The week that was is no more

We're bringing back the Push Rewind name after nearly a year of dormancy, but with a brand new meaning. Instead of a round-up of the previous week's news, we'll be taking a deep dive into games that are about to receive a sequel. This will exclude reboots, spiritual successors, side stories, and re-imaginings.

These won't be reviews, but more of a post-mortem analysis of what a game did right, what went wrong, and how the title changed from its release up until the time of writing through patches, updates, and DLC.

We kick the series off with everyone's favourite game of 2013: Knack.

As a PS4 launch title, Knack was seen as a beacon of hope to many nostalgic PlayStation devotees prior to release. Continuously referred to as the new system’s Crash Bandicoot, director Mark Cerny had a mountain of expectation placed on his shoulders as fans expected a return to form within a genre that had long since died out. And so upon its release in November 2013, it was almost inevitable that some supporters would be left feeling disappointed, but in the years since then it has become the butt of most PlayStation jokes.

Knack was not any sort of spiritual successor to Crash Bandicoot in terms of quality, with many players brandishing it a title that isn’t worthy of a playthrough from anyone. But four years later, with a sequel about to be released, it’s much easier to return to Knack with some level headedness and look at what the game really was.

A case of misconception

In actuality, Knack was more of a beat-‘em-up brawler than a platformer. Enemies would come in all shapes and sizes which helped to mix up your approach, but with only a few real attacking options outside of a few select special moves, the combat itself remained fairly simplistic throughout.

However, it’s this simplicity that lent itself so well to one of the game’s few unique mechanics. Due to the nature of his character, Knack could change in size as he collected relics from fallen enemies which in turn would make him grow. This led to attacks of varying power and prowess depending on how big or small he was, which meant that with a bit of augmenting, an enemy that initially came across as menacing could be squashed in an instant. This differentiating mechanic is, of course, being expanded in the sequel.

A lack of platforms

To be touted as the PS4’s Crash Bandicoot, you would expect Knack to come along with some challenging but enjoyable platforming sections, right? But in reality, this wasn’t the case. There was the odd cliff face to traverse or a collection of rocks to jump across but none of this ever amounted to anything meaningful, and it’s here that the disconnect between what fans expected and what Knack really was lies.

Thanks to comments from the likes of Shuhei Yoshida prior to release, it would appear that PlayStation fans were anticipating a title with a much larger focus on platforming – one that would test their abilities to the max, challenge them to beat record time attacks. And Knack simply was not that when it came to platforming.

But to focus on this misunderstanding in 2017 does a disservice to the launch title, and so it’s much more fruitful to look at what Knack actually was. It never planned to set the world on fire and indeed it never achieved that thanks to some glaring flaws, but what Knack did manage to do was offer a challenging beat-‘em-up style game with a few new and interesting mechanics that shipped with untapped potential. Knack very much feels like a proof of concept.

The Pro update

From its release in November o2013 up until October of last year, Knack laid dormant as it became the punchline of many a joke. “When will Knack be a free game as part of PlayStation Plus?” was all you ever heard of the title. But then things changed, and it was thanks to the release of the PS4 Pro. It was announced that Knack would be getting a performance boost in the form of a patch that would attempt to smooth out the framerate and improve the visuals.

In practice, the update didn’t really take full advantage of PlayStation’s new supercharged console, but what it did represent was that Sony had not given up on Knack. The game was the only launch title to receive this updated treatment and so while some were a little confused by its choosing, it became obvious why Knack was selected only two months later as its sequel was announced at the PlayStation Experience.

Looking to the future

And this leads us in to what the Knack franchise is today, with the sequel only days away from releasing. Knack II has not garnered the same amount of attention its predecessor got, but in a sense, that’s probably okay in 2017. The original game was thrust into the limelight thanks to being a launch title and comments from Sony executives, and so it was unfairly judged to a point.

The second time around, however, the series is being released into a much more healthy PlayStation climate with a multitude of quality titles already released, and more launching around it. Knack II has found its audience in children and families, and so that is who it’s targeting on the whole.

Knack may well not be for you, and that’s okay, but what should be appreciated by core gamers is that the series represents a commitment Sony made 20 years ago. A range of titles that cater to a younger audience is at the centre of PlayStation’s mythos, with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon on the PSone, Ratchet & Clank finding their place on the PS2, and LittleBigPlanet weaving its way onto the PlayStation 3.

These games do just as much for a system as a God of War, Gran Turismo, or Uncharted title do: they flesh out the library and offer something for everyone. It’s probably not what you’re looking for when you browse the PlayStation Store, but Knack absolutely has a right to exist.

Looking back, what are your thoughts on Knack a whole four years later? Has your opinion changed, or are you still waiting for the game to hit PlayStation Plus? Let us know in the comments below.