It only seems appropriate to bring Knyttmas to a close with a level I stumbled upon where Juni must save Knyttmas. This is a very peaceful level where the only remote sense of danger comes from a small amount of water which poses no actual threat and only really exists for the sake of enhancing the scene. The journey here is little more than a straight line back and forth with a few hills and bumps along the way, but this linearity is completely fine as the focus here is on providing a relaxing atmosphere with some nice scenery to look at. While platforming beyond making a few hops isn’t necessary, there are a few small secrets scattered around slightly off of the beaten path. I am also glad that the game makes players walk back to the start after activating the snow machine as it would have likely been easier to cover the journey with a few picture in an ending slideshow, but being able to witness the way the snow has changed the landscape on the way back is a great reward. Snow Machine makes for a wonderfully calming experience as its lack of danger and its straightforward approach properly capture the relaxing nature of taking a stroll through the snow.
Even if it’s not exactly the prettiest level out there, Level 5 has some solid design choices. The initial stretch only has some standard platforming and quickly hands out new abilities, though even this part has a bit of a puzzle element to it when it forces players to find a safe route around an electrical enemy. Things get more interesting once you get the umbrella with a long downward obstacle course and some tricky gliding. The puzzle mechanics start to show up more clearly once players reach Level 4 and need to solve two switch code puzzles in a row. Finding the solutions to these puzzles is a small challenge in its own right and figuring out how to properly apply the hidden codes to the switches is another puzzling task as the answer requires the use of some deductive reasoning. The finale of the stage is the first part where Juni is allowed to break free from the otherwise mostly linear progression as players must navigate old areas in reverse with some new hazards in order to even find Level 5. Aesthetics are the only major weakness this level possesses as the standard Knytt Stories music chosen doesn’t mesh well with the graphics and the spikes can sometimes be hard to see, though I do appreciate the work that went into making the level transition ‘animations’ by rapidly swapping through several similar rooms like a video game version of a flip book.
NOTE: There’s no video this time around as several large portions of this level contain copyrighted material.
Banishment is focused almost entirely on its story and atmosphere with a small amount of platforming near the start. The setup of Juni being accused of murder and banished after a villager dies in a mining accident is definitely on the dark side of things and allows for two particularly strong points for this level. First, the villagers have a nicely varied set of reactions when Juni approaches them as some believe she is a killer, others believe she is innocent, and others are neutral or don’t seem to know who Juni is, making for a world which doesn’t seem to revolve entirely around its protagonist. Secondly, the village itself is big and has many entirely optional places to go to, such as the mine and the farm; there’s no physical reward for exploration, but it helps to enhance the setting by making the village feel like a real place. The weakest part of the level by far is when Juni has to arbitrarily platform her way through a cave with some water hazards to get a key which will allow her to leave the village. The platforming challenges aren’t bad and are easy enough, though there’s no checkpointing, but it does feel like an unnecessary step which somewhat spoils the atmosphere. The second half of the game involves Juni’s journey across desolate lands as ancient ruins and dark caves intertwine with Juni’s own fears. The game uses sounds and visuals during this portion to great effect to convey the sense of fear and isolation that comes from banishment without relying on words. The ending is a little cheesy and the level could really do without the cave portion, but Banishment otherwise makes for a compellingly atmospheric short story.
To be entirely honest, this level is here almost entirely for the sake of my personal nostalgia as it’s one of the first Knytt Stories levels I ever played, the earliest one I can remember playing in fact though I’m sure it wasn’t actually the first one I tried. Without The Tower, I very well may not have ended up writing these articles on Knytt Stories levels so it would be a shame to ignore it. That said, there are some serious design issues here. The very first real area of the game is a dark cave underneath the tower filled with foreground and background elements which deliberately blend in with the actual platforms and hidden spikes are everywhere. Things don’t get any better after that as the very next area is a massive maze which poses little danger beyond a few pools of water and goes on for a ridiculously long amount of time. Most of the other segments of the tower are likewise filled with surprise spikes on nearly every surface, there are far too many pixel-perfect jumps, you can reach ‘void’ screens from certain places, and checkpoints are scattered around haphazardly, sometimes appearing immediately after each other and other times being far too far apart.
With all that in mind, this level does have its positive aspects. For a start, the drawings on the story screens have an unusually large amount of effort put into them, immediately making the level seem full of appealing potential. The tower also does give off the impression of being legitimately massive and imposing; from the multi-screen drop off of your landing platform at the start to the slow ascent up and across the tower, there is no denying that this location has a grand sense of scale. While the tower is split up into largely linear regions, there is still a sense of exploration to the level as it is up to players to figure out just where they can actually go to make progress with their current abilities. Speaking of abilities, the game also does a great job of making each ability feel like a well-deserved reward and every new region is filled with challenges which push the newest ability’s benefits to their limits.The level design can sometimes feel overly malicious and at other times just not very well thought out, but I still love the sense of scale and adventure here and anyone looking for a challenge may very well want to seek this level out.
If the name somehow didn’t give it away, this level is very insistent upon warning players against picking up the key at the end. As a level which doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, the setting can change abruptly with little in the way of logic. Rest assured though, whether you are reading from a high-tech monitor or deciphering ancient hieroglyphics, chances are high that you’ll be warned against picking up the dreaded key. As to the actual gameplay, many of the regions focus on utilizing one or two specific types of enemies and there are several defining area traits. My favorite feature is in the ancient ruins where buttons need to be found to release a liquid which powers jump pads in earlier rooms, thus changing the shape of the play area and the way in which the room is navigated. Difficulty remains mostly flat and slightly above-average throughout this level, though the earlier sections feel slightly harder than the later parts. Unlike in many levels, the wall jump and the double jump are not present, creating a platforming experience which is usually only found in the early parts of Knytt Stories levels. Despite its designation as a ‘short’ level, you can probably expect a first run through this level to last about half an hour. With a great sense of humor and some nicely varied platforming this level is definitely worth playing, even for people who like to pick up keys.