As one of the launch titles for the PS4, and one of the few truly kid-friendly games we’ve seen for the system, we definitely wanted to check out Knack at PAX Prime. Also, the last scene in the above trailer, where a tiny Knack re-assembles himself from the rubble of his larger and angrier self, and holds out his hand to his friend- melted my cold heart. A fairly standard melee platformer, it seems like it has the potential to be the console’s equivalent to your prior day Crash Bandicoot, and it has a similar feel.The player starts as a small, adorable creature made up of a few pieces of stone and metal. As you crush boxes and objects, you gather pieces of broken material to your body, and become larger and more powerful in real time. What I didn’t originally realize about the game is that Knack can gather a number of different materials to his body, based on what’s available in the level, including wood, stone, and ice. His form is clearly different, and I expect that his move-set will also change accordingly.
Speaking of his move-set, it seemed rather limited in the demo I played. As your smaller form, you can either do a normal, short-ranged punch, or do a slightly-homing jump attack. You are also able to do slight dashes in any direction using the right analog stick. However, you fight enemies that have both short and long range attacks, and you often seem at a disadvantage. However, it is possibly a deliberate choice designed to differentiate your smaller form from your more powerful counterpart. However, there were a few times in the demo where I was thrust into situations where I needed to fight several ranged enemies at once in my smaller form, and it was fairly easy to die. I felt a bit like I was fighting Ratchet and Clank’s enemies with Crash Bandicoot’s move-set. Often, but not always, before getting hit by an attack, the game would enter bullet-time and you would have a chance to save yourself some damage by hitting a certain button before the attack lands. Although it wasn’t initially easy to complete these quick-time events, it seems like a welcome learning curve to make combat more interesting. Furthermore, the combat gets easier as you grow larger, and you also crush and collect yellow crystals which allow you to perform a number of different special attacks, which can be used as an “oh-shit” button when confronted by overwhelming odds.
There was also another level which I was unable to play because my time was limited at the station. In this level, you play as small-scale Knack, and it looks sort of like a laser-oriented puzzle-solving mission, in which Knack is made of glass. I played another mission where Knack was at King-Kong scale, crashing through the city, with people running in fear. The gameplay stays fairly consistent, however.
The one other hiccup I encountered was a little bit of frame-rate slowdown, which comes as a surprise on the PS4’s advanced hardware. I anticipate that this is due to the fact that at any time, Knack is made up of hundreds, if not thousands of small pieces of material, and particle effects are notoriously computationally complex. I never experienced a point where the frame-rate was slow enough to affect the gameplay, but it was not as smooth as I expected this brand-new tech to be. This is made more disappointing by the fact that the main character of the game is likely the computational culprit, and will constantly be on screen. This is something that needs to be addressed, and hopefully won’t be too difficult an adaptation for the team.
Although it may seem that I focus on negative aspects of the game in this preview, I feel I should reaffirm that I am still quite excited about Knack. The story is still what I most look forward to about the game, although it wasn’t heavily featured in the PAX demo. The custom art style and characters were at the forefront of the announcement trailer, and it seems like Knack is caught between good and evil humans determined to use him for their own purposes. It is subtly suggested that Knack’s personality may also change as his form changes, which adds to his complexity as a character. If the frame-rate issue is resolved by launch, and the gameplay opens up as the learning curve increases, (which I expect it will) I am still confident that this title will be enjoyable and accessible for both adults and children.