“WHACK” IS A MORE FITTING NAME

Knack for PlayStation 4

Knack

Pros: Charming graphical style, fun story

Cons: Repetitive, linear, boring gameplay

When Sony announced their next generation console, the Playstation 4, one of the first titles they showed off for it was a curious little game called Knack. It looked interesting enough, and famous developer Mark Cerny was the director behind it. It was immediately on my radar because the rest of the line-up was focused around genres I generally don’t enjoy. Launch day came and Knack was the title I picked to play on my shiny new PS4. The basic design immediately showed promise, but ultimately it proved to be largely uninspired. Knack isn’t a bad game, but it’s a really boring one.

Knack takes place in a fantasy world where technology reigns supreme. Despite the advanced weapons and tools at their disposal attacks from hordes of goblins and other creatures are still a big threat to the human population. A kindly old scientist is studying ancient relics to be used as weapons, and creates a mechanical creature named Knack. Knack features advanced intelligence allowing him to think for himself, but his ability to absorb materials into his body to gain considerable size and power is the most impressive aspect of this little guy. The story kicks off as Knack is sent out to thwart the goblin threat, but there’s more at work here with your typical villains pulling the strings from behind the scenes. The story isn’t particularly great, but it’s charming and fun.

At its core Knack is a platforming game. You navigate through linear environments via a third person viewpoint and your goal is generally only to make it from one side of a level to the end. Enemies slow your progress and populate the various environments. Combat generally takes place in closed off arenas in which you must destroy all opponents before continuing on. Knack himself is quite formidable with the ability to punch, jump (up to twice) and he can even attack while in mid-air. You’re armed with both a life bar and special gauge that fills up as you destroy yellow crystals. When this is full you can launch one of three special attacks that are extremely powerful. Enemy attacks deplete your health and cause Knack to lose pieces of his body, and when you’re defeated you begin again from the last checkpoint you reached.

The most interesting part of this game is how Knack’s body size and composition has an effect on gameplay. In certain areas your character adds relics to his body and becomes significantly larger. Knack’s power increases as he gains mass; it’s fun to watch him go from a small little guy to a hulking mass that can throw tanks. Enemies that once gave you trouble are now mere ants. In the final stretch of the game Knack becomes as big as the mountains themselves. In some areas his body gains ice and wood which add new dynamics (namely you have to avoid fire), but the most interesting are the clear crystals which allow Knack to bypass certain obstacles but he becomes extremely frail. This adds a little diversity to gameplay, but not nearly enough to be honest.

Knack is far too linear for its own good. It feels like you’re running through a hallway in every single level, and the enemies and obstacles repeat far too often. The design is painfully bland and you can’t bypass enemy encounters because the game often blocks your progress until all enemy threats are defeated. Combat itself is extremely generic and soon becomes downright boring because your options are limited. It’s unfortunate because the premise had potential. On the plus side this game features local co-op, but it feels like a total afterthought. The camera only follows player one which means the other person will often get left behind off-screen. When the distance is too wide between the two the second player is automatically caught up which is often disorienting. Because of its questionable integration multi-player just isn’t as fun as I expected it would be.

To make matters worse combat is boring and unrewarding. Simplicity is generally something I like in modern games, but the design is far too limiting and encourages button mashing. Special skills help mix things up a bit, but because you have to charge energy to be able to use them they’re a rarity during gameplay. It’s not just the simple combat nor is it the linear style that ruin this game; it’s the combination of the two which makes Knack a pain to play. To make matters worse this was a full priced release, and it can be completed in under ten hours, but even that feels too long. Knack is mindless, but ‘fun’ isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe it.

Unfortunately the graphics are also underwhelming. Although it runs at an impressive resolution and the main character has a lot of moving parts it almost looks as if it could have been done on the PS3. This is another problem caused by the small enclosed environments. Some areas such as the volcano look nice, but by and large the environments are extremely small and simple. The particle effects are fairly impressive, but where they really shine is during the battle with the final boss. The art style makes Knack look like it could have been a Pixar film with simple (for the most part) character designs and cartoon qualities. The characters look really nice and are the high point in my opinion. Unfortunately the frame rate suffers constantly and it was rare that the game didn’t appear to be stuttering. Knack just isn’t particularly impressive looking.

The soundtrack is very subtle. Quiet instrumentation gives the environments an ambient feel, and the music fits the game very well. Unfortunately there just isn’t a whole lot of it. Knack features only a handful of different compositions which is disappointing, but what’s there is well done. The voice acting can be laughably bad at times, but I think it adds to the overall charm personally. Sound effects are well done and I was impressed at how realistic the samples are. What’s cool is the fact that many of these are channeled through the controller’s speaker. The controls work well enough as Knack responds quickly and accurate to your inputs. The simple scheme makes this one easy to jump right in to, and the tutorial is extremely well done. The only issue I had is with perspective. The camera often displays the action from the side but this causes issues when trying to predict jumps. It’s not a big deal, but I did find this occasionally annoying.

The Playstation 4’s library would have benefited from a quality mascot based platforming action game, but Knack just wasn’t up to the task. I tried so hard to like it, but in the end I was just happy to be over and done with it. Some of the ideas explored here are interesting (such as absorbing elements of the environment) but it’s hard to get excited about such an uninspired design. It’s not even a good game to show off the next gen hardware in the system. Kids might get some enjoyment out of it, but everyone else should avoid Knack like the plague.

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