With all the love that Super Mario Maker has gotten, it’s a bit of a surprise that Below Kryll hasn’t become a bit more well-known than it currently is as the player-created platforming world of the latter in many ways rivals the former. Like Fraxy, this is a game focused almost entirely around content created by the players themselves, and we’ll be looking at some individual stages made by the community down the road, so I’ll be covering both the actual gameplay and the editor itself in this article.
Our ninja protagonist, Mitsu, has a rather large number of tricks up his sleeve, many of which can be employed in creative ways. In addition to being able to run, dash, and slash his sword, Mitsu can cling to and jump off of certain walls, throw kunai in various directions to stun foes, and even level up. This last ‘ability’ is of particular importance as Mitsu gains experience from clearing stages and, in addition to granting access to new areas, leveling up is what gradually grants Mitsu access to many of his more complicated skills. By gaining levels, Mitsu will eventually be granted capabilities such as a lunge, a plunging downward stab, and even the ability to gain additional jumps while in the air by slashing at enemies. This leveling system is in part useful for easing new players into the game as having access to everything at once would likely be overwhelming for most, but it also plays into the stages themselves.
Being able to string together sets of stages is something players have asked for in just about every game with a level editor and the world of Below Kryll delivers by being just that, a world. Every single stage within this game takes place within a room in a nearly infinite grid, making this something similar to a Metroidvania. After a brief tutorial, players are dropped into the first hub layer of the game, from which they can drop down into their first player-created room. To clarify the structure of this game a bit more, the map stretches for thousands upon thousands of rooms horizontally in either direction, but, including two safe hub layers, there are currently a total of nineteen vertical layers split between two regions, with each of these regions containing entirely different enemies and hazards. Which objects, enemies, and hazards can be placed in a stage depends heavily upon how low the stage is in the map, with deeper stages granting access to more items. Thus, while it is still possible for a player to make an extremely difficult stage near the surface, the most dangerous and complicated objects are reserved for lower floors and the difficulty of the stages players will encounter will generally rise as they gain levels are in turn gain the ability to delve farther below the surface of the land of Kryll.
The goal of each stage is ultimately to reach a shrine, but there is usually a bit more to it than that and players are free to move through rooms without completing them. Due to the interconnected nature of the rooms, many stages often have more than one entrance (which can also serve as an exit) and the starting locations can vary greatly. As even a pit can actually be a passage to a lower room, there is a very handy ‘Lock’ feature which can be toggled at any time while playing to make the game treat any passage out of the room as instant death to prevent accidentally leaving and losing any progress. In addition to making it to the shrine itself, the real challenge of many rooms comes from trying to collect anywhere from one to five golden shurikens along the way, though they can be collected between multiple attempts as long as you can make it to the shrine with them. Mitsu has three points of health, but he also has little in the way of invincibility frames after getting hit so he is quite the fragile protagonist. Thankfully, you have an infinite number of lives, respawning at the most recent checkpoint is instantaneous, and there is even a button to warp back to your checkpoint while keeping all of your progress or to reset the stage entirely.
Unsurprisingly, a good number of stages, especially ones on some of the deeper floors, require some lengthy feats of pixel-perfect platforming to complete and may very well result in hundreds of deaths along the way. Mitsu himself can build up a large amount of momentum and can initially feel overly slippery, but he’s actually far more well-equipped for taking on these nightmarish community-made tasks than protagonists like Little Big Planet’s Sackboy as many of his abilities, such as his downward plunge, allow him to almost completely cancel his forward momentum and stop on a dime.
The stages themselves are ridiculously flexible and varied, and in more ways than just their layout as you’ll encounter far more along the way than just excessively difficult platforming challenges. The presence of a decent selection of background art tools and a music note tool has led to a good number of stages primarily serving as art rooms or hallways which play songs as Mitsu runs through music notes; shrines are usually easy to reach in such rooms, though sometimes the golden shurikens themselves are placed in tricky areas to ensure that the room is not completely devoid of challenge. NPC’s are also present and events can be triggered through talking to them, killing certain enemies, or collecting items so many rooms focus on storytelling and logic puzzles while largely ignoring platforming or incorporating it into the setting. Speaking of logic puzzles, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of rooms dedicated primarily to platform-oriented puzzle solving with tasks such as maneuvering a barrel down to a switch without dropping it so far that it breaks along the way or utilizing the enemies themselves to push switches and carry platforms. Even stealth-based stages exist as certain enemies have vision cones and events can be set up to prevent a stage from being completed, or at least to make it impossible to collect a shuriken or two, if Mitsu is spotted.
