A new console release means new games—titles that will show early buyers what a fresh-faced and power-packed gaming system can deliver. Sometimes that showcase title will be a revved-up shooter, or perhaps a racing game featuring digital cars that look like they just rolled off the real-world showroom floor, or maybe an adventure game that really dials up the photorealistic, look-at-the-pores-in-his-skin characters.
The folks at Sony have decided that at least one of their featured release-day games should be something fun and kid-friendly. And so they've given us Knack to go along with the new PlayStation 4.
Piecing Together a Bit of a Hero
The titular hero of this action-platformer is a curious fellow. He's a walking, talking, 3-D collection of "relics"—energy-infused cubes, triangles, spheres and various doodads that spin and rotate in the air while maintaining a humanoid form. Knack's friend/creator, the eccentric Doctor Vargas, discovered a way to make these artifacts stick together and somehow take on sentient life. So maybe even more than the lush game environs surrounding him, it's Knack himself who gobbles up all that shiny and upgraded console processing power.
When Knack comes in contact with more of the relic thingies from an ancient and unknown culture, he's able to pull them into his mix and grow from an itty-bitty waddling critter all the way up to a lumbering, mountain-smashing, skyscraper-sized behemoth. And as this technological marvel starts testing the limits of his abilities, he even realizes that he can temporarily pull in other natural elements—such as ice shards, wood chunks and metal scraps—to gain different abilities and deal with any given set of puzzles or foes.
The swirling fantasy story he's a part of centers around a threat aimed at humans from two different camps. There's a group of thumping goblins who've gotten their hands on some high-powered weaponry and are determined to give mankind what for. And there's also a power-hungry millionaire inventor who's using his robots and robotic weaponry to discover the secret to those ancient relics (call them knickknacks, maybe?) so he can take over the world (broo-ha-ha!). The only ones standing between humankind and extinction are the good doctor, a few adventuring friends and Knack.
Rolling the Old Man Home
The gameplay itself, then, is really little more than level after level of bad-guy-bashing combat as Knack clears out weapons plants, goblin fortresses, city streets and ancient ruins. The baddies have guns, rockets, electric whips and acid-like sprays, along with tanks and planes. And Knack has … himself. He can deliver a few stored-energy ground-thumping or projectile-slinging attacks gained from things called sun stones. But for the most part gamers must simply master Knack's timing, getting him to leap and tumble at just the right moments and deliver the right number of relic-fisted punches.
There's no blood or mess in the mix. Defeated goblins, soldiers, giant insects and robots simply fall over and disappear. A beaten Knack, for his part, crumbles into a pile of inanimate relics before respawning at an earlier spot in the level. And much of the combat comes from trying to rescue or protect the innocent. In other words, the game makes a clear case for why you're fighting.
The logic for that reasoning is simplified (you might say oversimplified) for the E10+ rating, of course. When a bad guy suggests that Knack's use of violence is no different than his own, our hero easily retorts, "I get big and I break things. But what you do is evil." Doctor Vargas also laments the bashing and crashing taking place, but insists that if that destruction stops evildoers and brings peace, then it's all worth it.
That may sound like something of a throwback to a Sonic the Hedgehog- or Mario-like level of gaming. And that's apt. Knack is a new cartoony platforming hero in a new but oddly nostalgic cartoony world, and he's designed for a good cause: to give PS4 gamers something to do other than pulling triggers and stealing cars.