Knack was announced during the lead in to the PlayStation 4 launch by director Mark Cerny – who is also known for being the lead architect for the PS4 – at the media briefing Sony held in New York City. Part action platformer in the vein of Crash Bandicoot, part group combat game (like God of War), Knack is a pretty straight shooter in terms of what it presents. The titular character travels through a series of locations like cities, goblin fortresses and mines as he looks to help uncover mysterious story beats, collect the ancient relics and more.
You’ll go from big square room to hallway to smaller square room to another hallway, ad nauseum, fighting the same enemy types.
The game has a visual flair almost reminiscent of Astro Boy, or a more recent reference, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The art isn’t ground breaking but shows off the processing powers of the PlayStation 4, where Knack can grow huge in size, using more relics that are rendered on screen nearly all the time. However, the framerate does tend to suffer from time to time, where a visible decline in frames per second will slowdown the action just a touch. The level design isn’t really anything to write home about, there are perhaps a handful of interesting platforming sections, but most of the time its just enemy arena after enemy arena, walking up stairs or using a lift, or knocking down broken walls to find items. There is an almost cookie-cutter feel to everything in Knack including the levels, which is partially because of the limited templates used in the design of the world. As example, the Goblin Fortress you visit early in the game has many repeating buildings and similar sections, a process which becomes quickly apparent in other areas as well. You’ll go from big square room to hallway to smaller square room to another hallway, ad nauseum, fighting the same enemy types. The few areas that cut away from the norm are a breath of fresh air when you’re drowning in the muddy waters of everything else.
The controls are easy to remember and seem to react to your actions as intended, but the aforementioned slowdown can cause critical misses where Knack will be defeated by enemies. There is a heavy requirement for precision in your attacks, which a simple mis-timing can be the end of Knack, requiring a questionable checkpoint respawn. But don’t fear, this is going to happen frequently enough that you’re going to spend a lot of time respawning and running down hallways to reach your next combat encounter. You’ll mix things up with some destructive areas, some chase sequences and even climbing (which is surprisingly one of the glaringly poor animations in the game) but even these scenes are always controlled the same way, left stick to move and face buttons to jump/attack.
The few areas that cut away from the norm are a breath of fresh air when you’re drowning in the muddy waters of everything else.
Knack repeatedly encounters foot soldiers with ranged or melee attacks, then larger types like tanks or big robots. The smaller characters tend to be quicker but can also be eliminated in a single attack in some cases. The larger enemies are prone to cause more trouble, as they’ll require combo attacks or careful positioning to disperse their shields. Expect to be paired up in all varieties of group combinations. The strange factor here is sometimes being able to slam through eight shielded robots to only be picked off by a single shot from a foot soldier. The checkpointing can add to the frustration and I can openly say there were are few areas where I would end up needing to repeatedly checkpoint respawn to collect sunstones to build special meter to eliminate the waves of enemies. The biggest joke might be a cutscene where the Professor tells Knack “hold on, there’s a guard,” even though you’ve spent the last fifteen minutes destroying the exact same type of enemy.
Knack’s biggest problem is just how truly generic it feels. While Knack himself isn’t the next big mascot character, it is maybe a more telling revelation that games in the Crash or Spyro style aren’t “retro” – they feel dated. The constant issue of balance in the combat encounters doesn’t help the overall impression. Sadly, there isn’t much to be absolutely in love with here. Knack joins Xbox 360′s Kameo, in the history of unfortunate launch titles.