Knack was the very first PS4 game announced way back in February 2013 at the Playstation 4 announcement event and the reaction was that many people were somewhat underwhelmed. Many people believed Knack was to be a downloadable title and further outrage was unleashed when it was announced Knack would be a full priced release. The largest criticism of the game seemed to be that it didn’t look “next-gen” enough and whilst that’s certainly a bizarre criticism to throw at a game, the truth is Knack doesn’t cover much new ground in the platform genre.
Knack features one of the most simplistic control schemes I’ve ever experienced; The game uses the X button to jump, the square button to attack, the right analog stick to dodge, the left analog stick to move and the circle button to perform special attacks. That is as complicated as it gets. I found this control scheme incredibly easy to get the hang of and even though attacking is literally restricted to one button, Knack somehow finds a way to mix it up every now and then and it helps to keep you on your toes. That said, I feel as though Knack – and the PS4 overall – could have benefited from using the touch pad in some way so as to show off this new feature of the Dualshock 4 to newcomers to the console.
One thing that surprised me about Knack is that even though the control scheme is very easy, make no mistake, this is a surprisingly hard game. Now, its nowhere near the likes of the Souls series but Knack still introduces a refreshing challenge in each of its chapters and the enemy variety is incredibly impressive. Knack is very reminiscent of old school platformers such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter and also features some gameplay mechanics similar to the likes of God of War so fans of any of those 3 series will find something to appreciate here. However, one complaint I would have is that the checkpoint system seems to be wildly random, some checkpoints might have about 2 minutes of gameplay between them, while others could have 10 minutes with incredibly tough enemies in between, and this introduced a slight feeling of off-balancing.
Knack launches you straight into the story without a moments hesitation, the game’s opening cutscene introduces you to a conflict between Goblins and humans. The response to this war is a secret meeting where a doctor reveals he has been studying ancient relics for an extended period of time and has used these relics for his latest invention – Knack, but an alternative threat soon emerges after Knack’s creation.
The story of Knack is really quite average. The twists are incredibly predictable and the pacing is a bit slow. Another problem was the fact that the game throws you straight into a conflict between the goblins and the humans and never really fully explains quite why or how such a war came about. That having been said I did appreciate the characterization of both the Doctor, his assistant and Knack himself, but all in all the story is entirely forgettable.
Similar to Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus, Knack seems to have a very Pixar-esque vibe in the art department. Upon its announcement, Knack received a fairly large amount of criticism complaining about the fact that the graphics seemed “cartoonish” and childish but, in my opinion, it makes a refreshing change of pace from other next gen games that are pushing for hyper-realism. The colour palette is very vibrant and some of the characters are very well defined, particularly Knack himself.
That being said, while Knack is particularly well detailed, many of the game’s levels and landscapes are not. While I think each one looks clear and bright, it is essentially: forest 1, desert 1, cave 1, forest 2, etc. There didn’t really seem to be any special design scheme or details that made the levels stand out in any way which was somewhat disappointing. All in all though, the graphics are nice to look at and I personally didn’t experience any sign of framerate drops or other technical issues.
The voice acting for Knack is another area where its perfectly acceptable, but never really shines. I did appreciate how Knack’s voice changed depending on what size he was but all in all the voice acting isn’t particularly note-worthy. Similar to the graphics, the sound is good but never really stands out. I did appreciate how collecting crystals and relics to boost your special attack and health/size respectively emitted sound effects from the dualshock 4 itself, but other than that the sound department isn’t very memorable.
Knack also features a co-op multiplayer component which allows a second player to join in an play through the campaign with you. While its never explained why player 2 seems to be some form of Mecha Knack, the multiplayer is a solid addition and does offer up some additional fun to the gameplay and I do appreciate how Player 2 can just jump in and jump out as they see fit. That said I feel as though co-op could have been improved upon, for example, it would have been nice if co-op had its own story which gave “Mecha Knack” his own back story. It would also have been very nice to have split screen so that player 2 doesn’t have to effectively stay tethered to Player 1 as this can cause some frustration between players.
On the whole, Knack is by no means genre-defining or ground breaking but it is entertaining. The idea of having Knack gradually grow in size by collecting relics is unique and the game is a great call back to the early mascots of Playstation such as Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet and Clank. That being said, the game is somewhat forgettable and while it doesn’t have any huge flaws it doesn’t really bring anything new to the platform genre or the beat ’em up genre. However, those who are nostalgic for Sony’s PSX and PS2 mascots and who want to play a game with a similar tone should definitely consider picking this up.
Knack may well get a lot of flak for not seeming to be a "true" next gen game, but what it is is a lot of fun, and those who are nostalgic for the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter should at least try it out as Knack follows along their path faithfully.