As one of two flagship exclusive launch titles for the PlayStation 4 (the other being Killzone: Shadow Fall), Knack has a lot of expectation to live up to as a definitive “next-gen” (now current-gen) experience. Console launches, however, are notorious for being a breeding ground of mediocrity. So which camp does Knack fall into? Does it define the PlayStation 4 or simply fall to pieces?
Knack is visually impressive in a Pixar/Dreamworks animation sort of way. I was consistently impressed with the movement of characters and the details in the environment. From the story scenes to gameplay, Knack is visually pleasing and particularly good looking in the details. The game takes extreme pride in its particle physics and effects using the power of PS4, and is very deserving of doing so. Knack himself is made up of a variety of relics that each have their own individual physics. This is most noticeable when Knack dies and the particles scatter across the screen, not in a predefined death animation, but realistically as Knack’s life force is no longer holding him together. Shape, size, weight, and environmental factors all impact these physics with pleasing results, making the numerous deaths encountered on higher difficulties more a little more bearable.
Speaking of difficulty, Knack’s combat is very simple, utilizing only the symbol buttons and analog sticks for input, but don’t mistake simplicity to mean that this game is easy. The curve from ‘Normal’ to ‘Hard’ (and let’s not forget the controller-breaking ‘Very Hard’) difficulties is pretty drastic and can make the difference between this being a game for casual audiences and a gamer’s nightmare. On higher levels, death often comes in few hits and sunstone energy for special moves accumulates much more slowly. I found this challenge to be quite enjoyable as I figured out enemy patterns and how to defeat the variations in groups of enemies. It was a rewarding feeling to move on to the next area, but without any significant changes or upgrades to combat for the duration of the game, the repetition did get mundane before the credits rolled.
I tried to compare the game to Crash Bandicoot, but the game doesn’t have enough interesting platforming or breakables to easily warrant a comparison. I’d like to say it plays like God of War, and while the fixed camera brawler gameplay is similar, Knack lacks any kind of upgrades, advancements, or earned abilities throughout the game that give you a feeling of progress as you play. In fact, your limited move set at the beginning of the game is identical to what you’ll be using in the final level. In addition to the complete lack of upgrade progression, the fixed camera made for occasionally frustrating battles as enemies ended up behind me and out of view. It feels lethargic in terms of platformer brawler games, and not like a proper next-gen advancement on the genre.
Knack’s story could have been a redeeming point for the stagnant gameplay, but this was sadly marred at more than one point. With so much potential and hinting at a deeper underlying story to Knack’s origins and the world that the game takes place in, there was no payoff. Defeating the ending boss feels entirely meaningless as nothing is explained or even alluded to. There was also obviously a deeper story on someone’s mind that fell through the cracks as they tried to juggle too many threads and dropped all of them.
There was so much that could have been so well done, with an emotional storyline about the doctor and the love of his life that he lost and how it is affecting him today. There could have been a stronger arc about the relationship between Ryder, Lucas, and the doctor, as well as their history, but unfortunately that was dropped too. I waited consistently for all of these small hints to pay off and was left disappointed at every turn. Moments that had plenty of background to be hyper-emotional felt robotic and forced when they finally manifested, and the beats that could have succeeded at an emotional impact were forced down your throat without much build up in order to get you to care. It certainly appears that Cerny had an idea for a story and characters that for some reason or another was never fully realized and comes out as a bit of a mess.
As stumbling as Knack comes out in terms of story and gameplay, the social aspect is actually one of the best new social features within the PS4 launch titles and is where I would love to see the social aspects of titles go in the future. When you find “hidden” (they’re not really all that hidden) chests and collect their random contents, you can either choose the item that is given to you, or see what your friends collected from that same chest. If you would rather have one of the items that they got instead, you can choose that item to help you target and complete your collection of gadgets and relics for alternate versions of Knack on subsequent playthroughs. This aspect of asynchronous multiplayer and having friends’ actions affect your own single player game are something that will be a huge part of the new generation of consoles, and Knack implements it in a great way.
The gadgets and relics that you get from these chests do add a level of replayability and trophy hunters will be tasked with upwards of three or four complete playthroughs to achieve a platinum trophy. If you don’t mind the repetition in combat and the overall feeling that this is a step back for platformer brawlers, then collecting all of these things will keep you quite busy for a while.
Knack is technically impressive with its utilization of extreme particle physics and bringing to life what could have easily been a Dreamworks animated film, but the gameplay does little to really satisfy. Players who seek a challenge may find enjoyment in tackling the tougher difficulties, but most won’t find enough satisfying game or story behind the technical demonstration to warrant classifying this as a great PS4 experience. If you simply can’t wait for more PS4 releases, Knack isn’t a terrible game, but it will be forgotten very quickly as more titles beyond the launch period are released.