The hustle and bustle of E3 had finally begun to take its toll on me as I waited for my appointment to start. My feet were sore, my back was drenched in sweat and I was still miles away from the nearest happy hour. The ice cold soda in my hand did little to assuage my weariness. Still, I soldiered on to the Sony booth where my appointment for Knack 2 was to begin shortly.
As I was led into the meeting room, the PR rep pulled me aside and said, “Today we are here to only talk about Knack. Keep the focus on Knack.” Before I could mumble a response I was brought into a room where Mark Cerny, designer of the PlayStation 4 and director of Knack 2, would be playing alongside me. The PR rep’s words began to make sense as I sat down to play Knack 2 with one of video gaming’s most revered figures. Not that she had to worry. I was literally speechless.
A cursory search of Mark Cerny’s development background reads like every Christmas wish list I had as a kid. Crash Bandicoot. Ratchet and Clank. Jak and Daxter. Not only did he have a hand in just about every one of gaming’s all-time greatest character platformers, he also served as executive producer for The Last Guardian and is currently working with Hideo Kojima on Death Stranding. That Mark Cerny was willing to take the time to sit down with me and play some Knack 2 says a lot about him as a person, but it says even more about his genuine love for all things Knack.
We started with an early section of the game. Or rather, I started while Mark kindly explained the expanded arsenal of Knack. In addition to punches, Knack can now kick, deploy a shield and change from large to small and back again. This last mechanic is a slight change from the previous game. Before, Knack could only grow when he collected shards. Now, shifting between big Knack and little Knack on the fly is essential to solving many of the game’s puzzles. By shrinking down to little Knack, I was able to utilize tiny platforms jutting out of a house to climb up and through a window on the second floor where a secret treasure awaited on the other side. As I made my way back, I noticed a large ladybug near the window.
“Oh, do the ladybugs signify a secret is nearby?” I asked.
“No,” said Mark Cerny. “That’s just a ladybug.”
Two things I learned that day about Mark Cerny. One, he is a big fan of Knack. Two, he has a really dry sense of humor.
At one point, we found ourselves at a crossroads. A path to the left which was open, and a path to the right that was walled off. I did not think much of it until Mark said, “Now if you had picked easy mode, this path would be open, skipping the difficult platforming section.” This would happen several times throughout the course of my time with Mark. He was keen to point out all of the ways Knack 2 has been built with accessibility in mind while still maintaining a fun challenge for more seasoned gamers.
I missed a jump, falling to my death but losing little progress as I warped back to the platform. “You’ll also notice we have a lot more checkpoints this time around,” he said.
Eager to show me more of all things Knack, Mark skipped ahead to a later part of the game. Knack is fighting his way into a goblin stronghold. Here, Mark tells me, I have a new power. With a press of the Triangle button, Knack extends his arm to the nearest enemy, grabbing him and pulling him within punching distance (my preferred distance for all things enemy). With great power comes great responsibility, however, as I found myself facing an onslaught of armored foes.
They crowded around me, some with armor, some with futuristic looking guns blazing. I threw some heavy punches to remove the armor plating. Timing my shield just right, I parried a few intergalactic blasts back toward my assailant. Still, I could not keep them at bay. I was doomed to fail this mission. I was doomed to fail in front of the man responsible for my favorite bandicoot.
Before I could lay down my controller in shame, Mark Cerny picked up a second controller and joined the fray.
Holy Crash Team Racing, Batman! The man himself was going to sit and play Knack 2 with me!
Maybe Mark Cerny, gentle soul as he is, could not stand to let me get annihilated. Perhaps his heart compelled him to jump in and lend a graceful hand. Or maybe he just wanted to show off the drop-in-drop-out co-operative experience. Who knows. All I know is that the next five minutes were some of the most nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring moments of my E3 life.
Mark Cerny threw a heavy punch in my direction, launching my Knack into a corkscrew spiral of destruction. Oh my gosh, Mark Cerny just turned me into a weapon, I said to myself. Then he launched a flurry of punches into my gut, which caused tiny projectiles to fly out and hit nearby enemies. Oh my gosh, Mark Cerny just made me fire projectiles out of my stomach, I screamed to myself.
As we battled forward, he tried to tell me fun little details, such as how the flurry of punches was inspired by the likes of Fist of the North Star. Or how during playtesting they had noticed that when two siblings played together, they enjoyed griefing each other, which is where the idea of combining powers came into play. Mark Cerny was so enthusiastic about how much they listened to feedback for Knack 2, he did not notice the panicked sweat dripping down my brow. Oh my gosh, Mark Cerny is talking to me about Knack 2.
With time almost up, Mark was anxious to try out one more section of the game. “Do you prefer combat, or stealth?” He asked.
“Oh, I don’t do stealth very well,” I replied.
He leaned in and whispered, “It’s not actually a stealth mission.”
Sure enough, the mission was mostly about avoiding spotlights that moved in very predictable patterns. A common, classic video game platformer trope. And that’s what Knack 2 is, honestly. A throwback to the kinds of games Mark Cerny is renowned for. But whereas the first Knack was nostalgia to a fault, Knack 2 looks like an attempt to bridge the gap between games old and new. By being as accessible as possible, Knack 2 may finally be the game Mark Cerny always intended it to be.
As our session came to an end, I could barely form the words Thank you as I shook his hand. What I really wanted to say was, Thank you, Mark Cerny. Thank you for loving Knack so much you took the time out of your day to play with me. I’m going to tell all of my friends about how cool you are.