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Hands-On With Knack For PlayStation 4
by Matt Helgeson on Jun 13, 2013 at 10:32 AM
Platform PlayStation 4
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer Sony Japan Studio
Rating Everyone

Knack is Sony's new action/platformer, and it's coming out for PlayStation 4 on launch day. The game's lead designer is Mark Cerny, a gaming legend known for his work on franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Marble Madness, and Jak & Daxter.

Knack takes a retro approach to the character action genre, and features a pared down control scheme meant to be accessible to a wide audience. The game's controls use only the left analog and face buttons, eschewing the shoulder triggers and using the right analog only for a quick God of War-style dodge move.

As a character, Knack is unique in that the character is actually made up of thousands of individual shards that you find in the environment by smashing objects. At his largest, Knack measures over 30 feet tall. During the "big Knack" sequence I played, the enemies scaled up as well, as I threw cars at giant tanks and fighter planes.

Overall, the gameplay is very simple. The camera is actually fixed, but generally seems to adjust to give you the best view of the action. Melee attacks use the square button, and you can collect yellow "sunstones" to build up a special combo meter that's activated by the circle button. At that point, you can press one of the other face buttons to choose betwee specials: Storm (where you transform into a swirling tornado of parts), Shockwave (a ground-pound shockwave), and Blast (where Knack shoots three energy balls at enemies). There's some light platforming in the game, but overall it seems to be a more melee combat focused title.

During regular play, you can press the triangle button to shed your accumulated parts and become a small, crystal version of Knack -- allowing you to enter ducts to explore hidden areas or walk through laser gates. However, in small form you have essentially no health, so you must quickly switch back to big Knack if you spot an enemy.

The game also features some unique social functions. In hidden areas, you pick up certain parts that help you unlock new abilities and upgrades, like increasing your life or special meter. If your PSN friends are playing Knack as well, you'll be able to grab rare items and parts that they've collected in addition to the ones that you find. There are also special forms of Knack, like "Vampire Knack" (who gains health every time he kills an enemy), which you can use for a second playthrough after beating the game.

Overall, I think Knack has some promise to be an old school gaming experience for the PlayStation 4. The effect of seeing a large character made up of 5,000 individual pieces is visuall impressive, especially when he sheds and regains his size.

That said, the E3 demo I played left me with some significant concerns about the game. The basic motion and controls didn't feel very good to me -- often the movement (especially while jumping) felt a bit off. In an ice level, I had some problems controlling Knack while sliding, as he seemed to be a bit jumpy. Obviously, all these issues can be addressed as the developers polish the game approaching launch, but the basic feel of gameplay is really at the core of any good character/action game. Let's hope Knack lives up to its potential.

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