Sony threw a PlayStation 4 shindig this week and Knack was featured heavily. We were treated to a video, narrated live by PS4 architect and Knack director Mark Cerny, with a lot of the gameplay sliced out in order to focus on the narrative, which hasn't been the biggest focal point of late.
Then, behind us, were several different demo stations for Knack. Jonathan Blow's sprawling, enigmatic The Witness, which was my favorite game of E3, had one, watched over by Blow himself. The fabulous Resogun, too, had one. With Cerny taking time out of an assuredly busy schedule to talk about Knack, I guess they wanted to make sure we'd have a chance to play it.
So, play I did. I like it a little better than I did before, partly because I understand it better.
Developer: SCE Japan Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release: November 15, 2013
Knack has two audiences in mind: those nostalgic for "mascot" sort of action games, akin to the Crash Bandicoots and the Ratchet and Clanks, as well as those who might be playing their first console videogame. It does this largely by being much more action oriented than platform-oriented, though so many of associate the latter with some of our formative gaming experiences.
Platform games are hard. They often feature instant death and become difficult to scale. In an action game, enemy attack animations can go more slowly. Damage taken can be lowered; damage dealt, raised. Knack is being designed so that its easy mode will be proper easy, but on normal it presents a fair challenge.
If you slip up or let your guard down, you can die and die quickly. Certain attacks will unceremoniously remove precious chunks of your health bar. Devil May Cry it is not, but there is challenge, mitigated by forgiving checkpoints.
Playing through a boss fight against a goblin leader felt decidedly old school. King goblin was positioned in front of me, lobbing projectiles from a mech suit, as I dodged and smashed through the debris that sat between us. When I made my way to him and slugged him a few times, he would speed off to the other side, adding some new missile or bomb to his repertoire.
I died quite a few times getting a hang of the attacks. Patterns, animations. There were some helpers, like a slow motion effect when a devastating spike mine came barreling towards me and I was prompted to dodge, though earlier times I got hit straight through by such an attack without that kind warning, costing me 3/4 of a life bar.
Knack also has some Nintendo-style drop in, drop out co-op. Player two (or, younger siblings everywhere, I hope) plays as Robo Knack. He can attack enemies, but the camera remains focused on regular trash golem Knack. Robo Knack is a support role. Trash enemies to grow Robo Knack in size and he can donate parts to restore health to regular Knack.
At one point in the demo, Knack says, "Hmm...wood" and punches a bundle of wood, adding its splintered shards to his Katamari golem body. He can even ignite it with fire to punch people better. During another segment, absorbing ice particles gives him a shield that will slowly melt in sunlight, bringing him back down to size. A decidedly different segment saw a giant Knack eclipsing buildings in a city, fighting goblin mechs and throwing cars at enemy dropships.
It seems like there will be enough to do on this whimsical, colorful, somewhat rotund adventure. I'm not sure, then, what isn't exactly clicking for me (and what, seemingly, hasn't been clicking for a lot of people who have played it).
It might just be that Knack is very much a family-oriented game in a way the colorful mascot titles of past PlayStation launches simply weren't, despite their anthropomorphic leads and vibrant colors. While it can be hard, it remains simple. It has charm, from a range of good voice acting to the clacking sound of Knack bonding new parts to his corporeal form. It's goodnatured, approachable, colorful, and a bit of fun. It doesn't try to be too much more. DreamWorks, rather than Pixar, maybe.