Social elements are much more prevalent here than in just about any other game focused around player-created content. Of particular note is the presence of chat channels to allow any in-game players to communicate with each other. There is not yet any form of direct multiplayer, but players can see each other as shadows when they are in the same stage and can make temporary drawings using a marker tool. Similar to the bloodstains from Dark Souls, katanas can occasionally be found sticking out of walls to mark a player’s death and going near one will list the player’s name and the cause of death. Stages can also be marked by players with several pre-made tags, such as “Easy” or “Puzzle” to help others find places they are interested in or would prefer to avoid. Journals are also present for each stage for players to write comments in and, upon completing a stage, a player can choose to upvote it, which has the additional benefit of giving the Fame resource to the stage’s creator. A few options also exist for more competitive players, such as race markers which can be set in stages to allow players to wager gold on who can get the fastest completion time. Lastly, two leaderboards also exist, one for Glory, which is largely based upon the number of stages completed and perfected, and another for Fame, which is mostly calculated through how many positive ratings your own stages have received.
There are a few more things I could probably go on about on the gameplay side of things, such as the story quests, which are not yet entirely complete, but I think I’ve sufficiently covered all of the important parts, so let’s move on to talking about the editor. While neither quite as ‘fun’ as the editor for Super Mario Maker nor quite as in-depth as Fraxy’s editor, the Below Kryll stage editor is easy to use and allows for nearly unparalleled versatility. A sandbox mode exists for playing around with the editor, but to make an actual stage a player must physically reach an unclaimed room in the world and pay some gold, which is primarily obtained through completing stages and collecting shurikens. Once a room is claimed, any passages leading to existing rooms cannot be entirely blocked off, but a player is otherwise free to do just about anything they want with it with the tools available for that layer.
Every room starts off as nothing other than a giant rectangle of dirt and rocks, but that can quickly be changed. Editing is primarily mouse-controlled and you can adjust the size area in which you are adding or removing objects to be a 1×1, 2×2, or 3×3 space. Erasing the ground, objects, and even events is just a matter of right clicking and dragging with the mouse, though you do need to be a bit careful as the undo command will only work for the most recent action. Individual objects and enemies are placed with a single left click while environmental objects which can be combined together like walls which allow wall jumping and rails for moving platforms are placed by clicking and dragging. You do need to pay some gold to unlock several of the purely-aesthetic background tiles and many of the objects beyond the initial handful, but this fee only ever needs to pay once to permanently unlock these things and is largely trivial; it’s not there as a barrier and instead is there to encourage players to gain some experience playing the game and seeing for themselves how others utilize these objects before diving in with no idea of how anything works.
It’s entirely possible to be a good stage purely by placing, erasing, and rearranging objects, but one of the most powerful features of the editor is the ability to tie enemies and objects to specific checkpoints with a color-coding system. Normally, as long as Mitsu has interacted with a single checkpoint in a stage nothing will reset once he dies or warps back to a checkpoint; enemies kill will remain dead, pushed boxes will remain pushed, and collapsing bridges won’t return. However, one of five color auras can be assigned to any given checkpoint in a stage and any enemies or objects which are also assigned that color will be reset if Mitsu respawns at or warps to a corresponding checkpoint. This feature can be used to aid players in many ways, such as by not forcing them to restart the entire stage from scratch if they mess up on a puzzle or miss a jump from a falling platform. The uses for this feature also don’t need to necessarily be beneficial to the player as resetting enemies can be used to create gauntlet challenges and other tasks which would otherwise be easy to overcome. Particularly crafty creators even sometimes utilize the color-specific respawning itself in puzzles by making players need to manipulate objects and respawn at checkpoints at specific times or in a specific order to achieve results which would otherwise not be possible.
Logic gates and variables are the final major feature of the editor and they are definitely the trickiest things to learn, but they add an immense amount of power and are the primary source of the editor’s flexibility. These can take some time to learn and understand if you have absolutely no familiarity with programming, but are nowhere near as difficult to learn as some of the system in Fraxy. To begin with, any enemy or breakable or collectible object can be assigned a variable of your choice, such as ‘B’ or ‘cat’, which triggers once it dies; any object with a trigger attached to it has a slightly different coloration than usual to it in order to help both creators and players alike take notice of it. Points of interest, usually in the form of yellow arrows, can also be placed around the map to active a specific variable and NPC’s can also be set up to active a variable upon talking to them. Once a variable is triggered, it is set to ‘true’ and affects any objects which are tied to it. For example, an inactive moving platform may be tied to the variable ‘B’ and killing a specific enemy set to trigger this variable upon its death would cause this platform to start moving. More complicated chains can also be set up to create scenarios such as needing to talk to an NPC to open a gate to grant access to a shuriken which, when collected, triggers a new set of dialogue with the NPC which then causes yet another gate to be opened, granting access to the stage’s shrine. Objects can also be set up to remain toggled after a trigger is activated or to require a trigger to always be activated, so you can have spikes which permanently retract when you press a button or spikes which only remain retracted while you or something else is holding down that button.
