Review: Knack Is A Dusty Relic From A Bygone Era
Knack has the honour of being among the first PS4 exclusive titles but instead of looking ahead to the future pf gaming, its creators looked back to the PS One/ PS2 era of platformers and beat 'em ups. Does it hold up in this world of modern military shooters, emotions and particle physics?
- Worth The Time?No
- Things LovedThe detail on Knack's character model is captivating, as are the stunning outdoor natural environments. The game really does showcase particle physics rather well and has a lovely colour palette. The co-op system functions rather well for a parent and child.
- Things HatedThe narrative is an illogical and nonsensical atrocity while the characters are just as bad even though they're mostly cookie cutter generic moulds. Indoor environments look a little bland and lacking in detail. Platforming is boring while combat is pitifully shallow and equally dull. Long initial load times, sluggish character movement and cheap deaths. There is a distinct lack of creativity or imagination in this game. Knack feels very repetitive very quickly while also feeling hilariously dated, like at least a decade out of date.
- RecommendationYour kids may enjoy this game but then there are better games to get them hooked on. This game is too sub-par to recommend to anybody.
- Name: Knack
- Genre: Beat 'Em Up
- Players: 1-2
- Multiplayer: local co-op
- Platforms: PS4
- Developer: SCE Japan Studio
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R799
- Reviewed On: PS4
Knack is intended to be a fun action platformer game for people of all ages, a throwback to the glory days of platformers back on the PS One – the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro – and even on the PS2 with titles such as Racthet & Clank. I’m a massive fan of such titles, I cut my teeth playing these games and have played Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped numerous times over the years so the premise of the game was certainly intriguing. However, instead of being a throwback to a bygone era, Knack is a game from a bygone era.
The premise is that the game takes place on an Earth inhabited by both humans and goblins and though the game takes a long time to explain why there is tension between the two species, other than the fact that goblins are typically evil, there is a decent backstory. A war which the humans won forced the goblins to retreat into the mountains and live far more primitively in small tribes and villages. Now, the goblins have somehow accrued technology and weaponry and are attacking the humans once more. It’s interesting enough but this being a game aimed at children, nothing is ever done with that history. The goblins are simply evil.
Enter Knack, a sentient being created from the relics which power the world and humanity’s greatest hope in defeating the goblins (apart from an army of deadly robots apparently). These relics are mined and used to power cities, machinery, vehicles and pretty much everything. Knack is essentially a cluster of these relics held together by science and ancient forces and magic or something. It’s never really explained but he can accumulate more relics to add to his mass and grow in size which also increases his strength. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about the hidden metaphors in that.
Remember the army of deadly robots I mentioned 72 words ago? Well, the reason they’re not really doing much to thwart the goblins is because they belong to secondary antagonist, Viktor. A Tony Stark type genius billionaire inventor complete with goatee and attractive assistant. Viktor is driven to harness the power of some newly discovered super relics which could usher in a new era for humanity with untold power stored in each of these super relics. Of course, he has to do it in a maniacal and villainous manner for absolutely no other reason than to be the bad guy. Seriously, how hard is it to pitch the notion of untold power reserves to someone? Megalomaniacs clearly don’t understand simple marketing techniques. Besides, only villains and Russians spell Viktor with a ‘k’.
Just about every character in this game is an old cliché and an idiot rolled into one, let’s call them clidiots. Knack is accompanied by the Doctor, his assistant Lucas and his uncle, Ryder. Viktor’s idea of getting the Doctor’s attention in order to ask for the use of Knack in unlocking the power of the super relics is to kidnap Lucas. Also, most of his schemes rely on allowing the doctor to escape (this happens a couple of times) and guide them to whatever Viktor happens to be searching for.
Mark Cerny may be a brilliant man and a veteran of the gaming industry but he sure as hell can’t write a cohesive plot. The actions of many characters in key moments make no sense other than for pure plot convenience or to fabricate some sort of meaningful moment. There is a distinct lack of logic at too many points to count.
