Why Knack is More Next-Gen Than You Might Think

Do yourself a favor and take a closer look at this PS4 launch title.


Knack didn't exactly blow me away when it was introduced earlier this year. Here was one of the very first PlayStation 4 titles to be shown to the public, and rather than display the sort of immediate technical wizardry you might expect from a next-gen game, it just sort of looked like a modern action-platformer. But fast forward to today and I've finally had the chance to spend some quality time with Knack here at Tokyo Game Show. If there's one thought I came away with, it's this: you've got to see this game in person to really appreciate it.

Knack is a game made up of subtle details, and so many of those details are lost when you're streaming footage of it online. Play the game on a nice, big HDTV and it's a different experience altogether. It no longer resembles an upscaled version of a PS3-era platformer, but a rather impressive-looking piece of next-gen software in its own right.

It all starts with the titular main character. Knack is a hero made up of thousands of free-floating bits and bobs called relics. He grows bigger and stronger by collecting relics, and loses them when he takes a hit from enemies. But no matter whether you're seeing those lost relics going scattering across the floor like someone just dumped a potato sack full of LEGO pieces or staring at the individually lit and textured pieces of his frame during a cut scene, it's amazing just how much microscopic detail there is in the character design.

And then there's the world around Knack. For the most part, these are not the sort of massive, sprawling levels you might see as a selling point in other next-gen games. Rather, they feel like the sort of modestly sized platforming playgrounds you'd see out of a Ratchet and Clank game from six years ago. But like Knack himself, there's a level of detail here you can only fully appreciate when you get to see the game running live and in person.

I had the chance to see one of the game's bigger levels, an outdoor canyon full of lush foliage that looked like some strange intersection between arid desert and dense jungle. It's here you can really see those details pop: the way each individual plant casts its own shadow and sways in the wind, or how the tessellation effects on the water provide a smooth, undulating surface. Even the purple death goo that enemy goblins fire at you looks impressive in the way it reflects light and produces disconcerting wisps of smoke. It's a world that really comes alive with the sort of lighting and texture effects we haven't seen on current-gen systems.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Knack has a really nice art design behind it as well. It's not just a bright and colorful game, but a richly detailed one as well. The lead background artist from Shadow of the Colossus has lent his handiwork to the world of Knack, and you can see that familiar style in the way certain areas manage to feel both ornate and rugged at the same time.

It all adds up to an interesting snapshot into the future of next-gen games. Not everything coming out for these new systems is going to feature gigantic mutiplayer maps or huge sandboxes crammed with thousands of NPCs. Rather, the development team at SCE Japan Studio is aiming for something a little different with Knack. They're taking that PS4 horsepower and using it to make the cartoony world of family-friendly platformers feel that much more alive and vibrant. We'll see just how well that approach pays off when Knack launches with the PS4 this November.

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