When I stepped into a room at Sony’s U.S. game headquarters in San Mateo, California, Mark Cerny put a game controller in my hands to show me Knack 2. He wanted the game to speak for itself in the first real preview session for the PlayStation 4 game, which will debut in the second half of the year.
Cerny’s original Knack debuted as a launch title on the PS4. Critics panned it, but it sold well enough to justify a sequel. And Sony is eager to show that this game is a lot different from the original, with more fun moment-to-moment gameplay, better graphics, a larger variety of actions and landscapes, and more platform puzzle solving.
While the first game wasn’t a critical success, the bet on action-platformer Knack 2 shows that Sony is willing to invest in its franchises for the long term. In a 1-on-1 session, I played a few levels of the game in co-op mode with Cerny for about an hour. And I was pleasantly surprised at all of the changes compared to the original.
Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Japan Studio, with Cerny as the director, is building the new game. The original title focused on Knack, a humanoid organism that consists of tiny parts dubbed Relics. Knack reconstituted those pieces into different forms, but for the most part he was a brawler. His mission was to save humankind from an army of Goblins.
In Knack 2, the story for the character action game starts out with an invasion of Knack’s home city. I played a second level dubbed The Adventure Begins, where you land a seaplane during a moment that takes place six months before the invasion. Knack’s human friend Lucas feels like the invasion is his fault. You play the game and find out what led to the invasion. The Goblins are back as the enemies.
When you first see Knack, he is a little creature, as his larger form is too big to fit into the seaplane. Then he opens the cargo door and all of his pieces spill out of it and reassemble the character into Big Knack. They then explore a colorful place that is an amalgam of a big factory and an ancient ruin. Knack meets enemies on the way and deals with them one at a time or in group melees.
The new game has a larger variety of things that you can do on a moment-to-moment basis in the game. If you press R1 on the controller, you can switch between Little Knack and Big Knack. In the game, you spend part of your time as Little Knack and part as Big Knack, who has many more parts and is a more fearsome character. You can transform from one to the other with the push of a button.
You can jump and double jump. And if you hold the button down on the second jump, you can hover. You can do things like throw a punch at someone across the room. You can kick or jump and kick to do a body slam. You can dodge attacks by tapping the right stick.
If you hold the L1 button, you can block shots with a shield. If you pull your shield up as shots are fired, you can parry the shot back at the attacker. If you hold the shield in place, you are basically invulnerable, but some enemies can break through.
If you hit the touchpad and the triangle button, you can find things that you can buy with virtual rewards to improve your abilities. Your move set changes a lot throughout the game, and you can chain moves together to deliver more sophisticated attacks.
The game also has two-player couch co-op, where two Knack characters, one blue and one red, can play at the same time on the same screen at all times. You have more platform puzzles to solve, where you’re jumping around from spot to spot on moving platforms. The original Knack had so little of that it became a sore point with fans.
The gameplay also changes over time, as Knack becomes bigger, and can grow as high as 32-feet high in the game, or three times the size of Knack in the original game. That means you can go over some of the same levels as a small Knack or a big Knack. Big Knack can punch right through the armor of some enemies. Knack gets bigger as he finds new parts in red crates after defeating enemies. I enjoyed causing massive destruction among the goblins in the city.
During the gameplay session, Knack traversed through a wall city. In some places, you have to use Big Knack to push a box into place so you can climb up a wall. But you may have to switch to little Knack to fit on a narrow ledge. As we went through the city, Cerny had to save me quite a few times during co-op play. The nice thing is that you can jump immediately to your partner with the press of a button. That helps if one player is skillful and jumping and climbing and the other isn’t.
You have to do things like traverse a ramp while dodging big stones rolling down at you. We skipped to a different level with a monastery, where a bunch of monks used martial arts to fight. In co-op, you have some interesting options. You can do a body slam on a Knack character and cause that character to explode and take out nearby enemies. And if you double punch another Knack, you’ll launch a power punch at your enemies.
The game has a charming sense of humor that shows in a variety of places. I found myself hitting the button to transform into the little or big character at inappropriate times. But I suppose that will go away with practice. I was surprised at how quickly I caught on with no tutorial except Cerny’s advice. The soundtrack is quite dramatic, and the sounds are cacophonous.
Cerny also showed me an art deco level with more stealth in it, where little Knack plays more of a starring role, as he sneaks around guards and surveillance cameras.
Sony will show off more of the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in June. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the game. I think the original title got a little bit of a bad rap, and I think that fans should give this franchise another chance.
The game sold an estimated 1.74 million units around the world, according game site VGChartz.com. That’s not bad at all, considering it came out on the PS4 on the day it started selling. Ultimately, the critics didn’t stop the game from becoming popular enough to justify a sequel. I always thought that everyone was too tough on the game, considering it was a launch title built on a very tight deadline.
Cerny said in a hands-on gameplay session with GamesBeat last week he took the feedback seriously.
“There was a desire for more variety and platforming,” he said. “I hadn’t appreciated how much desire there was for that.”