Entertainment is a funny medium.
It follows a similar line as technology; sure, there are clear examples of things hitting the big time fresh out of the gate, changing the world as soon as they are conceived as if the freaking Messiah borne upon the silken mane of Pegasus-like Unicorns descending from the heavens. However, as I’ve said before – this is a relatively small slice of the ill-conceived notion we call success. The vast majority of instances are the flipside; people and brands that take years to establish themselves in the collective consciousness, as I said ages ago when I talked about the nature of technology – inventing the square peg and waiting patiently until someone else invents the square hole your peg fits. It’s a strange and often confusing market at the best of times, but from Rihanna and Beyonce to the PlayStation itself, becoming the go-to brand that can be recognised by one word or name alone is a painful, tireless road of half-successes and failures that ultimately breeds both character and presence.
Hence why I wouldn’t be betting against the Nintendo Switch.
Knack 2 was announced at the PlayStation experience a couple of weeks ago and I’m not going to lie, my left eyeball rolled into the back of my skull at the notion. Knack, it’s fair to say, was a pretty lame video game. Indeed, Knack had one major problem in that Nintendo’s Wii U not long after bore the fruit of Super Mario 3D World, a 60fps 3D platforming masterclass that didn’t reinvent the wheel so much as deck it out in fairy lights and tinsel with a bitching Black Metal soundtrack to go with it. Knack, compared to Nintendo’s masterclass of game design and concept, was clunky, uninspired and generally just a chore of a game. Whereas Nintendo deployed subtlety in its relentless humour, Knack preferred to drop a clanger and proceed to milk the crap out of it. Knack was a shadow, there’s really no denying it, an absolute bore and lacking charm and interest.
That said, however, I’d be lying if the concept of a sequel doesn’t have an air of interest. Because, time and time again, the video game market has showcased that franchises often take a poorly-performing game and dramatically improve upon it when it comes time to try and milk some extra cash out of it. Watch_Dogs was an absolute fail, yet it’s sequel – though still not as good as the likes of Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row – is a vastly superior offering. Call of Duty was birthed in the fires of the middle market back in 2003, but it didn’t become the annual sales behemoth that it is until 2007. Assassin’s Creed was a slow and kind of boring game – hilarious to say now, when you consider that Assassin’s Creed 2 was an absolute revelation! Grand Theft Auto began in 1998 and was kind of fun, but it wasn’t until moving to three-dimensions with Grand Theft Auto III that the series began to cement itself in the public consciousness. Even The Elder Scrolls, a storied franchise that began back in 1996, didn’t truly become a mass-market behemoth until the advent of Oblivion, ten years later.
It’s hard to accept this, since Nintendo makes launching a solid new IP look laughably easy – see Splatoon and Tomodachi Life – but the widespread market doesn’t tend to hit the goldmine on the first strike. This is why companies invest so much money into a new IP and in particular, into the game engines they invariably use and create. The first brush can sometimes fall short of the mark, but that’s not the point. Many have come to terms with the idea that a new IP needs that nervous time on the stage, terrified and making pee stains in their pants. It’s only when the market has had the time to make their criticisms about what they like and don’t like about something that a company can take that and use it to improve things.
Arguably, yes. Play testers and the like can be a substitute, but when you’re on the company payroll, chances are you don’t want to piss off the bigwigs making the decisions. It’s a fact of life, kissing ass and sucking up tends to help keep your job intact. No-one knows what will happen when something lands on the market. Occasionally, from time to time, you find a company like Sony lands a The Last of Us. But most of the time, it’s the likes of Knack and Uncharted, which don’t do so well out of the box and take time to spread their wings.
Knack 2 is a sequel; therefore, it deserves the benefit of the doubt. We’ve got far too many instances of sequels getting it right second time around than ever before (hence why I wouldn’t say no to a sequel to The Order: 1886. There was something in it, even if the game was unremitting donkey balls).
Sony has plenty of indicators; arguably, one can argue they’ve tried too hard to -not- be Mario, when Mario is your genre baseline. 3D Platformers have struggled by trying to be different to Mario, and I’ll just say this – look at Sonic the Hedgehog, and see the destruction of a franchise that doesn’t adhere to genre standards. Mario has set the baseline, the sort of thing we damned-well expect, and it’s not shameful to adhere to the same concepts. Heck, the reason 3D World was so good wasn’t just that it adhered to the Mario formula, but that it had some fun with it too, experimental and scattershot it may sometimes have been but it was precisely because of those rock-solid foundations that it worked. You can’t experiment with the formula until you’ve got a solid formula to play around with.
Regardless of that, I don’t think Knack 2 will be a terrible game. Indeed, if past experience is any indicator, chances are it’ll be a much stronger game, fixing much of what was wrong first time around. And I don’t mind that, because frankly I think Mario has gone too long without a strong rival. Sonic the Hedgehog needs time in rehab before Sega even begins another 3D Sonic game (Sonic Boom games need to go… the… hell… AWAY!), and games of the past like Alex Kidd and Crash Bandicoot are not going to hold a candle to modern Mario, though I understand both franchises may be returning so that could be very interesting. Especially Alex Kidd. Damn now I have that spooky castle music in my head again. Ahh, nostalgia.
And odds are it’ll do better second time around in sales. Sequels tend to perform strongly, perhaps because of a marketing perception that sticking a number or sub-title on the end of your game gives the illusion that it’s been tried before and this is the next step, and improved. One of the most anticipated games of 2017 is Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that series is now more than thirty years old!
So yeah, I’m willing to give Knack 2 an opportunity. I am all for second chances – and we should all be. After all, we forgave Sony it’s PS3 Launch nonsense. It’s a good thing we exist in a market where we’re capable of giving things a second shake. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes good ideas need refinement, and that only comes after disappointment and failure.
But god damn Sony, with a new Mario game already touted for 2017… gotta admit, you guys got balls. I wouldn’t want to go up against the Switch and a new Mario game.
Good luck, Mark Cerny and SIE Japan.
You’re going to need it.