Trying to describe Ynglet succinctly is a difficult proposition. Its creator, Nifflas (Knytt, Nightsky) describes it as a “platformer without platforms,” but that doesn’t explain everything. It’s a game about a microscopic little creature leaping and dashing from bubble to bubble in a world that’s loosely influenced by the geography of Copenhagen and drawn in a marker pen style, set to a procedural soundtrack that generates music as you play. Somehow, all of these disparate components come together to make Ynglet one of the most unusual and enjoyable games I’ve played this year.
The platformer genre dominated video games in the late 80s and early 90s, as developers everywhere attempted to reproduce the formula of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Since then, the genre has moved into three dimensions, seen a retro renaissance, and become a major site of indie development, owing to its simple structure. Designers have made all kinds of changes to the formula of moving right and jumping over things, like removing jumping from the equation (VVVVV), turning levels into deadly mazes that demand perfect execution (Super Meat Boy), and layering on metaphor and additional mechanics (Braid). But one thing has remained more of less constant in platformers: the platforms themselves.
Ynglet dispenses with the concept of platforms, opting instead for a world composed of floating bubbles. Your character can swim freely in these spaces, and can rest for a moment to turn any of them into a checkpoint. But outside of the bubbles, gravity takes hold and will pull you down to your doom if you don’t land in another safe spot. It’s disorienting at first, literally pulling out the ground from beneath the player, but the ability to create checkpoints wherever you like and the lack of any real consequences for failure make it easy to get a hang of.
And at first, Ynglet seems like a pretty straightforward, even kind of basic affair. But the game quickly adds in a twist — a dash ability that lets you slow down time and soar through the air with pinpoint accuracy and recharges once you land in a safe zone. Then, it adds surfaces that your character either bounces off or blasts through depending on whether it’s dashing or simply falling. Once you get the hang of it all, it feels great, providing the same kind of joyful movement as a game like Ecco the Dolphin — minus the fear of drowning and terrifying aliens.
All the while, your aquatic adventures are accompanied and punctuated by a “needlessly complicated” procedural soundtrack. Bouncing off walls, moving through bubbles, and dashing all generate effects that play into a gorgeous soundscape that shifts and grows in complexity alongside the action. This, along with the microbial look of the world and its creatures, gives Ynglet a resemblance to Nintendo’s experimental 2005 DS title Electroplankton. Like that game, images — even animated ones — can’t really convey the experience of playing Ynglet. You need to see and hear it in motion to get the full effect.
And what an effect it is. Over the course of its relatively short playtime — a couple of hours or so — Ynglet captures a kind of wonder that few video games are able to. It’s something really special, and it’s an easy recommendation to anyone interested in unique, playful experiences.