Everything in the previous paragraph can be done purely with variables, but logic gates add an additional layer of complexity to the equation. Logic gates are objects which are invisible to players and can be placed anywhere on the map because the only thing they affect are the variables themselves. These gates come in four flavors, ‘AND’, ‘OR’, ‘NOT’, and ‘SET/RESET’ – for the sake of simplicity and relative brevity I’ll only be covering the first three of these. With an AND gate you specify two variables and a third variable becomes ‘true’ when both are true, with an OR gate the still specific two variables and the third variable becomes true when at least one of these variables is true, and with a NOT gate you specify a single variable and a second variable becomes true any time the specified variable is false. For example, if you want to have a gate which only remains open while two buttons are simultaneously pressed, you can assign the first button the variable ‘A’, the second button ‘B’, and the gate itself ‘C’ and then create and AND logic gate and type ‘A’ and ‘B’ into the two input slots while typing ‘C’ into the output slot. As just about anything can have a variable assigned to it and logic gates can affect any variable, these mechanics are equally useful for platforming, puzzles, and storytelling and are the primary contributors to the editor’s flexibility.
All of this flexibility and depth could easily go to waste if there were not mechanics in place to prevent players from making impossible or empty areas. Once you claim a room as your own, it becomes marked as ‘under construction’ and is not actually available to other players until it is completed. Completing a stage you have created involves more than simply placing a shrine as, like in Super Mario Maker, you need to go through it and beat it yourself before others can access it. Furthermore, since Mitsu’s later abilities grant him more platforming capabilities, your level is always reduced to the minimum level required for the floor your room is on (so don’t expect to be able to make a stage which requires chaining jumps off of multiple enemies on the first floor). If you do not actually complete your stage within a certain time frame after claiming a room, a time frame which can be extended, the stage becomes forfeit and others can claim the room instead in order to prevent the map from becoming clogged with incomplete and inaccessible rooms. The latter issue, that of empty areas designed purely as passages or ‘free experience’ rooms, does not crop up often, but when it does such rooms are manually marked by the developers as ‘passage’ rooms where the shrine cannot be activated to collect gold and experience. As for rooms which either contain blatantly offensive content or become impossible to complete for one reason or another (such as an essential mechanic for that room being changed around in a patch), these can be marked by players and will eventually be entirely cleared away by the developers, though this is not an automated process so it can take some time.
If there is one aspect of Below Kryll which I am not particularly fond of, it’s the fame shop. NPC’s, logic gates, background elements, and any objects specific to a region can all be acquired with a bit of gold, but some tilesets, objects, and enemies can only be acquired with fame points. Fame points themselves are rewarded when one of your stages is upvoted by another player so the fame shop itself exists to serve as an incentive for you to not only make a large number of stages, but to take the time to make well-made stages that others will enjoy. The downside to all of this comes from the fact that fame items are not permanent unlocks and are instead on a per-room basis. While prices are generally kept low, such as 10 fame for 5 Emory Fighters or 75 fame for 200 music notes, the limited nature of these objects made me hesitant to ever actually use my fame points, especially since the points would still be gone even if I ended up not using the object in that specific stage. Some greater degree of permanence tied to the system, such as being able to pay a higher amount of fame to permanently be able to use X amount of an object or enemy in any stage, or an alternate way to gain either these items or the fame points themselves would go a long way towards making the fame shop feel rewarding.
And thus ends yet another introduction to a game which we’ll be seeing a lot more of around here in the near future. With its relatively small population Below Kryll is just now approaching 1000 player-created rooms, a large enough number to provide dozens of hours of content even if you don’t use the editor, but still nowhere near the hundreds of thousands or millions of rooms of more famous games. Even with its small community, both the gameplay and creation sides of the game are exceptionally well-made and between a rather generous demo and a pretty low $9.99 price tag I really can’t recommend it enough for fans of similar games.