It’s no wonder that Knack was the first formally announced and unveiled PS4 game during the console’s February reveal this year. Specifically built and overseen by Mark Cerny, the hardware architect behind the PS4 design itself, Knack is the game that really demonstrates just how much of a technological leap the PS4 really is over the PS3 when it’s pushed!
The first thing you’re guaranteed to notice about Knack then is how mind-blowingly gorgeous it is! It’s a video game that finally fully achieves the feeling of playing an interactive animated movie, with CG animated visuals normally reserved for kids’ flicks on the big screen. If ever you need a game to convince you of the PS4’s technical edge over the Xbox One, let alone the PS3, Knack is the game that will make you a PS4 believer!
Too bad the gameplay is so irritatingly flawed then.
Knack is clearly being groomed as a new flagship IP for the PS4 to help sell the console to people who aren’t established PlayStation gamers, much like Crash Bandicoot was for the original PlayStation. In keeping with the PS4’s focus on being all about the video games, Knack aims to be colourful, challenging and damn beautiful. It at least accomplishes those endeavours, but in terms of depth, gameplay polish and fun, Knack is too often left wanting, particularly for a game that’s clearly meant to be the launch lineup champion of the PS4!
Screenshots and trailers truly do not do Knack justice. You need to see this game in motion, running on an actual PS4, on a big 1080p HD television monitor. When you do, your jaw is going to hit the floor!
As a technical achievement, Knack is something that will blow you away the first time you see it and the first time you play it! There’s literally no difference between pre-rendered cutscenes and in-game gameplay either. The entire game is a masterpiece of visual splendour, utilizing both modern HD technology and the incredible processing power of the PS4 to deliver the kind of graphical leap that is so rarely achieved in today’s video games!
Occasionally, the illusion will be disturbed by the game’s odd lack of environmental feedback, with Knack’s punches just passing through walls and barriers if you happen to miss an enemy, just as fallen enemies’ heads will sometimes fall into cliffsides and brick walls before they explode or vanish. Knack may be a visual tour de force, but it is still a video game, and you’ll be especially reminded when clipping issues and other such environmental hiccups occur.
Really though, this small nitpick is barely even worth mentioning. Knack may take a little while to load as you enter a stage, and during more heated battles, it will occasionally chug a bit during extended play, but it’s amazing to see how beautiful and how smooth the game often plays with seemingly no strain to the technology! Transparency, lighting and water effects are especially impressive, well above what the PS3 could ever dream of, even in the console’s top visual stunners like Beyond: Two Souls.
For all of its flaws as a gameplay experience, Knack at least shows you just how aged the PS3 has really gotten, resetting the bar for what makes a visually revolutionary video game release!
Knack has an innocent soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the movies of Dreamworks Animation or Illumination Entertainment. You’ll hear several of the soft, friendly orchestral tunes continually throughout various sequences in the game, making the track list sometimes feel a bit paltry, but at least the music never grows tiresome.
Sound effects meanwhile pack much more punch. When Knack is gigantic especially, the power of his blows will mightily sound from your TV speakers, making you feel like a truly destructive hero! Likewise, the cute and cartoony effects of the game world are well-captured and help to further suck you into this idea of playing a CG movie. Even more impressive is the fact that absorbing relics and environmental objects to increase Knack’s size will play unique complementary sounds with superb clarity from the PS4 controller’s mic, adding a cool sense of immersion to building up your hero!
Voice acting in Knack is also quite well-done in most cases, with the cartoon personalities speaking with plenty of life and conviction. Knack falls flat when the actors try to convey drama with its problematic storyline, but when it just allows itself to be a fun and adventurous game, the likeable personalities do shine reasonably well. Knack himself is an especially appealing lead character, even if his deep, booming voice doesn’t consistently fit when he’s smaller in size. At the very least, the developers were smart enough to keep the game’s hero silent when he’s at his smallest.