Expecting a compelling narrative from Knack would have been like expecting one from the porn you’re going to watch tonight. You’re there for the gameplay and that’s it. However, if you’re going to have a story all it needs to do is give the characters a purpose and for the love of God write something that makes sense. Counter Strike has a more logical narrative than Knack.
On his fight against the goblins and Viktor, Knack will fight his way through a number of pretty environments from town centres to mountains, mines, factories and even an active volcano. The game has the aesthetic of an animated film, one from the early 2000’s but still it looks very, very pretty.
Character models look devoid of polygons and are smooth on the eye however, like the indoor environments they lack any real detail as do vehicles. Environments meanwhile are splendid. The indoor environments are fairly pretty but quite devoid of detail and texture on the whole. For example stone walls are wonderfully textured but metal walls look plastic. It all just seems a bit dull. Natural environments on the other hand look fantastic. They are strictly linear but the environments surrounding them are gorgeously rendered. The lighting and detail are lovely to look at and make the world seem rich whether it be in mines, on the mountain side or in a volcano.
Knack himself is a wonder to behold. Perhaps the most detailed thing in the game, you can see the etchings on each individual relic he is made up of as they move independently. It’s a great display of what the PS4 can do in terms of particle physics.
The visual design is colourful and vibrant but I can’t help but feel that it could really have been something truly incredible to compliment the visual quality if it had the level of detail we’ve seen in many recent animated films. Given the visuals that Killzone: Shadow Fall is pulling off, this seems possible but was simply not done.
Knack is more of a beat ‘em up than a platformer but it really isn’t very good at what it does. You’ll move from one group of enemies to the next with very little actual platforming in between. God of War has more platforming and puzzle solving. Of course, in any game where you spend the bulk of your time fighting, it is essential to have a decent combat system. Someone forgot to tell that to the creators of Knack. Regardless of the enemy type your time is spent dodging, double jumping and mashing square. It’s dull and while combat is sometimes, very briefly, entertaining it’s a boring affair. By collecting sunstones Knack can charge up an energy meter and discharge this energy in numerous ways as a special attack but you’ll likely reserve this for only a few fights as it takes time to build up your energy meter.
Fortunately the enemies are more interesting. There are four different sets of enemies which you’ll face – humans/robots, goblins, creatures and relic guardians. Aside from the relic guardians, the other three all have their own version of five or six enemy types such as grenadier, swordsman etc. They even attack in the same manner and with the same essential pattern. Despite this, enemies have an interesting design to them, especially the relic guardians and there’s plenty of variety in the types of enemies you’ll face. However, if you’ve encountered 10 human grenadiers then there isn’t anything special about the goblin or creature equivalent. Thus even enemies, with all these sets and types become boring and something you’re just eager to move past. There is little else in the game besides beating up rooms or areas of enemies.
It also causes great frustration when an area effect enemy is attacking in an enclosed space while you’re trying to fend off two others. Some might argue that this is for the sake of making the game challenging but when a game relies so heavily on dodging it needs to give the player room to manoeuvre. There is no way to block attacks and three light hits or one critical hit are enough to take Knack out. Then the game dumps you at a section 15 minutes back. The checkpoint system is awful. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with a limited checkpoint system to add some value to the challenge of beating enemies efficiently in order to last through an entire section but it’s an annoyance more than anything else.
Often you will die simply because the area you’re in doesn’t allow for breathing space or enemies spam you with attacks without a gap to attack. A couple of times it happened simply because the jumping mechanic seem to be pulled from Crash Bandicoot which is to say it feels inaccurate and lacks object snapping to prevent a random rock from pushing you off course while jumping onto another platform.
The game is fairly challenging, sometimes stupidly so mainly due to the awful checkpoint system and poor enemy layout. Cheap deaths will occur often and this will frustratingly put you way back from where you were at death. For example, an enemy up on a raised platform cocks and fires his weapon as I’m jumping up. Death. This sort of thing happens a lot. Curiously, when I was absolutely frustrated with the game, playing it for no other reason than because I had to, I became far better at combat and breezed past waves of enemies. What’s perhaps more irksome though is that the game is so damn limited with what Knack can do. He’s essentially a magical Gollum but can basically just punch and double jump, not even very high mind you. Yet, during some in-game custcenes Knack will suddenly scale a wall or make a jump that you as the player are simply not allowed to do during gameplay. How does that make any sense?
