By John Walker on July 11th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.
Despite the name’s similarity with Nifflas’s game Knytt, Oknytt is in fact a Swedish word roughly meaning “goblins”. Which is very much what Nemoria’s point and click adventure is about – the strange creatures of Swedish folklore that live in the dark, dark woods. Here’s wot I think:
So here’s the thing: I’m beginning to lose track of whether an adventure game is very, very hard, or simply badly designed. And I’m not alone – I think the entire genre is muddled by this line. Is it a good, tough challenge to be required to think so extremely laterally that you need to abandon all previously known logic, or is the game failing to create a path for the player to follow? Should an adventure provide all the hints needed to be able to make a sensible leap to a puzzle’s solution, or is that making it too easy? It’s my suspicion that too many years of adventuring in a niche has led designers to create games exclusively for those who’ve already played all the other adventures, and would not think twice about clicking the spaghetti-covered balloon on the grandfather clock to open the upstairs window. It’s my suspicion that Oknytt is actually a bit badly designed.
It’s utterly charming – there’s no escaping that. You play as a hedehoggy-sort-of-furball, described by the game’s narrator as “an insignificant creature”, who is driven only by a desire to help others and figure out who he might be. Five chapters take place in different locations, each a collection of dark, gloomy woodland screens, containing all manner of oknytt beasties from the annuls of Swedish mythology. Primarily, “the creature”, as he’s only ever known, is trying to help an älva (fairy-thing) get some wings. Which is a lovely thing for anyone to do. And all the way through, this experience is almost entirely delivered to you from the acting of Brian Hall – a voice actor who provides every voice in the game – whose narrator sounds like Rob Brydon doing an impression of Anthony Hopkins. Which turns out to be a good thing.
Your input is limited to interaction options – there are no dialogue choices here. Any interactive object can be clicked on, then either described by the narrator, spoken about or to by the Creature, or picked up. On top of this, rather peculiarly, are four runes on the bottom of the screen – Air, Water, Earth and Fire – which when clicked in locations have entirely unpredictable effects on the scene. These are never introduced nor explained by the game, and quite how they’re connected to the Creature’s adventure is bewildering. But there they are. They’ll either cause a simple animation to occur – often offering the only splashes of colour in the game – or bring about some significant change that allows you to carry on. There’s usually no way to know which will be which, so they’re rarely used with deliberate skill.
Unfortunately, the same proves to be true with the inventory objects. The frequency with which things descend to click-everything-on-everything is maddeningly high, and without the walkthrough I’d been provided, I’m certain I would have lost patience/not tried the correct random alignment to make it all the way through. As pleasant a character as I was playing, his minimal tale, and the constant change of location, meant I never really felt attached to much. And the portentous prophesy from various characters meant I never felt much reason to hope, either. Surrounded by its endless bleakness, dark gloop of design, and near-static scenery, what is undoubtedly good artwork also failed to capture my eye’s attention. In fact, with almost nothing happening on screen at all – character movement, activity or emotion described by the narrator rather than actually animated – I spent more time staring at doodles on the page in front of me than at the screen.
Quite why they’d release a game like this in the Summer I’m not sure – it’s the antithesis to the blue sky screaming at me from outside my window. Dark, gloomy scenes, presented in black-and-almost-black, with minimal animations, exude a long-wintry vibe that would never be overly appealing, and feels so incongruous just now. It’s deliberate – of that there is no doubt – but sadly Oknytt fails to find that sweet spot of noir oppression and artistic beauty. Instead, what talent there is on display is lost in the murk.
I wanted to have a much better time with Oknytt than I did. The writing, while prone to getting a little flowery adverb flowery, is generally decent, and the storytelling nature of a single voice works splendidly. The theme is a lovely idea – which other game have you played that explores Swedish folklore? – and the central character is adorable. But it just doesn’t come together, with a mash of obscure puzzles and an oppressive gloom. I’m certain there are those for whom charm will win overall, and adore the game. For me, I never engaged as hard as I tried.