I Heard the Ending Sucked: Why I Stopped Playing Knytt Underground

Knytt Underground Feature Pic

I’d recently purchased Knytt Underground for my Vita and begun playing it this weekend.  I’ve had the game for a week or two, but I waited until I could really devote some time to it because I’d heard it was the biggest Metroidvania game ever created.  Whoever said that wasn’t lying!  I nearly shat myself when I saw the in-game map.

Map

Who’s ready for a rousing game of Ultra Pac-Man?

However, that wait ultimately ruined the game for me as waiting gave me time to read what others were saying about it, such as the review found in the newest issue of Game Informer.

Creative Background

It’s like a Kingdom of Mushrooms!  How original!

That review wasn’t very favorable for the game, though it wasn’t damning either.  In fact, the author Jeff Marchiafava said a lot of great stuff about the game.  He also said something in his article that, at the time, I thought wasn’t a very big deal, but I’d soon find that the little bug he put in my ear would affect my attitude toward the game:

“Exploring every map cell becomes a grind and requires a lot of backtracking, but I was compelled to see what happened when I rung the final bell [to save the world].  Unfortunately, the ending is an utter letdown.”  – Jeff Marchiafava

I try my best not to let people influence my gaming choices, but, considering how glowingly he’d presented the game until that sentence, this comment stayed in my mind.  Now, there’s something to be said about the power of priming because I couldn’t get Marchiafava’s comment out of my head: “the ending is an utter letdown.”  I kept thinking back to that comment and, as I played Knytt Underground, my attitude toward the game got increasingly sour.

Beautiful Background

I don’t even know where I am.  But it’s all just so pretty!

I started the game with a good enough disposition.  I love running around in Metroidvania games, and KU‘s environments were stunning, creative and creepy, sometimes simultaneously.  Yet, as I continued playing and thinking about what Marchiafava said, I found myself losing motivation.  I tried to use the game’s unique aesthetic to keep me going, but after hours of running around and then legitimately getting bored, I put the game down.

The game does a lot of things wrong.  For instance, it’s standard that you can’t reach areas in Metroidvania games until you’ve grabbed an upgrade.  KU‘s lone upgrade lets you morph into a bouncy ball, and then that’s it.  There’s no other sense of improvement you get about your character beyond getting that upgrade.  Secondly, the game only has two quests that are repeated ad nauseum: go here, and collect shit.  There’s nothing beyond that.  After you come to terms with those two realization, you’re left with a game about walking and climbing with very little enemies or obstructions.  It’s boring.

Creepy Background

I can’t be the only person that finds these parts scary as hell.

After putting KU down, I got onto YouTube to view its ending, and… yeah, it’s ass.  It’s really bad to the point that it feels lazy.  I don’t want to spoil anything (like there’s anything to spoil), so I’ll say this: I think it’s some kind of meta joke.  Nifflas, the game’s developer, is also an in-game character who constantly breaks the fourth wall.  In the ending, he proclaims that the game’s “lack of ending” is a metaphor, one upon which he doesn’t feel inclined to elucidate apparently.

Nifflas in Game

Nifflas’s in-game sprite looks amazing!

Because I love you guys, here’s my reading of the ending:

Boringness Begin:

Throughout the game, many characters impress upon you the philosophy of agnosticism, the school of thought that deities’ existence or non-existence cannot be proven.  I feel the game’s abrupt and unsatisfying ending reflects this existential uncertainty, especially in relation to the afterlife.  I think Nifflas is saying, “Be prepared for your ending not to be what you want it to be,” if you get my drift.

As melancholy as that sounds, some of the characters that express this notion of agnosticism actually have an uplifting message to send as well: Let people believe whatever they want to believe, as long as it makes them a better person.

I guess I can get behind that.

End Boringness.

2013-03-02-215222

Hmm… let me consult my magic 8-ball.

In the end, the poignant theme and ending, regardless of subjectivity and whether or not the execution was successful, doesn’t work because the game’s just so boring and repetitive.  One could argue that being boring and repetitive enforces the theme, but the fact of the matter is I spent $15 on a boring-ass game that didn’t satisfy me.  In any other service I’m entitled to get my money back, but – as is standard in the industries of video games, movies, and music – I’d be better off going and fucking myself.

Anyway, I feel having prior knowledge of the game’s ending shouldn’t have had so much influence over me, but because the game was just so boring I knew I had nothing to look forward to, which made quitting seem that much better.  Had I been oblivious to the awful ending, I may have endured the grinding and repetition, though my unbridled rage would have been apocalyptic.

Rage Explosion

RAGE!

What do you guys think? Is my reading of the ending on the nose or off base?  Is a game’s ending so important that it can make or break a gaming experience?  Should I give the game another go?

Let me know in the comments below!  And Thanks For Your Playing!

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10 thoughts on “I Heard the Ending Sucked: Why I Stopped Playing Knytt Underground

  1. I was let down by Knytt Underground as well. I played through Knytt, Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest (all by Nifflas) years ago, and absolutely loved them. When I saw that he put out another Knytt game, I got it and played it right away.

    The first three or four hours were fun, really fun, then it all went downhill from there. The puzzles, challenges and exploration were top-notch until it hit me: It’s too large. Now, I usually love huge and lengthy games like SMT Strange Journey, the Dragon Quests and (S)NES-era Final Fantasies, but this proved too much.

    With a positively gargantuan map to explore and a bunch of tedious go-get-50-bear-pussies quests, it all got very boring, very fast.

    I had never thought I’d ever catch myself thinking about this about any game, ever, but I wish it was a bit more linear and not as vast.

