The platform adventure is a staple of most console launch line-ups. From Clockwork Knight to Super Mario 64 to Munch's Oddysee, this most inclusive, colourful and family-friendly of genres has introduced generations of players to new ideas, fresh interfaces and giant leaps in visual fidelity.
While they've not always arrived on day one, the PlayStation brand has become synonymous with its own line of platforming greats; Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, and Jak & Daxter.
IT seems hard to believe, but games above are all listed on the formidable CV of Mark Cerny, whose next game - Knack - is the tantalising prospect of a next-gen platformer designed by the man assigned with constructing the PS4 hardware itself.
Knack tells the story of a mysterious creature with an exotic talent. Through a scientific miracle, the titular Knack can bind and control the ancient relics of a long-lost civilisation. In fact, Knack's body is entirely comprised of these angular trinkets and will grow in size as more of them are collected during his travels - or shrink as they're batted away by foes.
With an army of goblin invaders threatening the world, this strange three-foot character is presented to mankind's leaders as the unlikely hero.
When the game kicks off, Knack is a pint-sized pipsqueak, struggling to battle tiny robots and bemused beetles. But as he absorbs the hundreds of artefacts cached around each level he'll grow to become a larger, moodier beast - and significantly more powerful for it.
In the past Cerny has described Knack as Crash Bandicoot meets Katamari Damacy, but in truth it features gameplay more conventional than that tantalising partnership would suggest.
The 10-hour the campaign is split across 13 chapters, with combat and platforming making up the majority of the player's actions. Just like in any classic PS1 or PS2 era platformer, players will travel down a rigidly linear path and must overcome packs of enemies and the occasional puzzle in order to progress.
It's a defiantly antiquated design, and the obsession for the class of '97 extends to Knack's difficulty level, which is, in a word, nails. From the very first chapter, a maximum of three hits will result in Knack reduced to a pile of broken Toblerones, and quickly more powerful enemies will start delivering devastating one-hit kills, transporting the player directly to a miserable checkpoint.
For players who've been round the block a few times, the overpowered enemies can enhance the experience, with immediate strategies required (who to target first? The archer? The goblin chasing you?) and great importance placed on understanding of when to sacrifice super moves. More often than not though, you'll want to lob your new DualShock 4 out the window. Rookies will deserve a medal for even getting close to finishing this game.
"As great as it looks, Knack's singular concept is never used to its fullest potential"
The act of absorbing hundreds of tiny artefacts and watching them dynamically join your Meccano protagonist's form - accompanied by satisfying clinking sounds from the DualShock 4 controller - is Knack's most gratifying routine mechanic.
Visually it's very handsome, and each piece of our hero's ever-growing torso is physically simulated by the PS4 hardware, as becomes depressingly apparent when his parts are scattered against a wall. Even more impressive are Knack's Super Moves - executed by collecting various yellow Sunstones littered around levels - which results in his thousands of body parts morphing into a violent whirlwind or fire at enemies.
But as great as it looks, Knack's central concept of physical construction is ultimately never used to its fullest potential - and feels more cosmetic than it needs to.
Despite swarms of artefacts realistically connecting to his body, our hero never feels like his growth is consistently meaningful to gameplay in the vein of Katamari, but rather that he's arbitrarily switching between four forms - small, medium, large and, when the plot allows it, Hulk. Once a certain umber artefacts are gained or lost, Knack effectively jumps between character models.
Even latter scenes, in which Knack mushrooms to the size of a three-story building, feels overly scripted and - bizarrely - of little magnitude.
The eventual ability to absorb other kinds of building blocks such as ice and wood presents interesting twists, as Knack's form shrinks under the direct heat of sunlight or burns when attacked with by fire-wielding enemies. At certain points he'll even absorb pieces of glass and shrink down to 'Stealth Knack' for sneaking past traps.
But these ideas are also under utilised and never really pushed beyond their initial introduction, which is a shame because they're rare moments when the campaign begins to feel unique.
From start to finish Knack feels like an overly-familiar platformer and, visuals aside, demonstrates little of the PlayStation 4's full potential. There are fleeting moments when its campaign offers something unique, but these glimpses are imprisoned between unremarkable level design and mechanics which often creek with age.
Knack is a competent throwback to the golden age of the platform genre, but certainly not a giant leap forward.
- Brutal difficulty
- Some unique puzzles
- Online trading mixes it up
- Unremarkable level design
- Character growth isn't intricate
- Difficulty may frustrate beginners