After somewhat slipping into irrelevancy throughout much of the PlayStation 3 era, Sony’s own Japan Studio is enjoying something of a renaissance at the minute. The first-party workshop – previously responsible for classics such as Ape Escape and Shadow of the Colossus – is almost unrecognisable under the leadership of Sony Santa Monica founder Allan Becker, and it’s showing in the developer’s impressive output. Not content with the surprisingly solid Monster Hunter-inspired action game Soul Sacrifice, the studio still has drizzly digital download Rain and promising platformer Puppeteer in its immediate pipeline. And that’s not all: the formerly furtive outfit is also hard at work on Orwellian-esque adventure Freedom Wars and next generation launch title Knack. But while the latter is garnering an enormous amount of publicity as a consequence of its place among the PlayStation 4’s lineup, is the outing deserving of the attention or punching above its weight?
Inspired by the classics that defined the PSone era, there’s a romantic premise surging at the centre of Mark Cerny’s mascot revival. Almost analogous to the traditional ideals that paved the way for its parent platform, the imminent exclusive feels like a return to the Japanese giant’s roots. But while the developer-friendly principles behind the manufacturer’s inaugural system have failed to fall out of favour, it’s hard to say the same about the humble old-school platformer. And having recently had some hands-on time with the Crash Bandicoot-influenced excursion, we’re not convinced that it deserves to be leading the promotional charge for the PlayStation maker’s soon-to-be-released system.
The problem with the game is that it feels a little dated. Assuming the role of the eponymous hero – a Tiki-like figure with a fondness for relics – the title sees you hopping through colourful environments, dismantling gremlin grunts and greedily absorbing tokens scattered across the stage. Vacuuming up these items like an overclocked Henry Hoover scratches a similar itch to the Ratchet & Clank games, but almost ten years since the Lombax’s initial outing, the impact is not quite the same. And that seems to be a recurring theme throughout the entire snippet that we got to play; as a double-jump and stomp romp, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the title – but shouldn’t we be expecting something a little more from a release that, alongside Killzone: Shadow Fall and DriveClub, is essentially steering the PS4’s commercial charge?
The bigwigs at Sony would likely argue that that’s not the point of the game, and we can see the appeal of returning to simpler days. But with commands spanning little more than skip, dodge, and swat, we’re worried that the mechanics will outstay their welcome. And while we did get to see brief morsels of other ideas – a sequence where you must shrink and grow in order to sneak past pesky security beams, for example – these elementary puzzles are unlikely to break up the pace of the punch, evade, jump loop. There may be grander concepts in the full game, but if that’s the case, the platform holder really picked the most basic of areas to demonstrate the adventure. Even a set-piece in which you assume the role of a gargantuan iteration of the titular hero managed to disappoint, as the title simply introduces larger enemies – tanks, helicopters, and the like – to combat your new-found bloat.
In a recent interview with Eurogamer.net, director Cerny put it best when he described the exclusive as a “small” game. The luminary was referring to the release on a technical level, but it does make you question how the title expects to justify its price sticker in a launch lineup likely to be occupied by Battlefield 4, Watch Dogs, and more. We’re not making the argument that platformers are worth less than so-called adult adventures, because we don’t believe that that’s the case. But with arguably more attractive first-party endeavours like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Puppeteer adopting cheaper models at retail, we’re struggling to understand why Knack is not doing the same.
And perhaps the real frustration here is that the game is being forced to lead a lineup when it has no real right to do so. As an inexpensive alternative to the wealth of shooters set to deploy on Sony’s next generation system later this year, then the platformer could offer some mindless respite. But as the focal point for Sony’s impending format – appearing on television, in trailers, and almost every interface image – we’re just not sure that it’s the right choice. And while it’s certainly nice to see Japan Studio back in the limelight, perhaps it’s time that the platform holder put Knack on the sidelines for a while, until the title’s able to prove that it’s worthy of its place in the public eye.
Do you think that we’re being a little too harsh on Knack? Are you planning to purchase the platformer at launch? Let us know in the comments section below.
Are you looking forward to Knack? (56 votes)
Yes, I think that the game looks like a breath of fresh air
I need to see more before I make up my mind
No, nothing that Sony’s shown of the title has impressed me
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