[Pretentious Refuse is a new weekly segment advocating excellent indie games that may be overlooked and/or otherwise dismissed as “low budget garbage” by “real” gamers.]
I get stressed out. A lot. Be it work reasons, personal reasons, or “I can’t get happy time in my pants” reasons, stress is a pretty focal part of my life. Hell, if you’re a twenty-something professional trying to make a living, I’m willing to bet you’re the same way.
So when I come home from a particularly hairy day, I want to wind down and relax. That usually means a phenomenal craft brew in one hand, a bag of peanut butter pretzels in the other, and a game controller or keyboard in my lap. Problem with that though is so many games these days augment stress rather than remedy it; they’re so often bogged down with complicated mechanics and a plot that’s a downright noodle-scratcher. No disrespect to Super Meat Boy or Heavy Rain, but uber-precise platforming and an emotional “srs business” rollercoaster aren’t what I want when I just want to shut off my brain.
At the same time though, most “relax and chill out” games aren’t exactly fun to play either; they’re often cleverly disguised shovelware targeted at casual gamers. So where the hell do I go for my digital therapy?
The answer to that, friendos, is Knytt.
Knytt is by no means a new game; it was created in December 2006 by Swedish developer Nicklas Nygren, better known as “Nifflas.” However, it still remains a fantastic example of minimalist, therapeutic beauty in a videogame. It’s a straightforward open world platformer in which you’re the title character, finding parts for a downed spaceship so you can find your way back home. But that really doesn’t matter.
The story and the goal are irrelevant in Knytt. Playing this with the mindset of getting from Point A to Point B isn’t conducive to the actual merits of the game. Instead, exploring the diverse world put in front of you should be the main focus. There’s no real enemies, no insane puzzle sections, just you and the jump button. Taking it slow and appreciating the world of Knytt is vital to appreciating the greatness of the game itself, and is also mandatory if you want to relax.
You’ll frolic across various environments and come across curiosities in the background along the way. You might spot a couple lazy looking fellows fishing right outside their hut, or spot some weird musclebound creatures arguing across an impossible-to-cross lake. Just encountering these friendly oddities is an absolute delight, and incites the same kind of unbridled joy you might experience from seeing something that would be horrifying, if it didn’t have a huge smile and an infectious charm about them. Just about the best comparison I could give is watching Adventure Time and chuckling at all the absurdities abound in that world, like the Soft People, or cyborg Lumpy Space Princess.
It’s all akin to taking a nice stroll on a wonderful day in a beautiful, unfamiliar world where you know nothing is harmful. Combine that with Knytt’s ambient soundtrack, and you have an incomparable therapeutic game to destress even the most high-strung of you nerdy lot. The game lasts only a couple hours, if that, but I find myself playing it at least twice a month when I get too mentally exhausted to even organize my own thoughts. The best part is it’s free, which means it should be right up there with Internet porn on your “things that wind me down at the end of the day” list. Nifflas developed a few more games after this that follow the same minimalist philosophy, but I truly believe that Knytt remains his magnum opus.
You can find Knytt and the rest of Nifflas’ fine offerings here for absolutely free.