In any console’s launch day line-up there are roles to be played by every release. One game is meant to appeal to the casual sports crowd, another to the hardcore shooter crowd, and one for those who want something a little different. Sony Japan’s Knack is the family friendly title.
Knack embraces a playfully clay-like art style and a fairly on-the-nose story — two key indicators of a game meant for kids — but it might also hold some appeal for mature gamers. Knack wants to be that rare launch title that checks a large amount of boxes for a variety of gamers, but in doing so it might have ruined its chances altogether.
The story in Knack is told through cut scenes and the presentation values are high, even if generic at best. The narrative follows a group of intrepid explorers/scientists — each of which occupies a very stereotypical role — and their otherworldly companion Knack. Although the game tells us that Knack is a creature made up of relics, magnetically charged pieces of stone and metal, it doesn’t go much beyond that. There’s a charm to the unique character but Knack simply exists because that’s the character Sony Japan created, and we’re expected to go with it.
With Knack manning the front lines, the group travels across the globe, dealing with several foes along the way, from a goblin horde to a maniacal industrialist. As if there were any questions about Knack’s fantastical aspirations, the game does create a world in which there is an ongoing struggle between man and goblin, which helps keep the enemy variety high, but it never seeks to truly explain the conflict. For that matter, the game chooses to keep most of its story elements as loosely connected as possible, knowing full well that deeper explanation might take from the kid-friendly appeal. In actuality, the story comes across as nothing more than an excuse to travel across the game’s 13 levels.
From a visual standpoint, Knack fits the next-gen bill nicely, showing off the PS4‘s graphical capabilities in some unique ways. Specifically, the game likes to highlight the console’s ability to render dozens of “pieces” at a single time. That might be in the destruction of buildings or objects, but is most evident in the design of Knack himself. Like a Pixar movie might wow by individually rendering each hair in an animal, Knack impresses by delivering a character that is entirely piecemeal. Every time Knack collects more relics, which also serve as his health, the pieces will fly into the character’s body either patching missing parts or bolstering his overall construction. It’s a neat trick, but one that feels motivated for tech demo purposes.
While the title certainly looks great in 1080p, the gameplay in Knack is of the basic, one button attack variety. There’s jump, dodge and attack and the controls are super responsive and polished. Beyond Knack’s additional set of three special moves, which become available after collecting a certain amount of “sun stones,” the moment-to-moment combat gets repetitive fast. And after a few hours, it starts to border on tedium.
Where the game attempts to change things up however, is in Knack’s ability to change size by accumulating more relics. At the start of each level, Knack is typically a tiny, 3-foot tall Muppet-looking creature, but he can grow into a building-size goliath when all is said and done. Unfortunately, the fluctuating sizes of Knack come about at pre-determined points in the level, and are not influenced by the player in any way. So, while the idea of shifting character sizes is clever, it won’t leave players with the sense that their actions are influencing the combat opportunities. For that matter, the pathways and enemies usually grow alongside Knack, throwing most opportunities to change the game’s scope out the window.
But that’s only a minor grievance in a game that has quite a few. Where the game falls apart is in its difficulty curve. On the surface, Knack is not a very difficult game, as many players will breeze through whole chapters with little resistance. But, what makes the difficulty troublesome is the combination of Knack’s fragility and an uneven checkpoint system. Just two hits can typically take Knack down, regardless of his size, which is a head-scratcher for what seems designed as a family-friendly game. Gamers will die constantly in Knack against the bosses – and even during regular gameplay – if they don’t master the dodge ability and they’ll occasionally be left having to slog through a good five minutes of a level just to get back where they were.
Some might appreciate the decision to up Knack’s challenge, but it doesn’t make sense within the context of the game and isn’t always consistent. Even at his largest, Knack is vulnerable to very few hits, and since the combat is so basic, the whole experience becomes more of an exercise in patience than anything else. Instead of using tactics or strategy, players will find themselves waiting for enemies to run through their attack routine before pummeling them to the ground. The difficulty kills the momentum of what is an otherwise simple game, and feels motivated by a need to prove Knack can appeal to the hardcore gamer.
The game does introduce new wrinkles into its 12-hour campaign, like some light platforming and rudimentary puzzle-solving, but gamers will spend the majority of Knack doing the same tedious action over and over again: wait for attack, jam on the attack button, walk forward. Even though there are different variations of enemies present in each new stage, the formula generally remains the same. There are also moments where Knack combines with new elements, like wood, fire, metal, and ice, and the gameplay changes pace slightly, but those sections are few and far between. Additionally, there are opportunities for replaying the game, either to find more collectibles and unlock new (and more powerful) Knack skins or to get a high score in the Time Attack mode.
Knack is a PS4 launch title developed to fit a very specific role. It’s a showpiece for the next-gen console’s power, and has some impressive visuals to boot. But aside from that the title is a bit of a mess, a lesson in tedium that lasts for far too long and challenges the player in ways that seem unnecessary given the family-friendly approach. With the difficulty dropped down to easy, Knack might find a place among younger gamers/new PS4 owners, but it’s a tough recommendation otherwise.
Have you had a chance to check out Knack? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Knack is available now for the PS4. Game Rant was provided a retail copy from Sony for this review.