Tag Archive: Mark Cerny


When Knack II was announced at PSX 2016, I admit that I was probably one of the loudest groans in the auditorium. Knack had left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, coming across more as a tech demo for the newly-launched PS4 than an action game any of us wanted to play—and definitely didn’t feel worthy of a sequel. Yet here I am, ready to eat my words, because Knack II has made me a believer. It’s not without issues, but for the most part, it’s a fun romp for gamers of all ages.

Knack II takes place three years after the original game. It kicks off in medias res, with the capital city of New Haven being attacked by giant killer robots, and our plucky protagonist Knack needing to again save the day. Just before Knack takes on the biggest of all the robots, we flashback to six months prior to find out how we got to that point, facing off against foes old and new as we start an adventure that will take us across a variety of locales in Knack’s world.

It needs to be said that the self-contained plot here is an improvement over the first game’s story. It’s twists, turns, and bombastic moments—although somewhat predictable—elicited a Saturday morning cartoon vibe at times that I enjoyed. If there should ever be a third Knack game, this is a direction the series might want to lean into more, considering our colorful hero and his perceived target audience. Even with help from God of War writer Marianne Krawczyk, however, a lot of the characters in Knack’s universe still feel very one note, especially the titular hero.

In the first Knack, the goblin boss, Gundahar, called Knack a tool—and in many ways, that single line of dialogue was telling of many of the problems Knack still has now as a hero. Previously, Knack was always being bossed around by Dr. Vargas (his creator), and although the good doctor has thankfully taken more of a backseat this go around, his assistant, Lucas, has taken up the role of barking orders, telling our hero exactly what to do and when to do it. This depicts a feeling of subservience that isn’t fun to play. I understand that Knack isn’t exactly Kratos when it comes to backstory, but him having a bit more say in the adventure—and feeling like he’s on the same level as the characters around him (it is his game after all)—would go a long way to making our protagonist a more likeable hero that people would want to play as.

Of course, I also understand that Knack II is first and foremost an action-platformer and is primarily gameplay driven. In that regard, Knack II is light years ahead of its predecessor, and would stand on its own as an impressive action game even without the first Knack to compare it to. One of the biggest—and most important—changes comes in the form of Knack’s original gimmick: the ability to change his size.

In the first game, Knack would constantly be forced down into “small Knack” size, typically around the size of a child with a diminutive health bar to match. Almost every level started with Knack at this size, and it was often frustrating to go through all the work of building him up only to be broken down again at every story beat. In Knack II, Knack usually starts around “normal Knack” size, somewhere in the five to six foot range, and many new gameplay mechanics branch out from this single decision. As a side note, we can tell exactly how big he is with the new size counter next to Knack’s health bar, which initially seems like a minor addition but really adds a nice sense of scope to things.

This starting size allows Knack to control like most action game heroes. Knack now has elaborate punching and kicking combos that weren’t present in the first game; he can parry projectile attacks, or just block in general; he has new moves like block-breaking strong punches, stunning boomerang attacks, a gap-closing hookshot, and even a “secret technique” that looks a whole lot like a short-range hadouken. We’ll forgive Knack for borrowing some of these moves from other franchises, because it adds so much in terms of both how you attack enemies and the variety of said enemies the game can throw at you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

There is still a use for “small Knack,” though, and with a tap of the R1 button, Knack can shrink almost instantaneously. There are many obstacles and hidden paths in Knack’s world that only a smaller-sized Knack can navigate. With another tap of R1, Knack can use the magical abilities that allow him to control relics (the particles that make up his body) to call those pieces back, so he can return to whatever size he was before. Even when Knack grows to his giant sizes—he maxes out at 32 feet tall—he can still instantly shrink to just under three feet when he needs to. This was a critical gameplay component the original Knack lacked, and it offers chances to explore an otherwise linear world while still showing off the game’s powerful particle effects.

Even with all this, there’s still a lot more gameplay variety to Knack II. There’s a new experience meter, which you can spend your accumulated experience on four different branches of a RPG-inspired skill tree where Knack can upgrade his speed, power, and other stats. There are tank-driving levels, plane-piloting segments, platforming puzzles, puzzles based on Knack’s weight, and quicktime events. All of those except for the last one were a ton of fun. The QTEs were used too heavily, especially when Knack would learn new moves and they would weirdly happen before tutorials. They were also too frequently used as level transitions, but understandably tried to give a more cinematic flair to some of the action that Knack wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

And if you’re looking for replayability, Knack II has it in spades. Sure, there are 100 new secret chests to find, much like the first game, but there are also 143 different secondary challenges across the campaign—like beating a level in a certain amount of time or smashing all of a particular kind of crate to earn bonus points (those bonus points are great for trying to get the best online high score for each level). There is also a time trial mode with online leaderboards for speed runs, and an arena mode where you can fight wave after wave of enemies. Knack II even added drop-in, drop-out co-op where a second player can take control of a blue-tinted clone of Knack, and the difficulty scales appropriately when there are two players versus only one.

It may seem like I just rattled off a bunch of stuff there—and I sort of did—but the point is that in the four years between Knack and Knack II, Sony’s Japan Studio obviously took a lot of time to look at what people wanted from an action game, and what many of their contemporaries were doing, and tried to accommodate that. I believe they not only succeeded, but also far exceeded expectations, not only putting their own entertaining twist on familiar things, but actually turning Knack into a viable action franchise that could be fun for the whole family.

