Platforms: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Developer: SCE Studio Japan
Genre: Action, beat’em’up Platform Played: PlayStation 4
The best word to describe my experience with Knack is probably disappointing. From what we were first teased regarding Knack at E3, it had everybody intrigued. SCE Japan Studio showed off a brand new idea, with an interesting main character named Knack was thrust into a beautifully coloured world. It also gave people flashbacks to games like Crash Bandicoot or Ratchet & Clank. Unfortunately, Knack never reaches those heights.
The story follows Knack, who was created by Doctor Vargas to help combat the growing danger of goblins led by their leader, Gundahar. Knack’s powers allow him to absorb relics to grow in size, and occasionally throughout the game you can absorb other objects like ice, diamonds and wood. It makes transforming Knack into a huge gigantic wrecking ball from his small three-foot stature hugely exciting.
The style of the level depends on how big or small the developer wants to let you grow (or not grow). Unfortunately it feels like there is no sense of progression at all, as you are essentially stripped of your relics at most of the starting points and have to continuously give them up to power doors and engines. It can make going from big to small Knack which has to fight small insects and goblins a bit underwhelming, particularly in the latter stages of the game.
Absorbing objects like wood, diamonds and ice at first makes you excited. Using the diamonds to sneak through security systems or turning into a huge icicle Knack to wreak havoc is satisfying. However the potential for these events is never reached. Having special abilities for each element you absorb would have been a huge plus to the game, as it could break up the tedious grinding you go through with the exact same moves from start to finish. Alas, you are left to the same moves for all the elements, and it seems like Sony Japan Studio really missed a good opportunity here to take advantage of Knack’s true potential.
Same goes for the various forms of Knack you can transform into through collecting elemental relics like crystals and water. Scattered throughout the universe are hidden rooms behind breakable walls that contain chests. However you will never be able to get one before you finish the game, when I finished my 12 hour play through I had only 3/20 diamond relics, 1/15 water relics and 2/15 of the vampire relics. Same goes for the items you can build which you find the parts for in the chests too.
You can build items like the Combo Meter to make continuous attacks even stronger, or the Time Dilator which slows down time with each successive attack. But you will only ever be able to build one or two of the items on your first play through. Theoretically it is there to push you to replay the game, however going through the whole game again just isn’t appealing whatsoever.
This is because overall, the game turns into grinding with a convoluted story. This type of game could be forgiven for pushing out a weak story, but Sony Japan Studio continuously reinforces the story as one of the main focus points for the game. At times, the writing is cringey and at its best it is a stale story. Several times throughout the game it becomes one of those moments where the characters might as well not say anything because of all the pointless conversations they have between each other. It is sad, because the environment’s you are placed in are hugely varied, detailed and colourful. The perfect companion to that would be a funny, charming game. But that is one of the biggest missing components to Knack. There is no charm, and the attempts at humour are weak.
The characters are also victim to the stale writing, which is saddening because the voices suited each character but the writing could never back it up. Most of the time I rolled my eyes at their pointless one-liners and conversations. You never really feel like sympathizing with the characters at climactic times which really draws the game’s story back. There is so much emphasis on the characters, but all their reasoning behind their actions is never really comprehensible.
The combat is Knack’s most notable component. Crashing through buildings and enemies as giant Knack is really fun, and is where the game thrives best. But with the good, comes the bad. The most frustrating thing about Knack is the miserably placed checkpoints and the fact you can’t save the game. If you have to suddenly leave halfway through a section of the chapter, you’ll have to do it all over again because there is no option to save. It really should be a simple feature to add to prevent frustration.
Time and time again you will have to fight through three or four groups of enemies over and over again because checkpoints are placed so far back. This frustration is compounded by how weak Knack is defensively. Even at his strongest, two hits can kill Knack. But to combat his weakness, is the inclusion of the ability to dodge which is very solid. Without it, the combat would have been a horrid experience, so it at least offers something besides the two different moves you can do, the basic mashing of the square button and the special moves. You have the ability of three different special abilities powered by sun-stones scattered throughout the areas – Knack can shred his relics and turn them into a devastating tornado, the second move is spending out big blue ranged attacks and the third being an almost supernova move that blows up. However they never really feel like special moves as you get them right at the start, and they never change.
There are lots of combinations of enemies for you to face up to, and it keeps you on your toes at nearly every exchange. One stage could have all melee or ranged enemies and others will mix between both. I felt like the combat sequences dragged on for far too long though, and with little reason behind it. Most of the time was spent fighting your way through enemies to clear the path for your fellow comrades Doctor Vargas, Ryder and Lucas all feel meaningless as they end up just meeting you there anyway and never help.
At one stage I was told to clear the path to the door, which after a few restarts of frustration I eventually did. What annoyed me the most was the fact that I found them just standing outside the door waiting for me, while I cleared a path that they were never going to go down. It is something Knack frequently does throughout its tedious story.
As far as next-gen wise goes, while it looks beautiful, it hardly pushes the boundaries. Every area you are placed in has its own style, and it really is a pleasure to look at. Knack himself is also really detailed and is obviously the most focused part graphically. Knack’s style of visuals is very similar to the sort of animations you would see in movies like Despicable Me or Up. It wouldn’t surprise me if Knack eventually moved over to the big screen, and it might even work better there. As for the musical score though, not much good can be said about it. The music is extremely repititve, and doesn’t really add any tone to the game. Even when things are quickening in pace, like with boss fights or “emotional” cut-scenes, the music really fails to add anything.
As for the boss fights, there is only three or four. Those fights follow the same pattern – try to avoid their attacks, hit them three times and watch them either start new moves or move to another stage. They aren’t exciting fights at all, which is caused by the lack of additional aforementioned details. There just isn’t anything creative or fun about the boss fights, which are usually good times to show off aspects of the game.
The Japan studio essentially cradles you through the entire game. Cut scenes that go for 2 seconds showing knack jumping over a ledge, or to scale down a wall just make the game feel like it doesn’t want you to have any control. Even the “platforming” aspect to Knack is really just a couple of obstacles in your path. They never offer up any challenge for you and are essentially pointless because of that. Again there was a good opportunity for the studio to break up the combat sequences by introducing some challenging platforming segments as well as some puzzle play. It is unfortunate, because the environments are perfect for these types of sequences. You go through cities, military bases, through mountains and quite a few more areas.
This style of game is one I would recommend to play in short gaming sessions. It is far too repetitive and frustrating to blow four or five hours straight in the game. But to aid that they implemented co-op to at least allow you to endure this lengthy story with a friend. It makes the game more enjoyable, but games are rarely boring with a friend anyway.
Knack is a game that is a terrific and unique idea, placed into a varied and colourful world but never really reaches its true potential. It is far too basic, and is a very creative idea that hasn’t been executed well. There are too many aspects that haven’t been taken advantage of, and it really holds Knack back. Had there been some proper platforming, some puzzle play and varied attack moves Knack would have been far less tedious to play.
But unfortunately Knack never offers much different from start to finish. It offers rewards for playing several times over, but besides those rewards the game isn’t entertaining enough to warrant 30+ hours playtime. My fellow editors can back me up when I say that I really enjoyed the first hour of this game, but as I progressed, so did my frustration. Had I not been reviewing this game, I might never have finished it.
+ Really cool and unique idea
+ Colourful environments
– Convoluted story
– Boring writing
– Underwhelming continuously going from smashing buildings to punching bugs
– Not enough variation with Knack’s moves which makes fighting tedious
– Horribly placed checkpoints with far too long combat sequences
– No option to save your game
– Not being able to collect enough relics in one playthrough
– Lack of actual platforming and puzzles