There is a neat co-op system to the game designed for parents to assist their kids. The child plays as Knack while the parents plays as Robo-Knack which has a more powerful attack and an area effect attack to give Knack some personal space. The idea is that Robo-Knack is simply an aid rather than a co-op partner though when you use him as such then he is quite overpowered. Robo-Knack can drop in and out of the game as you see fit.
As the game progresses Knack discovers that he can increase his size not just with relics but with small pieces of wood, ice or metal. Instead of these additions giving him some material specific-ability such as an ice blast or electromagnet, they instead serve to facilitate more creative ways in which Knack can be brought down to being 3ft in size. That seems to be the game’s obsession. Knack will sometimes get to be as big as a two storey building but the game insists on shrinking him down repeatedly and as regularly as possible. Essentially, ice will melt while wood will catch on fire and metal can be stripped away by a magnet. There is one instance of this sort of thing being done in the entire game where Knack constructs himself from white crystals in order to move through security lasers undetected. If the developers could come up with that then why not do something similar for all the other materials?
What we have is a sentient being composed of a hundred small parts that can increase its size with pieces of various materials yet nothing creative is done with these very cool concepts. It’s almost as if SCE Japan Studio tried to be as unimaginative as possible. Off the top of my head I’ve already stated how the different materials could imbue Knack with different powers. There are sections where he is forced to drop relics and reduce to a certain size in order to fit through an opening but why not change shape and take a serpentine form? Had Knack been able to change shape for platforming, navigation or combat purposes then the game would surely have been far more fun, interesting and varied. There is also no logical reasoning for him staunchly maintaining a humanoid shape.
The fact that I, a relatively non-creative individual, could easily and instantly find ways to vastly improve the gameplay just goes to show how little imagination or thought actually went into this game. For all its PR hype, Knack is a by-the-numbers mash-up of games we’ve all played a dozen times. The climbing animations and mechanics are pulled straight from God of War, as is the beat ‘em up style while the overall style and tone of the game is intended to be more in-line with Crash Bandicoot. Both those games did all of this far better and more proficiently.
One brilliant thing about PS4 games is just how quick games install, under a minute is pretty speedy. However, it’s all for nought if on start up the game takes a minute just to load. Speaking of speed, it’s understandable that Knack should become slower as he gains mass but after a point he lumbers around sluggishly and it becomes an annoyance just to drag him through a level.
Playing Knack made me think of the good ol’ days of action platformers but only because it has all the limitations that those games had. It uses pretty much nothing, gameplay wise, from this decade and as such feels woefully dated despite being a PS4 launch title. Environments are large and expansive with gorgeous vistas but you are confined to tight narrow channels a lot of the time and this honestly feels needlessly constricting. The great irony is that the games it bases itself on do the job far better and they were made a decade ago or even longer.
I suppose I should mention Knack in the context of being a PS4 launch title. Let me put it this way, if you’re looking at a launch title to innovate then you don’t know how launch titles work (even though they really should be innovating something somehow). However, Knack would have been a pretty decent launch title for the PS2, not so much for the PS4.
Don’t get me wrong, kids should enjoy it and there is some fun to be had but it’s a dated, arcane game and I’d much sooner recommend God of War III or Crash Bandicoot 3 if you’re looking for something similar. Throwback titles are a great idea but that’s where it stopped with Knack, the developers didn’t consider any ways to do something fresh or get creative.
Knack is a by-the-numbers exercise in nostalgia farming. It took things from games we’ve all played and love and simply tossed them into a blender with some particle physics and a script that a schizophrenic monkey typed out. It is devoid of any real creativity or freshness. It’s a dull and unimagintive bore that feels more arcane than the games it’s based on.