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We’ve had a more turbulent relationship with Knack than the scorned lovers from Wuthering Heights. The throwback platformer in production at Sony’s recently rejuvenated Japan Studio disappointed us earlier in the year, prompting us to ponder the platform holder’s decision to put it at the forefront of the PlayStation 4’s marketing campaign. But having spent some time with an updated build of the impending launch title, we can’t help but feel that the release may end up crushing our early concerns.

Make no mistake, this is still not a system selling piece of software – but it’s definitely improving by the day. Despite originally looking like a PlayStation 3 game with a sharper resolution, the title is now starting to flex its next generation prowess. Tapping the circle button prior to another of the DualShock 4’s famous inputs allows you to perform a selection of special moves, which really showcase the hardware. Shape-shifting hero Knack will transform into a whirlwind or explode into a cloud of particles – and the frame-rate no longer slows to a crawl each time that you do so.

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It’s a cool effect, and it’s enhanced by the fact that the titular star changes as you play. As the bitty badass is attacked by gremlins, he’ll start to lose parts of his body. These can be recollected by smashing up crates and other items, allowing you to add to the character’s bulk – and augment some nifty looking electrical effects. Later in the demo, we’re able to absorb a stack of wood. This enhances the power of the protagonist, but makes him vulnerable to fire attacks. The grunts quickly cotton onto this, peppering us with explosive crossbows in an attempt to set the star ablaze.

It’s perhaps worth noting that this is not an easy game. Creative director Mark Cerny has mentioned multiple times that he wanted to build an accessible title for youngsters and a more challenging experience for old-school players. Based on our hands-on, the title certainly succeeds: it can be played fairly casually on the easy difficulty tier, but you will die frequently on normal or above. Adding to this challenge are the combat encounters, with a range of close-quarters and distant enemies forcing you to think on your feet.

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The level design is decent, too. The release is riddled with platforming clichés – such as mechanical pillars that crush you if you linger too long beneath them, and mines that prevent you from simply sprinting forwards if you want to hold onto your health – but it works and it fits the context. The game genuinely does feel old-school, and it’s refreshing by virtue of the fact that these types of titles simply don’t get made anymore.

There are still issues, of course. For starters, considering the serious visual improvements elsewhere, we’re miffed by the fact that fallen enemies and their equipment still fade awkwardly out of the environment. We like the way that you’re able to bash the armour off grunts, but we reckon that it would be more interesting if the debris remained strewn around the world once you’re done. The developer’s working with 8GB RAM now, so it really shouldn’t be a technological challenge.

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We’re also worried about repetitiveness. Our demo consisted of several different chapters from the full campaign, but we immediately noticed that there were some recycled environments throughout. This is a game that needs to stay fresh from start to finish, and that clearly also applies to the visual design. We won’t be able to truly judge the variety until we get our eager fingers on the final build next month, but the concern is most definitely there.

Nevertheless, we’re really starting to warm to the adventure. We still don’t feel that it deserves to be fronting Sony’s next major format launch, but there’s definitely a charm to the title that will make it appeal to a certain type of gamer. If you grew up on Crash Bandicoot, or are just looking for something a little different to accompany your new piece of hardware, then rest easy in the knowledge that Knack doesn’t seem like such a bad choice anymore.

Are you planning to pick up Knack alongside your PS4? Has the title grown on you over the past couple of months? Let us know in the comments section below.