Oh, Knack. I want to love you so much more than you’re letting me.
Amid all the other PlayStation 4 launch titles, Knack has oddly been one that Sony has pushed to the forefront. It’s been a while since the publisher last tried the whimsical, mascot-driven action platformer as a console launch title, something we haven’t seen since Crash Bandicoot was taken out behind the barn.
In fact, Knack fits many of the same tropes as Crash, but the execution in this game is thankfully much, much better on so many levels.
And although it’s several steps short of brilliance, Knack is nonetheless a solid adventure with some surprising care put into a lot of elements that most games take for granted. But as good as this gets, it’s a shame the designers couldn’t dream a little bigger.
What you’ll like
Smartly paced combat
Everything in Knack revolves around relics, a mystical energy source that fuels engines, generators, and other contraptions. Wise-talking Knack himself is a living, sentient relic, but his main source of power is collecting smaller relics to bulk up his own body.
Whether Knack is big or small, he’s a powerful fighter, but his game smartly uses his Lego-like abilities to fit a variety of combat situations. Knack generally relies on his brute strength to clobber anything from tiny bugs to goblin brutes to gun-toting humans, but you’ll have to be careful to keep him from crumbling.
Early on, Knack also discovers that he can incorporate crystals, ice shards, wood logs, and even metal scrap into his body, with a quirk to every material that keeps things interesting. Ice Knack melts when exposed to the sun, Wood Knack catches on fire, Metal Knack is vulnerable to magnets, and Stealth Knack (crystal) can bypass security lasers while at risk of dying in a single hit.
Each form has an inventive benefit, and to Sony Japan’s credit, the studio even did a little extra by having Knack tackle lots of levels at vastly different sizes. Each encounter introduces something to keep the gameplay fresh, which is helpful in balancing the linear level design.
Most levels are big, bright, and rich in detail
Although the levels don’t offer too much room for exploration, they all look and feel distinctly different. With no backtracking and little sense of retread, you’re constantly looking forward to the next area and what new sights they’ll bring.
You also get frequent rewards for straying off the beaten path in the rare instances Knack permits it. Lots of collectibles and hidden power-ups are concealed behind not-so-easy-to-spot walls, and it’s impossible to grab everything on your first run through the game.
Good replay value
Knack can probably entice you into a second and third playthrough thanks to those hidden collectibles. Some of them are gadgets that you have to put together piece-by-piece, and others are special relics that boost Knack’s power or give him special abilities.
By far, the wisest choice for replay value is the “new game plus” option, which should make multiple runs through Knack less of a hassle. At the very least, younger kids should get a kick out of blitzing through early levels that way.
Even two-dimensional characters are likeable
Going into Knack, I didn’t expect to care about the story, but the narrative actually has some real charm. Just about everyone fits a stereotype—Knack is the mascot with attitude, and the rich guy with the goatee is evil—but the characters are fleshed out enough that they make the Disney-esque story pretty entertaining.
Voice acting isn’t noteworthy, but the delivery is solid, and the actors all do some good work. Granted, the whole story is very cookie-cutter with some major plot holes, but it’s always enjoyable.
What you won’t like
Knack’s powers are creatively shackled
If there’s one thing that bugged me the most about Knack, it’s his amazingly inconsistent powers. Although he quickly figures out how to absorb things other than relics into his body, his game never runs with that idea, keeping his abilities frustratingly situational.
Sure, Knack can absorb wood, metal, and gems whenever his game requires it for a puzzle or boss battle, but you’ll never be able to do that with extremely similar debris (such as enemy armor or environmental objects) anywhere else. Maybe that’s not how Knack is designed (and perhaps it wasn’t technologically possible), but failing to implement it as an extension of the gameplay is a huge disappointment.
Levels are extremely linear
Despite the levels being large and expansive, we’re unfortunately only talking about the view.
Aside from the occasional side door or concealed room, each level is a straight line from the start to the exit, which can get tedious with all the enemies lying in wait.
This is really a next-generation video game?
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the leap from PlayStation-to-PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 2-to-PlayStation 3, but Knack doesn’t really look or feel like a cutting-edge PlayStation 4 title. To be honest, the animation and visual quality seems just on-par with the likes of the latest Ratchet & Clank or God of War.
It has nothing in the way of framerate drops, and the particle effects are neat, but the most discerning eyes will surely notice the lacking physics and relatively stiff environments. Knack is billed as a PlayStation 4 launch title, but I wouldn’t know it without the console in front of me.
End-game payoff is lackluster
Knack spends several levels building himself up to gargantuan heights, and at some point, his game starts to make you expect Godzilla-like battles at the climax. That never really happens, and as I noted before, it seems like the developers just didn’t think “big” enough. The payoff is significantly lackluster as a result, and the final boss battles suffer immensely for it. Maybe the sequel will provide the payoff.
Knack isn’t going into the PlayStation 4 launch with a ridiculous amount of hype, but the end product seems like it’ll be one of the better original titles to come out of the system’s early exclusives. It hits enough checkboxes to warrant a look, but that $60 price should call for some thought before you buy in.
At the very least, Knack is definitely worth renting. A bigger, better adventure is likely coming if the game gets a sequel, but if not, you’re probably better off waiting for a sale or discount price.
Knack comes out for the PlayStation 4 on November 15. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a digital copy for the purpose of this review.
Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. is a major video game company specializing in a variety of areas in the video game industry, and is a wholly owned subsidiary and part of the Consumer Products & Services Group of Sony. The company was... read more »
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