Knack’s audio isn’t nearly as stunning as its visuals, but there aren’t any real weak links either. It makes par for giving you the feeling that you’re enjoying an interactive cartoon.
For all of its splendour as a technical achievement for the fledgling PS4, Knack’s gameplay is where it sadly starts to fall apart more often than not. The game does manage some solid sections, and it can even be fun when it’s in a rhythm and at its best! Unfortunately however, most of the game proves frustrating and oddly shallow, especially if you’re not a seasoned PlayStation gamer, which seems to go against the kind of product that Knack is trying to be in the first place.
Mark Cerny describes Knack as a blend between Crash Bandicoot and Katamari Damacy, with a touch of God of War. That’s apt to a degree, though there’s more God of War in this game than Cerny seems to have let on! Knack is at its core a 3D platformer, but it’s also largely a straightforward action game, given that it’s very combat-heavy. Much of the game simply involves you running between checkpoints and smacking around enemies, which most often take the forms of goblins, soldiers, giant robots and maybe a few woodland creatures.
Knack can defend himself by punching with the Square Button, and the Circle Button can be pressed in conjunction with Square, Triangle, or Circle again to use a devastating special attack. That’s if you have enough Sunstone Energy stored up, which is earned by smashing Sunstone Crystals throughout each stage. You can also use a Sonic the Hedgehog-style homing attack if you leap into the air and press Square. It’s simple and easy enough to work with. The problem however is that Knack is just so damn delicate! Even when he’s massive in size, only one or two hits will most often kill him, even just on Normal difficulty, let alone Hard, or the unlockable Very Hard setting! Heck, even on Easy, Knack can be killed very quickly by enemies!
Fortunately, you have unlimited lives, and only a few checkpoints feel like they’re badly-placed, but the ease at which you die will make Knack an uphill experience for a lesser gamer. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Knack’s dodge function is stiff and unreliable, barely moving him a couple of feet when you flick the right analog stick. With enough practice, you can start predicting enemy patterns and avoiding damage, which is especially imperative in boss fights, but Knack demands a lot of patience to have any choice at enjoying. It’s one of those games that needs to be played with surgical precision!
In fact, Knack seems almost arrogant with its beautiful world, since it never really allows the player to play the way that they want to play. It demands that it be played the way it wants to be played! You’re never allowed to explore, which is extremely frustrating when it comes to how beautiful and inviting the game world is, and even Knack’s size-changing gimmick feels arbitrary. The game will just give and take away relics at its leisure, and even taking damage and surviving doesn’t seem to affect the size and strength that the game dictates Knack have at that moment. This is an incredible waste of potential in a promising idea, and it makes Knack feel disappointingly shallow more often than not.
At least there are collectibles, but even the way that the collectibles are designed is frustratingly limiting! There are a limited number of hidden chests that you can find by punching down weak walls, which will randomly give you parts for a gadget that gives Knack a gameplay bonus like treasure radar, or Crystal Relics that can be collected to unlock an alternate form of Knack for different stats on repeat playthroughs. It’s impossible to get everything on one playthrough, though you can transfer more goodies into your game if you download the free Knack’s Quest companion app for your smartphone or tablet. Yes, Knack has a companion app. Yes, it’s pointless, and yes, it fails to justify why the game doesn’t just have set collectibles to find!
Knack does at least improve slightly after you initially beat the game, if you’re a skilled gamer that enjoys an action gaming challenge. You can unlock Time Attack and Coliseum modes, a Very Hard bonus difficulty if you beat the game on Hard, and any of these can be enjoyed in local co-op with a second player if you so choose. Having a second player can occasionally make things easier, but the co-op does mostly feel tacked-on, especially with no online capability, ultimately adding nothing to gameplay.
Given that Knack just pushes you along a linear path and offers no variation, at least beyond the inexplicably randomized collectibles, it will get repetitive for many gamers quite quickly. That’s before it gets frustrating with the sheer amount of times you’re going to be killed by enemies too! It’s clear that the revolutionary visuals ate up the gameplay budget at every turn, since there’s just so little depth compared to almost any other PS4 launch title, and that’s before the numerous PS4 blockbusters that have yet to come!
