Made in just 48 Hours for Ludum Dare’s “Unconventional Weapon” challenge, Daniel Linssen’s A Knife Made of Whispers is the kind of puzzle-platformer many indies want to be: compact, well-executed, stylish, and contemplative.

lantern

Knife drops you into a black-and-white 2D platformer lit by a single light source: a lantern that you can pick up, carry, and place strategically. The lantern’s light affects not just your ability to see, but to attack; outside of its halo you’re defenseless. Lifting and moving the lantern weighs you down a bit and occupies your sword-hand, while attacking causes its area of light to contract, which puts you in awkward sword-less positions.

The weight of all that black takes up most of your screen, and your lantern can only dispel it so much.

Graphically Knife reminds me a lot of a high-end ZX Spectrum game, which was one of the reasons I was drawn to it in the first place. I love the negative-film look of it, with a ghostly halo of prismatic rainbow around the lantern’s light and a flickering effect just below the surface of the menu text. Outside of the lantern there’s a great visual effect that chews the tertiary background through with dead-TV-channel static. The furthest corners of the lantern’s light dissolve into nothingness. The light effect has that satisfyingly dual-purpose function of being an excellent gameplay aspect (you’re absolutely blind and defenseless in the outer reaches of the light) and creating a downright baleful atmosphere. The weight of all that black takes up most of your screen, and your lantern can only dispel it so much.tvj3aM1

The visuals are really something, and the sound design amplifies a sense of portentous dread. The sound effects are strange, muted thuds, and the simple, repetitive tune used as the soundtrack is minimalist and foreboding. There’s only one piece of background music throughout, and while I appreciated its simplicity and effectiveness, I would’ve liked at least a couple more just to break it up a bit.

The controls are crisp and satisfying. Everyone’s feelings about ‘float’ are different but this was almost exactly right to me: slightly weightier than a Super Meat Boy, much lighter than a Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. Of the more recent fast-paced platformer indies I’d say it feels the most like Rogue Legacy in terms of how quickly it plays and how much float you’re dealing with. There’s an option to play with either keyboard controls or an XBox controller, and I played only a couple of levels with the keyboard setup before I immediately switched over to the controller and never went back.

Gameplay is quick and simple as you bound from platform to platform carefully tossing your lantern into strategic placements that allow you to see, attack, and collect enemy life essences. Each door at the end of a level requires an appropriate toll. Some levels require to kill all of the monsters, and in others you’ll only have to clear one or two. As part of the platforming there’s a classically Ninja Gaiden-style wall-cling mechanic that works very well. In an early level you must bounce back and forth across parallel walls while following the lantern up a carrying device, making sure to stay in the light in order to defeat enemies. It’s a classic level set-up but it’s executed precisely and well.

Knife gives you the ability to skip a couple of chapters at any time if you’re stuck, but adds a completionist-baiting bonus that notes when you’ve beaten a level without sustaining any damage. Altogether the game took me about an hour to beat via two sittings, trial-and-error and all, but I can’t say I’m particularly great at platformers so your mileage may vary. I had a couple of levels take me quite a few tries but was never frustrated to the point that I felt the game was unfair.fear

What story there is in Knife is communicated mainly in its oppressive atmosphere.

What story there is in Knife is communicated mainly in its oppressive atmosphere. Each level also presents you with one or two terse, simply-stated lines of text that are superimposed onto the black void of each background. The “ending” isn’t much of one and it doesn’t really shed additional light on the story as a whole. It has a fatalistic bent that works with the tone, but strikes me as too abrupt to be satisfying.

A Knife Made of Whispers is a very unique-looking, thoughtfully made game that is mechanically solid and artful, but as it stands feels unfinished. Having said that, it’s certainly more fleshed-out than many platformer indies that depend on a unique mechanical twist and feel like glorified tech demos. With a few more levels, a bit of variation in the environmental music, and just a little more added to the tail end of the story, this would really stand distinct and strong in a field of competitors. Try it for yourself on itch.io as a free/pay-what-you-want download.