Of all of the PlayStation 4’s launch titles, Knack, the first game announced for the PlayStation 4 at its announcement event in February, is probably the most creative and unique of the bunch. It comes from Sony’s first party studio, Studio Japan, and was creatively directed and written by Mark Cerny. It takes advantage of much of the PlayStation 4’s power and is a beautiful game with an interesting art style. While it does have a few problems, it is a very creative title that hearkens back to the days of Crash Bandicoot and other old PlayStation titles and does so with success.
The story of Knack is a cliched one. Goblins have come to Earth and the humans must figure out how to stop them from taking over the world. However, despite the cliched story, Knack pulls it off well. There are a few different plots in the overall story of Knack. Without spoiling anything, they are all fairly interesting and I wanted to see what happened next. There are a few times where the story tries and fails to be emotional, but overall the story has its comical, emotional, and exciting moments that all pull the game together nicely.
The humans create Knack, a small creature made of a central relic that holds him and all his other relics together. This leads to the game’s most unique aspect, Knack’s growth. He can gain relics around the world and grow in size, allowing him to become stronger and more powerful. As a character, Knack is fairly shallow with little character development. There wasn’t much that made me connect with him throughout the story.
Many of the supporting characters in the story are more developed than Knack, however. There were a bunch that I cared about – the Doctor, the creator of Knack; his long lost love, Charlotte; and his assistant Lucas; as well as the main villains of the story. The rest of the characters were mostly uninteresting. The voice acting is also average at best. No one voice actor stood out as good or bad; they were all average. The writing is cheesy and forgettable. There are a few lines that stick out as poignant and touching, but the rest are cliched and overused.
As I have already mentioned, Knack looks gorgeous on the PlayStation 4. There are hundreds of particles flying around the screen at once, especially when Knack becomes bigger and bigger. It has a cartoon-like art style that really works for the game’s cartoon-ish feel. Character animations are fluid and the game’s cutscenes are beautiful. In each of the game’s 13 chapters, Knack visits a new location, each of which are well designed and beautiful.
The best part of Knack, however, is the gameplay. It combines old PSOne games like Crash Bandicoot with God of War. There is only one main attack button, and there are three different super moves which come by collecting sunstones which are scattered throughout the world. These are very powerful and kill most enemies in only a few hits. The real depth of the gameplay comes in the strategy. There are hundreds of enemy types, and specific ones for each different location in the story. Each enemy type has its own strength and weakness, and discovering the best way to defeat an enemy through trial and error is actually fun.
One of Knack‘s most defining characteristics is its difficulty. Even on Normal difficulty, I still found myself smacking the couch and screaming at the TV at a few points of the story. This leads to a great sense of accomplishment when you do finally finish a section that seems impossible. Because each enemy has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, you must learn everything new about a new enemy when they appear, and this happens very frequently. A frustrating point about the difficulty is the checkpoints. There are many short cutscenes of Knack jumping down a ledge or climbing a tall rock which signify a checkpoint. However, not every one is a checkpoint, and this can be frustrating at points, especially late in the game, where you have just defeated a string of enemies and hope for a checkpoint to save that progress.
Knack‘s true difficulty comes through in its boss battles, of which there are four. Each of these is a defining moment in the game, which transitions the story between main villains. All of these bosses are difficult in their own ways, and trial and error is the only way to understand and master the bosses’ weaknesses.
Knack‘s replayability comes through with its collectibles. There are numerous secret rooms located throughout the story, and each of these contains either a gadget part or a crystal relic, which are used to make special kinds of Knack. Since each chest is randomly generated, there is a buddy system so that you can choose between what got or what your friend got. This is what made me want to replay the game, so that I could collect all of the gadgets and crystal relics and be able to use them in a New Game.
The other game modes in Knack are a Time Attack Mode and a Coliseum Attack Mode. These are modes based on the gameplay that puts Knack against various waves of enemies. It is based on high scores and going as far as possible in these waves. They can be fun for a little while, but they eventually become monotonous and are something I doubt I will be playing much of in the time to come.
Finally, while the game is aesthetically beautiful, there are some technical problems that hinder it along the way. Most of the time, it runs smoothly and is technically brilliant. However, there were multiple times where the frame rate dropped because too much was happening on the screen. Also, there was one time where a gate that opened in a cutscene was not opened in the gameplay, which made it unpassable, and I had to restart the chapter. These are mostly minor annoyances, especially as a launch title, but they are worth mentioning.
Knack is a unique game. The story is cliched yet great in its own way. It looks brilliant when it works with all of the particles moving on the screen at one time. There are hundreds of enemy types that each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The gameplay is difficult but still fun and strategic. There are few things about Knack that I really didn’t like. While it has its problems, there are bugs, some of the writing and characters are forgettable, and the extra game modes are short-lived, they don’t bring the quality of the game down much. Knack is fun, and it is the only launch game I have really wanted to keep playing.
(Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 9.5/10
Sound – 7/10
Lasting Appeal – 8/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Developer: Studio Japan
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Ratings: E10+ (ESRB), 12 (PEGI), PG (ACB)