Hardware: PC (WINDOWS)
Released: AUGUST 2007
Publisher: NIFFLAS
Developer: NIFFLAS

By zinger / March 5, 2011

If Knytt stinks because of lack of substance, then Knytt Stories freaking reeks because of the enormous amount of bullshit it contains.

Knytt Stories reuses the original Knytt engine with a few minor modifications, but has developed the original concept (which was a kind of atmospheric experience park, somewhere in-between a typical level select hub world (without the opportunity of entering the levels) and a homebrew Windows 3.1 screensaver), into a full-blown, unbelievably bad action game (at least if you are playing with the difficulty set to normal, as I did. Easy mode seems to be more like the original Knytt, i.e. almost no obstacles). Anyway, the action in Stories is comparable to the experience of trying to tie a fish hook with a slightly too thick fishing line (one that just barely fits the eye of the hook) in sub-zero temperature. In other words extremely simple and extremely frustrating, and to a point that's almost painful. None of it demands any strategy or detailed knowledge of how the game works; you just replay the same section five or ten times until you get the exact timing right, or get lucky with some randomly generated enemy pattern. I can almost respect the original (however bad it was) for maintaining its purity as a simple, stupid, ugly walking simulator, when comparing it to Knytt Stories and its awful action.

The save points have also remained plentiful in the sequel, which means you always have instant access to the latest obstacle you're up against. This was one of the original's biggest problems, and it's even more obvious here with all the additional action. Imagine if James Bond had a quick-save feature at his disposal in the movies, and retried every single action scene ten or fifteen times until he got it right? How could that ever get exciting?!

How good designers successfully create exciting action segments instead is by interconnecting several different obstacles that must be cleared in sequence, so that in order to clear a specific segment you are required to use your experience with different enemy types (their movement patterns, abilities etc.) and the general mechanics of the game (your moveset, the surroundings and their properties and so on) as well as your reflexes. And if you're not good enough, it's game over (back to the beginning of the game, or to an appropriately placed checkpoint, depending on the game's structure).

It's this constant death threat that creates the strong tension that, along with the speed factor appropriately tailored for each title, makes most action games so exciting, gets your adrenaline going and makes you feel like an action hero when you finally manage to put everything together and get away safe. Even the simple lakitu stage in Super Mario Brothers managed that to an astonishing degree, to give a most basic example. Compare that to the isolated action scenes in the Knytt games, where you can always replay the last segment instantly, and are thereby never concerned about death, which completely eliminates any chance of excitement to emerge, and makes them feel like chores instead of fun (which is what they are supposed to be, by the way!) And just to be explicit, of course it wouldn't help to refrain from using the save points, because the composition of each and every obstacle sucks so much. They are basically designed to be laboriously straggled through and never returned to.

And don't try to tell me that action isn't what Knytt Stories is about, because action is everywhere in this game, it is in fact so plentiful and so demanding (patience-wise, because of the frustration it causes) that it even steals a lot of attention from the atmosphere (the series' supposedly main selling-point!), at least in the game's "normal mode". Moving on, then, there's not much to be said about the new abilities introduced (DN3D-style hologram, double jump, umbrella hang-gliding etc.) because the stage design doesn't allow any creative use for them, neither during fights nor for exploration. You don't even look good when using them.

As for the rest of the game's aesthetics, let's look at a couple of screenshots from the last two exploration-heavy games I spent considerable time with, for the sake of some perspective. They looked like this and this. Do you see how the characters in that last picture (Monster World IV, 1994), actually look kind of cute and cool, and although simple, are pretty much flawlessly drawn? Did you notice how they've used parallax scrolling with multiple layers, each of them with their own distinct design, to create an awesome sense of depth? Did you see that the ground has certain attributes to it that makes you feel almost like you are in a forest? Now take another look at Knytt Stories, haha. Some aspects of the graphics might look a little bit better than the original's (though some things actually look worse, too), but the level of quality is still so incredibly low that I just can't bring myself to further comment on it than what I've already said in my review of Knytt. Some of the music is actually pretty cool, but at this point, who the hell cares?

Finally, Knytt Stories also features a level editor. A level editor for a game with a crappy engine? Great idea! We saw how well that worked for Derek Yu — and Game Maker is an infinitely more versatile engine than what Nifflas has desperately thrown into the mix as an excuse for his own inadequacy as a stage designer. At least it's "sophisticated" enough to let you edit out all the ugly graphics and replace them with your own. Dare I hope that Knytt 3 will include a decompiler too, so that we can also completely rewrite its entire framework?


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