Knack is one of the launch titles for the long-awaited PlayStation 4. Being a launch title, there’s some pressure for it to perform well and become a sort of benchmark for future console-exclusive games. With Mark Cerny and SCE Japan Studios at the hem, Knack’s got the kind of backing and developer pedigree that should make it a hit. But, as with Knack’s size, our enjoyment proved to grow and diminish with each minute spent in the game.
In Knack, the world is inhabited by humans and goblins. Do the two peoples live in harmony, sharing the land and its resources? No. It would seem that the goblins have been driven out of their cities and forced to live in settlements in the wilderness as humans enjoy unparalleled advances in technology thanks to the discovery of ancient relics. These relics supply the humans with great amounts of power and are the subject of many experiments.
One of the results of these experiments is Knack, the titular hero of the game. He was created by Doctor Vargas, a brilliant inventor whose study of relics borders on obsession. Knack is a sentient construct that is made from tiny relics that float around a golden, spherical relic. Because of how he’s built, he can grow and size and shrink down, depending on the number of relic parts available to him. This constant shift in size is one of the main mechanics in Knack and is certainly one of its most distinguishing features. It’s a shame, then, that it sometimes doesn’t matter what size Knack grows to, but more on that later.
Knack and the good Doctor are joined by Lucas, the Doctor’s assistant, Ryder, Lucas’s adventurer uncle and Viktor, a captain of industry who deals in robotics and commands an army of automatons. Together they venture out towards the goblins’ stronghold to put an end to the attacks on human cities. Though Knack is only three feet tall, he’s got the potential to grow to enormous size with the help of a bunch of relics. It is this power that they are banking on to help stop the goblins.
Knack has fairly simple controls: you can run, jump, punch, dash to evade and use special, sun crystal-powered attacks. The gameplay, like the controls, is also simple. You’ll follow a set path, collecting relics to help Knack grow in size, face enemies of varying types and find hidden collectibles behind destructible walls in the environment. Again, this is all very simple, right? It is and it isn’t. While Knack’s objective’s are clearly laid out and the controls don’t ask too much of you, the difficulty can be pretty punishing, especially for a title that is seemingly aimed at a younger demographic.
And when I say that Knack is hard, I mean that it’s old-school, NES-era hard. It almost doesn’t matter how large Knack gets or how much HP he accrues, because it only takes two-to-three hits max to destroy him. You could have a life bar that takes up half the screen, but if you get hit once or twice by a goblin’s greatsword or a robot’s missiles, then you get blasted to kingdom come. Mind you, I’m describing what happens on the “Normal” difficulty setting. It’s no exaggeration when I say that an encounter with three enemies could take up to seven retries to successfully complete. The damage Knack takes is almost laughably disproportionate to the amount of health and power he receives from picking up loose relics. Because of this, Knack is the ultimate glass cannon.
If you don’t find yourself tearing out tufts of your hair and constantly screaming expletives at the TV over this ridiculous difficulty, you might find that you’re having a good time. Of course, you’ll also have to get over how terribly boring Knack is, with its ultra-linear gameplay, lack of compelling customization options (good try with the hidden devices though), and uninteresting narrative. The characters do little to give us a reason to keep playing. In fact, it’s pretty ironic that they’re rendered in 3D, since they’re all pretty flat. The cast runs the gamut from goofy-but-tough explorer, obviously-evil industrialist with hidden motives, curmudgeonly inventor and the young kid who’s a bit of a douche. All of these guys might as well be sock puppets voiced by Microsoft Sam.
I think the most disappointing thing about Knack is the fact that it hardly makes use of the PlayStation 4′s features, save for the sharing functionality that’s tied to finding different hidden components for gadgets that Knack can equip. The most that Knack did in this regard is have the sounds of relics and resources being collected stream through the DualShock 4′s speakers. Not really a riveting feature, I’d say.
As a launch title, Knack is serviceable and can appeal to the hardcore crowd, provided they don’t care that they’re paying $60+ for what is essentially a (moderately), prettied-up action-platformer with dated gameplay mechanics. Knack had so much potential, especially considering the fact that Knack himself can grow exponentially with the help of relics, but the execution was lacking and the game proved to be more frustrating than enjoyable.
Still, I’m looking forward to a Knack-like game being done right in the near future. While this preview of things to come didn’t do much to excite me right now, I can only hope that Knack serves as an example for what not to do when making a next-gen action-platformer. And hopefully, unlike Knack, the growth in the size of the PlayStation 4′s library won’t just be superficial.
This review is based off a retail copy of Knack for the PlayStation 4 that was purchased for review.