Knytt is a small, freeware platformer created by Nicklas 'Nifflas' Nygren as a follow-up to his indie hit Within a Deep Forest. Players take control of a small creature that has been kidnapped from its home by an alien who promptly crashes his spaceship on another planet. In order to get back home players must explore the planet in order to find the scattered parts of the crashed ship. Nygren has said that he takes inspiration from the games of Fumito Ueda -- Ico and Shadow of the Colossus -- as well as fellow indie developer Clysm's Seiklus, and those influences are obvious. However, Nygren's game sets itself apart in its unique use of minimalism, which gives the game its distinct feeling. In short, Knytt is very likely one of the most balanced games to have been produced by the indie scene up to this point.
The word 'balance' is usually used in the design of multiplayer games and means that no one element of gameplay makes a given strategy unbeatable, therefore breaking the game. It does play a part in the single player games, but for the most part making sure that there is no one perfect strategy is not as much of a concern. Applied to single player games 'balance' takes on a different sense. A balanced game is one that has the proper magnitude, where no element -- the mechanics, the art, the music, etc. -- overpowers the experience, and each works in harmony with the others to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Knytt reaches this balance by stripping away much of the fat of modern video games. As a result, almost everything in the game is small. The exposition and dénouement are sparse, with only a short cut-scene to establish the context and another one to wrap up the story. The player's avatar is made up of only a few pixels and is capable only a few actions: run, jump, and climb. The task presented to the player is singular -- collect the lost spaceship parts -- with no chain-quest in which gaining an item will allow access to another area where there is another item, and so on, until the game designer decides that it's time for the game to end. It is even this reviewer's opinion that the game is best played in 'windowed' mode.
While it seems like this would result in a pretty underwhelming experience, the genius of Knytt is that the game ends up feeling much more thought-out, much more complete than a lot of major releases with their long, bulleted lists of features. Because the avatar is so small, the world ends up feeling so much bigger and more intimidating. The motivation is simple -- find a way home -- but because it's not slathered with extraneous text or suffocated under a cast of thousands, it ends up being all the more poignant. The limited gameplay vocabulary turns out to be extremely compelling. Scuttling up walls and leaping across chasms becomes second nature quickly, but the difficulty of some of the later areas keeps exploration challenging and rewarding. Finally, just before the experience might finally begin to feel limited, the game is over.
People who judge games by the number of hours they last, or by how many crazy abilities they can acquire, or by whether the story is 'epic' or not, will probably not enjoy Knytt. These people will tell you that, objectively, Within a Deep Forest and Knytt Stories (Nygren's most recent game) are both better than Knytt. They are missing the point. Knytt is exactly what it is meant to be, and nothing more. It demands that you be someone who loves games for their own sake, and not as vehicles for personal fantasies of power and glory. Those who appreciate games as singular experiences, to be enjoyed and considered, will find its completeness enthralling and more than a little exhilarating. Knytt goes a long way in showing how games can be actual works of creativity and not simply products for consumption.