Knack Review – PlayStation 4

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With the introduction of each new generation of console I’m always excited to see the first release for each genre type, especially when that game is a first-part title as is the case with Knack. Knack is the debut platformer title on Sony’s new PlayStation 4 that blends Pixar-inspired cinematics with a leading character that is part Tasmanian devil and part Crash Bandicoot. It’s simultaneously charming and violent, combining traditional platforming along with endless combat using a simple and somewhat repetitive combat system that will ultimately wear down kids and adults, but Knack is still a remarkable tech demo if nothing else.

The game opens with a brief cutscene that quickly explains the ongoing battle between man and goblins. It seems someone is providing advanced weapons to the Goblin menace and our band of heroes must investigate further. Dr. Vargas, his assistant Lucas, and macho adventurer Ryder, are the main humans in the story but Knack is the true star. You’re introduced to him and his unique abilities almost immediately in a lengthy tutorial sequence that will show you his abilities inside the lab then require you to test them outside in the garden.

Knack is a unique being comprised of an ancient relic at his core surrounded by all sorts of particulate matter. Think of the relic as a powerful magnet that attracts any nearby metal bits then forms those bits into a physical form; the more bits the bigger the form. And that is where most of the PS4’s power comes into play in this platformer; creating the swirling mass of individually modeled and constantly in flux random reflective bits that make up Knack. It’s impressive to study his construction even when he is standing still, as there is so much subtle animation, but once he starts moving and especially when he takes damage, parts will fall off and he will slowly diminish in size, lose his “hair”, etc. and then as he absorbs fresh pieces he will gradually build back up.

The sad thing about Knack is that once you have played the tutorial you’ve pretty much experienced all the game has to offer when it comes to gameplay. You’ll be doing the same set of attacks, combos, and charged Sunstone attacks over and over again; just in new places; some interesting and some not so much. Despite some nice and varied visual designs the enemies all fit into three or four categories, each with the same type of attacks, tells, and weaknesses, so you’ll fight a giant goblin pretty much the same way you fight a giant robot. Aside from the occasional prompted dodge-to-the-side move most of combat simply has you trying to avoid getting hit while waiting for the lull to unleash your own flurry of spin kicks and attacks then backing away. Repeat this until your Sunstone meters are full then unleash an impressive shockwave, whirlwind, or targeted range attack great for multiple foes. Obviously, the larger Knack is the more powerful his attacks, but the game does a good job of frequently reducing your size by having you spend your body parts to activate special relic devices.

Knack has an interesting upgrade and item collection system in place. Over the course of the game you will be able to add elemental bits to Knack that can turn him to ice, wood, or even metal. These elements have their own advantages and disadvantages; for instance, wood makes Knack susceptible to fire damage, but catching Knack on fire also helps in solving some interesting puzzles. Sadly, these elemental sections only come into play a few times through the 10-12 hour game.
Observant gamers will find numerous breakaway walls and secret areas with special item chests. Inside you will find a random gadget part, just one of many that is required to make a complete and more useful item. The cool factor here is that you have the option to take the item in your chest or swap it out with any item that was in that same chest when any of your PSN friends opened it in their game. This is an awesome idea and something I hope to see further developed in other games.

knackquest

“Knack Quest” brings some of that Knack charm to your iOS device with match-three gaming and PSN integration

Something else that seems to be the norm for this new generation of games are second screen support apps. Everyone has them and Knack is no exception. Knack’s Quest is a charming little mobile diversion that combines a Knack-inspired match-three mini game that allows you to earn items that can be used within the main game. Sync your iPhone or iPad with your PSN account and compare your scores and accomplishments with your friends. Knack also supports Remote Play using the PlayStation Vita so you can continue the single-player experience on your handheld or have a second player join you for a co-op session.

Knack is surprisingly difficult considering it’s a “kid’s game”, and unnecessarily frustrating due to an unforgiving checkpoint system that will have you replaying large sections of the game over if and when you die; sections that may contain several fights and possible platforming sequences that can take upwards of ten minutes to replay. There is a drop-in/out co-op mode that allows a second player to assist Knack without really affecting the difficulty of the game. Robo Knack isn’t nearly as powerful as our hero, but he can assist in combat and even feed Knack fresh parts. And when you finish the main game you will unlock two new modes; Coliseum Attack where 1-2 players fend off waves of enemies in a survival mode and Time Attack where one player tries to finish a wave before the timer expires so they can advance.

Platform games have been around since the dawn of console gaming and while great graphics always help make a great game it’s quality gameplay that makes this challenging genre something we all come back to time and time again. Knack is a technical showpiece; a shining example of what the PlayStation 4 is capable of. Sadly, its gameplay hasn’t evolved as much as the system, making Knack a tiresome repetitive chore that last twice as long as it should. Knack is cool, original, and even loveable (especially in his tiny form) as a character – he just deserves a better game.

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