Mark Cerny is an industry legend. Having worked in games since childhood, he has been responsible for bringing us such titles as Marble Madness, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, and Spyro The Dragon among many, many others. Therefore, it was cause to celebrate when we learned that he was not only the system architect for the PlayStation 4, he was also working on a brand new intellectual property to launch with the hardware. Enter Knack, a platform mascot for a new generation of PlayStation consoles. Comprised entirely of rudimentary objects called “relics”, Knack can become as large or small as he needs for any given task, adding a sort of Katamari Damashii dynamic to the gameplay. As a matter of fact, Katamari Damashii is one of the games Cerny notes as an influence for Knack, alongside Crash Bandicoot, and even God of War.
What Is It?
Knack is a relic construct excavated from ancient ruins. He was brought to life when the doctor who discovered him solved the “puzzle” of Knack’s core piece. This discovery took place in the background of a setting that sees the human race at war with goblins, who seem to have a legitimate beef with mankind. They are growing increasingly and rapidly more advanced in their own technology. The start of the game sees Knack taking part in a coalition of adventurers, scientists, and military to defend the city from one such goblin invasion, before setting out to confront the problem at the source. What ensues is a solid enough storyline for a debuting platformer. Though it awkwardly steps outside its overall tone when the goblins imply that their entire war is the result of humans past apartheid measures. The heroes’ out of hand dismissal contrasts awkwardly if unintentionally with Sony’s other first-party launch offering, Killzone: Shadow Fall, which built a very strong narrative out of similar subject matter. With Knack as Sony’s all-ages offering to the PS4 launch, it’s hard to fault Cerny and Japan Studio for wanting to keep the game from venturing into a more complicated if thoughtful storyline, but that only makes the hints it drops even more of an elephant in the room.
Why Should I Care?
Knack is probably the most traditional video game on the PlayStation 4 launch, which makes sense given Cerny’s resumé. If you want a fun, mascot-driven platformer to fill the role of the PS4’s Mario or Sonic, look no further. Knack is built around the most basic premise of “the simple joy of playing video games.” The entire experience is intended to be simple and engaging, with most of the action revolving around one attack button and one jump button. The right stick comes into play for directional evasion. There is a “super move” type of mechanic included, but it isn’t generally required for playing and enjoying Knack. As you play, you will find both large and small piles of relics that Knack can assimilate. Large piles will give him a larger form, extending (and topping up) his life bar and expanding his offensive options, small piles will only recover some health. Although Knack loses relics as he gets hit, that is only manifested in-game by a loss of health. Whatever size and elemental attribute you possess as at any given time is dictated entirely by the level design. The one thing that really sets Knack apart from other mascot-driven platformers of the recent past is its unflinching difficulty. The game makes two concessions – checkpoints and infinite lives – in exchange for making a modern platformer that is as difficult as it wants to be. There will be a lot of trial-and-error as you play through the game section by section, and damage is DAMAGE (especially when Knack is in his smaller forms), so be ready to die a lot before you get to the end of each stage. Unfortunately, the generous amount of checkpoints provided also tends to mitigate the sense of accomplishment you feel when you do finally get through a particularly difficult level. The worst of Knack’s problems, however, is the level of expectation that it commands. First-party launch games, especially those designed by the system architect himself, are generally looked to as the games you can rely on to show off why you bought a new system. Knack looks good, for sure, but there’s no “showcase moment”, nothing to make you drop your jaw and say, “Wow, the PlayStation 3 sure couldn’t have done THIS!” In fact, there’s really nothing about Knack on any level that implies it couldn’t have been a PS3 game altogether, and it’s hard not to be disappointed by that.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Knack is a good game, for sure, and will adequately fulfill the role of the traditional, all-ages launch title. It’s just a shame that it’s so technically unambitious and has such linear level design. The result is a game worth playing, while maybe not being worth coming back to. Certainly not what Sony needed after having lost half their first-party launch lineup to delays.