Knack II doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it is a very solid, very sturdy wheel if you’re looking for an action fix—while with its predecessor, many of us were tempted to throw out the entire cart. Whereas the first Knack often had me asking myself “when will it ever end,” Knack II held my attention throughout, and I was happy to play it all the way through. The story and universe of Knack could still use some work (and some much-needed fleshing out), but the gameplay has come so far from its predecessor that I won’t be groaning the next time I hear that Knack is back.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE Japan Studio • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.05.17
8.0
Knack II fixes many of the problems of its predecessor, delivering a fun action-platformer worthy of giving this series a second chance. The story is still a bit bare-boned, but the gameplay alone will be enough to keep you going until you see the end credits.
The Good A large variety of gameplay and Knack’s expanded moveset allows you to tackle bad guys in a plethora of ways.
The Bad Too many QTEs; all of the characters in terms of their personalities, especially Knack, still feel very one-dimensional.
The Ugly I feel like there’s been some retconning between Knack games that none of us were made aware of.
Knack II is a PS4 exclusive. A retail copy was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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When Knack launched alongside the PlayStation 4 back in 2013, it didn’t exactly take the world by storm. Although it was a pretty game that showed off some of the power of the system—with Knack being able to shrink and grow as he absorbed or lost relics over the course of a level—many found the gameplay severely lacking. So, when I had a chance recently to go hands-on with Knack 2—and have the game’s director, PlayStation 4 architect and legendary game developer Mark Cerny serve as my co-op buddy—I was curious to see firsthand what changes the series had undergone from its initial entry (and hear about them from the man himself).

Knack was a very different concept. I was focused on making a game that was accessible to people who had never played a video game before, and thought that would be an interesting part of the PlayStation 4 as a launch title,” explained Cerny as we loaded up the first level. “That ended up being a pretty heavy focus, which meant no platforming and a fairly small moveset. Knack 2 is very different title from that; the focus here is more squarely on gameplay.”

And Cerny wasn’t kidding about that. He ended up showing me seven sections of the game in our demo that highlighted not only a wide variety of different gameplay challenges, but also an expanded moveset for Knack punctuated by four skill trees. It should be noted that some moves are story based, and only by advancing so far in certain levels will Knack unlock them—like a super-strong punch that can shatter enemy shields. Collecting energy in each level can unlock many others, however, and then you can invest that energy into new moves or improve upon those you’ll obtain via progress.

Easily one of my favorite things I experienced in the demo was how expanded Knack’s moveset had become as a whole. Knack can now create a shield that, if timed properly, will deflect bolts and blasts back at enemies. He also has a bola-like projectile weapon that can ensnare foes, making them easy targets for a combo or removing them temporarily from a fight as you focus on other targets. Kicks, body slams, and yes, even more punches round out Knack’s repertoire. One of my favorites was a Fist of the North Star-style flurry of fists that sees Knack move super quick, rapidly punching an enemy several times.

Co-op also sees some combat improvements. Cerny mentioned in our conversation that something he and his team noticed amongst younger players is they’d often take a whack at each other as often as they would Goblins. So, a new move incorporated into co-op is if you hit your buddy, a single relic will fly off like a bullet at an enemy. This way, even if you’re simply messing around, movement isn’t wasted, and can still serve a purpose in gameplay and combat.

As great as it is to see the depth of combat now present in Knack 2, the biggest additions probably come with the breadth of gameplay now available to you. Entire sections of levels are dedicated just to true platforming, exploring, and puzzle solving. In fact, by changing sizes at will, I would have to shrink to Knack’s smallest from to fit into onto smaller ledges and platforms to reach certain areas, and then quickly switch back to a larger from for combat. Knack’s smallest from is all necessary to navigate tiny crevices in cliff sides or Goblin fortresses and discover energy for leveling up, or pieces of technology that can bestow Knack with even more in-game abilities.

There’s a bit of a lottery to the item pieces you’ll discover, however, so there’s even a social aspect added to discovering treasure. If friends of yours have received items you’d rather have from the same treasure chest in their playthrough of Knack 2, you can trade what you received to get the same item they snagged. And, if you don’t have a lot of friends playing Knack 2, don’t worry: there will be some computer explorers that can offer up some options, too.

Other levels, meanwhile, add a stealth element. For example, you’ll have to push crates around with Knack to avoid searchlights while hiding in the shadows to prevent alarms from being set off as you infiltrate a certain someone’s home. You’ll also have to use the size-changing ability—which now features the added bonus of always letting you know just how tall Knack is at a given moment thanks to a height counter in the game’s HUD (if visuals weren’t enough for you)—to shrink and hide under awnings or canopies to avoid robots on patrol.

Knack 2 even brings driving segments to the series. One section of our demo saw Knack get in a tank and drive around destroying enemies and encampments; when playing co-op, one player drives the tank while the other operates the turret. Some other levels also have turret emplacements scattered about, and Knack can climb into one to really whittle down Goblin forces with some green energy blasts.

As the demo was winding down, I admit I was sad to see my time with Knack 2 coming to an end. I hadn’t had this much fun with an action-platformer in a while; the variety of gameplay was stellar, everything handled very tightly, the game looked great, and the writing had me chuckling in my chair. Cerny was quick to point out that bringing on Marianne Krawczyk, writer of the God of War series, to write Knack 2 was a critical move. Although the game is still very much gameplay-driven, having her veteran hand come in for key narrative moments—like where an ally of Knack makes fun of him (and the first game) for only having three punches—was a big boost, and allowed Cerny to focus on directing the gameplay that has made such hugely evident strides.

Although it’s scheduled to release during what’s looking like a very busy second half of 2017, if you’re searching for a fun, high-quality action-adventure that the whole family can enjoy, don’t sleep on Knack 2. With its new depth of gameplay and tight controls, it’s like Knack has finally found all the pieces to turn itself from a pipsqueak PlayStation 4 exclusive into a game to be reckoned with—one that can hold its own with the big boys of the system.