Knack’s gameplay isn’t quite bad, since there are moments where it’s surprisingly enjoyable if you can handle the high degree of challenge. Still, it’s almost painful to see the incredible amount of wasted potential in the gameplay design, making Knack pay the price for its beauty by being rendered shallow and superficial as an actual video game. It really deserved to be a better product from a gameplay standpoint…
Knack’s gameplay may suffer from being shallow and too often frustrating, but the storyline is what feels like a total mess in the end. Given that Knack so badly wants to be an interactive animated movie, it no doubt places more emphasis on the story than it probably should too, being filled with bizarre plot turns, ill-defined characters, and even basic continuity errors later in the game especially!
The premise of Knack involves a scientist simply called The Doctor (really? Sony Japan couldn’t give him an actual name?) who invents, or discovers, or, something (this is the first place where the continuity gets problematic) a golem called Knack, built entirely from ancient relics. Able to absorb more relics to increase his size from a two-foot lightweight to a five-story giant, Knack is believed to be a key asset in a war that the humans are currently battling against a race of goblins. The goblins aren’t the only enemy however, as Knack’s implications lead to an even more dangerous enemy.
Without spoilers, that’s supposed to be the premise of the game. It sounds fair enough for a colourful action game like this, but the rate that Knack’s plot gets confusing and sloppy only gets worse as you play further. By the endgame, it’s just degraded into a mess of inexplicable heel-turn characters that just do what the plot demands, leading to an end-game scenario that’s trite and unrewarding to boot.
Nothing about Knack’s plot bears much in the way of consistency or explanation. In fact, there’s never even any definite proof that the goblins are in the wrong! Yes, they’re nasty, and yes they hate humans, but given their simple desire to take back what humans stole from them in the first place, which is made evident even early on, it makes you sometimes wonder if Knack is the worse party for blindly following people’s orders and destroying their forces. This isn’t an interesting conflict explored in the game either. It’s just questions you’ll be asking yourself as you try to make heads-or-tails of Knack’s bad plotting.
Ultimately, Knack feels confused about whether it wants to tell a story for kids or for adults, and the result is a promising premise that’s let down by sloppy, shallow writing, as if Knack is afraid to be too smart or mature. Even basic continuity and context are a luxury much of the time in Knack, leading to a story that really fails to engage the player, much less lay the groundwork for potential sequels!
Knack should have been a triumphant flagship PS4 exclusive to lead the charge as the next-generation hardware is ushered in to redefine gaming technology. As it stands however, the game is a very mixed bag, succeeding with flying colours from a technical standpoint, but often falling on its face in terms of creating compelling gameplay, and even moreso in creating a coherent storyline that deserves sequels!
Knack at least has its share of solid moments for hardened action gamers that crave a test of their skills. Even with the co-op option however, the game will be far too challenging for most children, and especially for casual gamers who are looking for an undemanding action game. There’s merit here for the right player, but when all is said and done, Knack is ultimately a let-down. Not a terrible game by any stretch, but definitely a let-down.
Given the shallow, repetitive and frustrating gameplay, the poor storyline and the rather limited package, which offers about six or seven hours of gameplay if you don’t count the many cutscenes, Knack is not at all worth $60. When the price drops to about $15-$20, the game might be worth a look if you want a challenging action game that really flexes the PS4’s technical muscle. If nothing else, Knack is definitely the game to show to people when you want to make a case for just how powerful the PS4 really is compared to its eighth-generation competitors and last-gen platforms!
Beyond superficial eye candy however, Knack has little to offer that most other PS4 games don’t already do better. Even just in the launch lineup, you have many better game options than this if you plan to adopt a PS4 early.
Knack is a beautiful showcase of the PS4's technical potential, but as an actual video game, it's just too shallow and frustrating to recommend to most early PS4 adopters.