When I was younger there was a strange atmosphere to exploring the internet, the heady sensation of an explorer standing on the edge of the world. You could find the most fascinating places to delve into and map out through obscure web forums, conversations with friends who would drop mysterious locations that they had discovered themselves in your lap, or even a spiraling web of Wikipedia notations.
It was on one of these early web-dives that I, entirely by chance, came across Knytt Stories, a seemingly little known game series by Swedish developer Nicklas Nygren (@Nifflas on twitter). The series had multiple fantastic main entries with countless pages of fan-made content that I spent the next month playing through, one after another.
While based around platforming and puzzle solving gameplay, exploration is the real name of the game, with beautiful landscapes, simple stories, and a sense of wonder in almost every new screen.
There are a few core themes that typify the Knytt Stories series, including those of decay, the abandonment or destruction of villages, and small sustainable cultures living in harmony with the surrounding landscape contrasted against creeping megaliths, greedy expansionism, and technology designed to either draw life out of the very land or simply destroy it. It’s this last theme of technology misused to wage war against nature that is particularly prevalent in both The Machine and An Underwater Adventure.
Like all Knytt Stories, The Machine focuses on Juni who finds her home literally being drained of life, prompting her to embark on an amazing quest to save the world and restore the land to its former beauty.
The other main entry to focus around machinery threatening your idyllic world is An Underwater Adventure, a creative retelling of an earlier game by Nicklas, Within A Deep Forest.
I won’t expand too much upon this particular story as I don’t want to spoil the experience, but it’s definitely worth your time. You can find it under the Knytt Stories – A Strange Dream expansion, go forth and thwart the machinations of the evil Dr. Cliche!
Of particular note are the more experimental entries by Nicklas. Sky Flower which self describes (somewhat harshly) as “abstract and slightly pretentious” is a fun, simple game exploring vertical movement and the inventive use of game boundaries (or the lack thereof) as core game mechanics.
However, my personal favourite of the series is the experimental piece This Level Is Unfinished, where you’re tasked with saving the living critters trapped in the author’s unfinished world.
The simplistic but striking style of This Level is Unfinished gives the world the feeling of being a series of disjointed scribbles by a game dev mapping out ideas that they soon found themselves bored with before moving on, a feeling I’m sure many can relate to.
Along your journey, you experience a disjointed but well constructed stream of consciousness of game ideas, level design, and item concepts that never found their way to fruition. As you explore you also get to meet many colourful and vibrant animals, and some, well, not.
This Level is Unfinished is a cute and fun little romp through the author’s fictional preliminary game concepts that I would definitely recommend, you can find it also included in the A Strange Dream expansion for the core game and I would highly recommend you give it a try.
Finally I’d like to give a quick shout-out to the wonderful community of map creators that have offered countless hours of extra content, entire worlds, stories, and exploratory experiences for those willing to look. One fan-map I’d like to highlight in particular is UncleSporky’s Don’t Eat The Mushroom.
A short 5 minute story better experienced than explained, do yourself a favour and check it out, just remember that the title’s advice is optional.
I hope that these games will inspire in our readers the same sense of wonder and comfort that they granted me in my youth and beyond, so install Knytt Stories, an expansion or two, some custom maps, go make yourself a hot chocolate, and have a relaxing and pleasant weekend exploring fantastic and amazing worlds.
You can follow Nicklas on twitter here where he continues to make algorithmic music, you can find the games (Knytt Stories 121, Knytt Stories A Strange Dream, and Knytt Stories Gustav’s Daughter) here, and explore the hours of fan-made content here.
Mx. Medea is a writer, artist, and editor who spends most of their time drawing things with squares and buried under a small pile of endless paper copy. When not working they can be found playing everything from interesting indie fare to oldschool games. You can find them, their art, and their opinions @Mx_Medea on Twitter.