When Knack was first revealed, I was excited to see a return and possible resurgence of Sony platformers. Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot — these were games that many of us grew up with, games that turned the Playstation 2 into a worldwide best-selling console and charmed us with their quirky characters and fun yet challenging gameplay. And when I heard that Mark Cerny, the veteran designer who helped create and develop those franchises, was developing Knack, I was ready to be transported back into one of those charismatic worlds. But, unfortunately, Knack fails at delivering that knockout performance and only delivers a shallow gameplay experience coated in a cheap, shiny gloss; It’s got charm for sure, but not much else.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Knack follows the story of an artificial yet miraculously biological creature that allies itself with the human race while also discovering the true nature of the Relics (what Knack is made of) and his existence. It’s a certainly charming story full of fun and adventure, yet that’s as deep as the story goes. The plot is shallow, the pacing is strange and unnatural and the characters are flat at best. I understand that this game is meant for a younger audience, but that’s no excuse for dismissing subtlety and depth in a narrative. There are so many beats in the plot and about the world that are left unexplained; the game assumes you’ll just accept the social and cultural norms of the world without explication. These assumptions create a strange effect in the narrative — at one point, I was actually rooting for the goblins because the humans are so two-dimensional and come off as vile in their interactions. Knack‘s story, though polished on the surface, is a mess under that thin, shiny cover.
The graphics for Knack are one of the few redeeming qualities of the game, but I find this is to be more indicative of the PS4 hardware rather than how it was implemented by the developers. Landscape textures and models are stunning, smooth and definitely bring to Knack the lighthearted, 3-D animated CGI feel it’s going for. While I’ve heard it compared very closely to Pixar’s visual style and feel, I’d say Knack takes on a style of its own that is very similar to the aforementioned’s look, yet is unique in its own right by applying a more clay-like design in the buildings and scenery. What truly stand out, though, is each of Knack’s individual, floating pieces. Each relic that comprises Knack is rendered individually and therefore behaves individually, instead of moving and acting as one, singular model. This creates an impressive effect that allows Knack’s model to behave like composite creature he is.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Knack‘s gameplay is pretty conventional as far as platformers go. You’ll climb, jump, fight, dodge, use special moves — all the hallmarks of the platforming genre are present. But that’s it. Knack does little to introduce some innovation and instead relies on traditional, tried-and-true methods that are implemented in a very average fashion. Yet, Mark Cerny promised that Knack‘s combat and platforming would be challenging and in a sense, he was right. But it’s that form of challenging that’s riddled with cheap deaths, clumsy controls and an ill-placed checkpoint system. It’s an uninspired game, one that hits most of the marks created by past iterations of the platforming genre, but it’s still solid past the frustration.
One of the biggest disappointments of the game is the amount of linearity. Now, linearity does not equal bad game design; within certain context, linearity in story or in gameplay can be utilized to enhance the overall experience and provide a truly great game. Too often nowadays are games being penalized for having linear structures solely because linearity is viewed as “a negative”. However, in the case of Knack, the amount of scripted events and predictable, repeating patterns constricts the obvious gameplay potential open to the game. The biggest example of this is when Knack changes size. Every instance of this is scripted; the player has no control over when Knack can become a giant or can shrink down to a more nimble size. By allowing the player some wiggle room to influence this mechanic, it opens up a whole range of puzzle options and platforming challenges. Instead, the puzzles are linear, predictable and lackluster, requiring very little from the player.
We also tried out and toyed around with the co-op feature in Knack. A second player can jump in at anytime during the story and take control of a robotic version of Knack that doesn’t require relics to grow, but instead becomes more powerful with the more enemies it defeats. It’s a really amusing feature that we found to be quite enjoyable, from teaming up to take down bosses to delivering sucker punches at your friend to purposefully trip each other up. In terms of making the game easier or smoother, however, co-op actually adds some clunky mechanics to the pre-existing burdensome gameplay (e.g. hit detection will sometimes mistake an attack aimed at an enemy or boss and instead hit your partner, ceasing both of your combos and allowing the enemy an easy kill). Despite its clunky combat, co-op does offer an entertaining experience that alleviates some of the frustration the game consists of.
For a game that shows so much promise, Knack unfortunately squanders its potential and instead delivers a lackluster, mediocre platforming experience. The gameplay is rife with clumsy mechanics, frustrating encounters and controls that just aren’t fine tuned enough. Similarly, the story is equally as disappointing as it focuses on charm more than substance. Graphics and the co-op feature are two components of the game that were relatively enjoyable, yet they have problems of their own in terms of mediocrity and sloppiness. Overall, Knack is a game that concentrates on the splendor of showcasing the PS4 without having the required gameplay substance to back it up. As a launch game hoping to following in the system-selling tradition of its ancestors, it unfortunately fails.
Final Score: 7 / 10
Written and edited by Tim Atwood
Chief Editor at The Pixel Pen Review