E3 2013: ‘Knack’ brings a dash of fun to PS4 launch

June 13, 2013 | 8:49 a.m.

Now that more games have been revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) for the next-gen PS4 and Xbox One consoles, it’s clear there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed when the systems are released by the end of the year. From “Ryse: Son of Rome” on the Xbox One to “Killzone: Shadow Fall” on the PS4, each system does violence with extreme detail.

But how about a next-gen game that can make you laugh? Sony’s PS4 launch title “Knack” looks to fill a void.

In development from Mark Cerny, the PS4’s system architect, “Knack” is his attempt to bring “Pixar-quality graphics and storytelling” to the new platform. Cerny told Hero Complex on Wednesday at E3 that essentially what amounts to a full-length feature film is inside the game.

PHOTOS: Scenes from E3 2013

“We’ve embedded pretty much what is a full CGI movie into this game,” he said. “It’s a family story.”

And while he cited Pixar earlier, tone-wise Cerny put the feel of “Knack,” a cartoonish platformer featuring goblins and an unlikely, shape-shifting hero, more in line with the DreamWorks film “How to Train Your Dragon.” As for the “embedded” film, that’s unveiled throughout the game in cinematic sequences.

"Knack" was inspired by Pixar, said designer Mark Cerny. (Sony)

“Knack” is an attempt to bring “Pixar-quality graphics and storytelling” to the PS4, designer Mark Cerny said. (Sony)

Cerny has had a storied video game career. His design or production credits range from “Sonic the Hedgehog 2″ to “Ratchet & Clank” to the “Crash Bandicoot” series. And before he handed over the controller of his game, Cerny gave a CliffsNotes rundown of the story:

“The goblins are invading. Somehow, they’ve picked up powerful weapons like tanks and planes. An expedition is launched to discover where they got those weapons and how to stop them. Part of that expedition is this not-so-mad scientist and his creation, Knack. Knack is a cute, 3-foot-tall character, but he has an ability — you could call it a knack — to grow and transform.”

And grow he does. At times Knack may look like a lumbering chunk of garbage or a giant ice man. He can incorporate items from his surroundings, but he can also lose them.

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When he’s tiny, he’s vulnerable. When he’s big, he’s surprisingly quick, possessing a light-footed double-jump as well as a pummeling punch. Knack can also dash pretty quickly, which players do using the controller’s right analog stick. At times, he can turn his added parts transparent when he needs to return to his 3-foot size to fit through a tight spot.

Cerny showcased a part of the level that he said was modeled after a Mediterranean city. But no city in particular, he emphasized, as this isn’t our world. In fact, it looked more like a movie set, as the soft-colored building and structures had a facade-like quality. Perhaps that’s because many of the hidden paths in “Knack” are found via punching through walls.

For those willing to take advantage of the PS4’s social features, those secret passageways are where the system — and your friends, if they also own the game — will come in handy. Hidden items are randomly generated, said Cerny, and once you find one you can see what your friends uncovered in the same spot.

FULL COVERAGE: E3 2013

And if it’s something you want? Cerny said you can “pick one of those items” and build your inventory quicker.

“That means you can get your special abilities much faster if you have people who you know playing the game,” Cerny said. “It also makes you feel like you’re playing the game alongside your real-world friends.”

"Knack," its designer said, will be brutally tough. (Sony)

“Knack,” its designer said, will be brutally tough. (Sony)

While Cerny calls this a family game, he emphasizes that it isn’t easy. Playing through the game on hard mode is a test that may tempt players to throw that new touchpad-enhanced PS4 controller, he said.

“This is a game that definitely anybody can play,” Cerny said. “The other goal has been to make sure that playing on hard has that nostalgia feel for when you played ‘Crash Bandicoot’ back in the day. Those were hard games. They may have had simple move-sets, but those games weren’t fooling around.”

His inspiration to create “Knack” was rather simple. Cerny in his role as the PS4’s system architect knew early the launch titles for the console. He also knew what was missing.

“I’m trying to add another dimension to our launch lineup,” he said. “I just thought it’d be great — you go the store and buy ‘Watch Dogs,’ ‘Killzone’ and get this for the rest of the family. Or if you like platform games, you get this for yourself and you play it on hard. On hard, let me tell you, it’s a challenge.”

But one that’s still without HD blood and guts.

– Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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“Knack” is his attempt to bring “Pixar-quality graphics and storytelling” to the new platform.

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