Preview

Knack

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Like it or not, the very first demonstration of an actual game running on the PlayStation 4 was Knack, a vibrant character action game from the mind of development legend, Mark Cerny. Cerny is no stranger to the genre having helped work on games like Ratchet & Clank and Crash Bandicoot, as well as Uncharted and God of War, and the developer has consistently referred to Knack as an evolution of Crash Bandicoot mixed with a high quality CG film from Pixar.

During my time with Knack at E3 2013, I can’t argue with Cerny’s assessment of his own game and I was immediately reminded of classic character action titles from the mid-90s that won gamers over with sheer charm and creativity.

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The world of Knack is incredibly bright and colourful, in some areas dazzlingly so, and as I played through the E3 demo I was able to adventure through a sparkling blue ice cavern, a warm and vibrant sun-kissed coastal sea town, as well as a more clinical mansion setting acting as some sort of science lab.

Knack also reminds me of games like Crash Bandicoot due to its linear and directed levels, which essentially funnel you through from place to place with not much room for exploration. There are times when you’ll have the opportunity to smash down a wall or sneak through a vent to find a secret item or collectible, but other than that I spent my time running forward and jumping (as well as double-jumping) through the world and over slight obstacles.

It’s a wonderfully crafted world, though, and Cerny’s assertion that Knack is even comparable to a Pixar movie holds true. Character animations are slick and detailed, while the levels themselves have been created with apparent care. An exclamation of surprise even escaped my mouth when I ran up over an incline only to be greeted by a jaw-dropping scene of a sparkling sea stretching into the distance. Knack is a great looking game.

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Things turned ugly, however, when I encountered the main goblin enemies of Knack, which have a lot in common with Shrek the towering green ogre from Dreamworks’ CG films. To deal with these fiends, Knack can perform a basic punch and jump attack that sends the relic-encrusted robot barrelling into a target. It’ll also be necessary to dodge out of the way of your enemy’s own melee and projectile attacks with a flick of the right stick in your desired direction, much like God of War. At certain sections (presumably still in the tutorial), time slowed down slightly to give me a chance to dash and avoid getting hit.

The attention to detail in the animations and general visual activity of Knack is also demonstrated with things like armour being knocked off of the goblins and larger robot enemies to signify that you’re doing damage to the creatures. If you perform one of your available super moves, too, a visually astounding graphical display of swirling particle effects kicks up around Knack as a whirlwind of bric-a-brac erupts to severely damage anyone foolish enough to get in his way. Another super move, a powerful ground slam attack, is similarly impressive sending enemies flying into the air.

Super moves are easy enough to perform (using only a combination of two buttons), but they sap your energy and decrease Knack’s size as the manoeuvres essentially strip him of items collected in the world, called relics. The more relics you collect (by smashing special objects in the world or by defeating enemies later on), the stronger and larger Knack becomes, allowing you to deal more damage and perform more moves, like picking up cars and throwing them at flying enemies.

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These relics will have different elemental alignments and properties per level and in the ice area, for example, I was able to grow more powerful by smashing ice crystals which then attached themselves to Knack, who then increased in size. Different missions will require different sizes of Knack, though, so when sneaking through the halls of the mansion through laser beams it’s necessary to drop all of your collected relics and shrink down, before collecting them all once it gets to clobbering time again.

Knack will also feature a customisation and progression system where you’ll be able to collect parts to go towards upgrading special abilities. In the demo, I crafted a Harvester and Combo Meter Part, both of which made me a more effective destruction machine, but it’s safe to assume there will be other ways to improve your abilities, perhaps with different kinds of combos or navigation tools.

Interestingly, when you find secret items to go towards these upgrades, you’ll be able to take your randomly assigned item or look to your PlayStation 4 friends list and decide to take the item your friend found in the same secret area (of which there are sixty scattered around the game). It’s a neat concept that will surely encourage friends and family members to help one another get all of the upgrades.

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And that’s the key thing to remember with Knack: It’s definitely designed to be a family friendly title for younger gamers and their family members to enjoy together. The linear nature of the game’s progression, the accessible controls and uncomplicated interaction with the world and enemies, combined with bright visuals and cartoony characters are all absolutely perfect for some squeaky clean and enjoyable entertainment.

Despite this, I think Knack will be a great palette cleanser for older gamers used to realistic shooters and epic fantasy titles, and a wonderfully fresh experience for the young at heart. Knack was the first PlayStation 4 game the world got to see, and it may well be the very first full PlayStation 4 game I want to play through at the launch of the console.


Knack – E3 2013 Trailer


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