    • Same here, man. I was really enjoying myself at first – I’m pretty sure I put in a solid 5 or so hours – but it just got boring. When I saw that map in its entirety, I knew that I was done. The game just wasn’t fresh enough to keep my interest. No doubt a more linear approach would have done this game wonders. That, and a little less pretension on Nifflas’s behalf 🙂

      • “Too large”

        I dont get you guys, thats what I love about the game, its about exploration.

        “A more linear approach”

        Isnt that what we get all the time with almost every game? Holy shit I hate you all.

      • Why the hate? It’s just opinions 🙂

        “Too Large”

        I’ve nothing against enormous games; sometimes I like to get lost in them. But there are times when a game can be too large, and Knytt is one of them. I guess it has less to do with the enormity of the map and more to do with the lack of interesting things to do in it. Regardless, since it sounds like you had fun with the game, I can see how this would be a moot point for you.

        “A more linear approach”

        It’s true that linear plots and progression are the majority in gaming, but there still are a lot of non-linear experiences out there. Knytt, through an experiment in trying to be different I guess, tried to focus too much on the exploration aspect and less on character improvement and gameplay mechanics, though what mechanics it does use it uses well. I’m not saying give the game an overworld with stages to complete. I just wanted something more focused. A little bit of direction here and there to reinforce my plodding would be nice.

  2. I literally just finished the game, and what’s really funny is… while I was playing I went online to look for tips to help me fill out my map and seeing the name of this article ALMOST made me stop playing. Just like how you described having that article as an ear worm, seeing the words “I heard the ending sucked” really shook me! Honestly though… it didn’t really disappoint me. I guess I enjoyed the kind of cathartic platforming through pretty environments with relaxing music and the shuffling of Mi’s little feet. I found it very relaxing and I really enjoyed the characters and themes. Maybe I am kind of close to the subject as I’m currently dealing very strongly with death and illness in my personal life and my own crisis of spirituality and potential agnosticism, but I found the stances the different characters took to be very interesting and I love that the game doesn’t give you any right answer.

    I did every single subquest and, to my pleasure, the items I thought had no purpose aside from being collectibles ended up IN the ending. It’s brief and I can certainly understand why someone might find it underwhelming, but for me… it just really made sense in context with the themes the game carries over. This game is like my life right now. Slow, plodding, a bit boring at times but with great characters and the fact that not much happens does not make it devoid of value. I’m really glad I didn’t move on to something else before finishing.

    I will say I feel like the map could have had better expressed landmarks and I was lucky enough to pick up this game during a sale. I think I paid something like $5? I think if you’re going to play this game you should know what you’re in for going into it, and if that sounds like something that would be satisfying to you you won’t be disappointed.

    • Well said!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the game, and you’re right: You need to know what you’re in for going into this game because expectations can make or break a game for players. Unfortunately, I went in hoping it would be the next “Super Metroid.” That’s a tall order for any game.

  3. Keeping in mind that I really loved the game, I have absolutely no problem with someone saying “The ending sucked.” In fact, I think that’s a fair caveat to give to any player.

    When I read that people put in 3 hours or 5 hours and gave up on it, I’d say “Fair enough.”

    What I personally found was that I just kept wanting to return to the game. I was glad the map was enormous, because it meant that on any game-play session, there would be new locations, new music, new characters to talk to etc.

    I “finished” the game (rang the 5 bells) with a huge portion of the map totally unexplored. And I got the “ending.” And, as you say, it sucked. (I still think the designer should have honored story-telling conventions at least a little more with the official ending.)

    But I found I wanted to play some more. So I would come back from time to time, and play a few hours here and there. Unrushed, because I had already seen the “ending.” And it was always a nice experience, coming back to that world.

    I was pleased to find that the “ending” changes a bit (really, just a *little* bit; keep your expectations low), the more you explore. I cared some about the characters and their back stories, and things that I learned as I went back and explored the rest of the map (off and on, over the course of a couple weeks) tied into little things that happen at the end.

    So, I would say to someone playing, if you’re not enjoying the individual hours of gameplay (at least, once you get to chapter 3), then you’re not going to enjoy the entirety of the game either. The game really is just the sum of its parts.

    Still, I’m done now, and I wish there were more parts.

    • It’s been well over a year since I last played KU. I’d really like to give it another go, but I just didn’t get as absorbed in the world like you did. I suppose it’s my loss as I’ve never been into exploration games. I’m more of an action guy. And now that I’m practically 30, I really doubt I’ll ever get the time to sit down with such a large game. Seems depressing, but I’m perfectly fine with it. We all gotta grow up sometime.

      *continues to obsessively play Rogue Legacy on his Vita*

  4. I’ve just finished playing this game, and although at some point I felt it was getting too lengthy I kept playing it just because of its vibe. I’m a horrible gamer—honestly this is the only game I’ve played in months—and that is probably why I didn’t want to stop: I don’t think this game was made for the average gamer out there. Nifflas is an indie developer and there’s no way around it.
    Ringing the last bell was kind of a let down, yes, but on the other hand Dora’s dream “scene” was pretty cute. It was similar to Knytt Stories’ “The Machine” ending where you get to tour the recovered world back home.

    I personally found Nightsky’s ending the most appealing and fulfilling even though nothing is fully explained. It’s just emotional, in a weird way, and this is what Nifflas always seems to head towards.

    • I suppose being familiar with Nifflas’s body of work may have helped, but this was the first time I had even heard the guy.

      And, as you’ve stated, this game is not created for the average gamer. I’ve made my piece with the fact that this game is not made for me. I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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