Review: Knytt Stories

Download for free from nifflas.ni2.se

I’ve talked a lot about my love for games that feel like grand journeys, but this is the game that truly instilled that love in me. The original Knytt was an important part of reaching this realization, with its cheerful solitude and bright minimalist design. Knytt Stories expanded on those concepts in impressive ways, offering varied worlds and more compelling ways to traverse them with the introduction of metroidvania-style powers to collect. The most remarkable part of the formula, though, is that this magic was only facilitated by the creator. Knytt Stories is built by the players through its powerful editor, and while this gives the game its potential it also makes it harder to appreciate so many years out.

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The tiny creature you play in Knytt Stories has a name this time, and it’s Juni. She’s out exploring the world, and there are some helpful powers she can grab along the way to help her do just that. From humble beginnings you can unlock faster movement, wall climbing, double-jumping, floating, and some additional tools for dealing with any dangerous creatures you encounter. Depending on the level you may need all or none of these powers to reach the end, but no matter what it takes you’ll be in for the same relaxing, somber strolls that made the first game so memorable.

You’re not going to get any more story than that, though, because Knytt Stories only comes with a tutorial level and a short example adventure. Juni’s real stories are made by the players with the built-in level editor, which is capable of amazing feats. Using a simple layer-based tile system anyone can string together a basic platforming adventure, and a pretty slick-looking one at that thanks to the base tilesets included. There are some powerful tricks you can pull to simulate other mediums like world maps and such, and once you start importing your own graphics the sky’s the limit. Above all though it’s an incredibly easy tool to use, one that even I could manage to cobble a level out of once.

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Depending on your experiences with user-created content, this might not sound like a very compelling game. Plenty of folks out there approach a title like this with big plans, bang out a dead simple first level, and then never touch it again. But I wasn’t exaggerating that Knytt Stories gave me my love of grand journeys. Perhaps because it’s such a niche product, in a time before the big indie explosion, but the players drawn to this experience seemed intent on making good on its promise. Obviously most would be followers of Nifflas’ other games and have similar tastes but their ability to build upon that style was remarkable. There were levels about the worlds beneath cities, about exploring a living cavern, delving into great machines, lighting a mysterious lighthouse, braving a world of darkness, and more, so much more.

During the height of its popularity it was easy to find quality levels, either on Nifflas’ site itself or through the associated forums. But that was nearly a decade ago, and the community is understandably smaller now. The real issue though is the availability of those levels, and how to sort the good from the bad. Most levels themselves have been archived on knyttlevels.com but without any sorting mechanisms beyond author and upload date. The Knytt Stories forums are a better resource for viewing feedback and previews of levels, though older threads are missing plenty of links and downloads. Still, browsing by largest threads is an easy way to pick out higher-quality adventures, and threads are helpfully tagged with difficulty and style.

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In the future I may do a feature on some of the best levels, but for now I’m content to remind the world this little gem exists. The nigh infinite worlds to explore of Knytt Stories are a testament to the heights that user-created content can reach. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of levels that rival or even surpass the experiences found in the original Knytt, spiraling off in every direction but maintaining that essential core of exploration-based platforming. Voyaging through the many worlds of Knytt Stories is one of my most treasured gaming memories, and one that I’m eager to revisit with new journeys in the near future.

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