot, allowing you to traverse the vast network of scenes more or less as you want. You can also light up a pointer to the closest bit of spaceship so you never get lost, but there’s no map to view or power-ups to collect. Instead, the magic of the game is in the journey itself. With few enemies or threats to concern yourself with, most of Knytt is traveling across the countryside and navigating the cliffs and caves between you and your goals. The graphics for these are simple blocks or silhouettes but painted in striking colors and detailed only where necessary. There’s a sense of peaceful isolation here, isolation in an alien world but a friendly one, where you’re free to roam and explore and relax as you will.
I’m a sucker for grand journeys in games, adventures that feel like actual epic voyages across real distances, and Knytt captures that feel in its simple, subdued landscapes. The world stretches on and on and you can traverse nearly all of it, and the places you can’t cross are posed with the implications of infinite spaces beyond, like standing on a tiny island staring at a vast, unending sea. The peppy music bolsters this feeling without becoming overly energetic, and the sound effects are rich and just present enough to immerse you in the pixel world. It’s a complete package, and the fact that it’s free means there is absolutely no excuse not to give it a try. Knytt is a masterwork of minimalist design, conjuring an entire planet to explore at your leisure that’s full of landscapes and creatures to set your imagination spinning.