Knack is a platform beat ‘em up video game developed by Japan Studio that was released worldwide at the launch of the PlayStation 4. It was developed in cooperation with Mark Cerny, the lead architect of the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. He is also known for his work on Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Spyro the Dragon, and Ratchet and Clank.
When it was revealed on February 20th at the PlayStation Meeting, I was more than skeptical about this new “launch platformer” title. I played all of the other games that Cerny was a part of and I loved them all, but the platform genre seems to be dwindling down to being almost irrelevant now; at least on home consoles. I have grown out of the platforming phase in my gaming career, so I completely expected to dislike this game. On top of that, when the embargo on the reviews for PlayStation 4 games ended, Knack was receiving universal mediocre scores (Knack is the 2nd lowest PS4 score on Metacritic). All of this set me up to go into this game ready for it to be the worst launch title.
The world of Knack is an interesting one. In it the goblins that have inhabited the caves of the world have started to wage war on mankind. Somehow these primitive creatures that have long used only bow and arrows and clubs to battle, have started wielding tanks, guns, robots, and much more superior technology than should have been possible. The war starts to go in the favor of the goblins for a while until a human doctor discovers what he hopes can be the savior of mankind.
This savior is called Knack, the protagonist and the character you will be playing as. Knack is a small creature made up of relics from a long lost civilization that have been bound together and given a consciousness by the doctor. Knack has the power to absorb other relics and materials in order to become extremely large. So the doctor, his assistant, and Knack set out to save the world from the goblins.
Remembering how simple storylines use to be in the early platform games made me really skeptical about how well they could pull it off in a game today. I was completely surprised to find out that this story was not only good, but it was actually quite charming and excellent at times. It was for the most part predictable because we have all probably seen hundreds of movies and beat several games as well, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Cerny and Japan Studio were able to deliver a unique world with a fascinating story.
Knack’s art style is very similar to a Pixar film. It was cartoony and childish looking for the most part. When everyone hears next gen they imagine everything will be “super-realistic” graphically but this is not always the case. Some developers choose to go for an artistic visual style and Knack was one of them. This was almost refreshing to see as that last two games I had played were very realistic – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Killzone: Shadow Fall. The voice acting in Knack was superb as it featured excellent voice actors such as Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, and Matthew Mercer.
Knack really shines in its addictive vintage beat ‘em up platforming gameplay. The mechanics of this gameplay are quite simple. You are able to freely run around the screen and can jump on to different platforms to move up and down. In order to fight enemies you can either punch them by clicking one button or you can jump and then click the attack button to perform a flying attack. It is very similar to Crash Bandicoot back on the PlayStation 1. You also are able to absorb “sun stones” which give you magical power to use any one of three moves: the ability to turn into a tornado and attack everyone at once, the ability to shoot a powerful shot at multiple enemies in front of you, or the ability to pound the ground and create a tremor that destroys all surrounding enemies. This combination of attacks combined with Knacks ability to absorb relics and grow extremely large makes Knack incredibly addicting.
There are also several hidden rooms throughout the game that hold special gems and parts to make upgrades for Knack. The upgrades include things like a radar to help you find these rooms and a combo counter that will upgrade your attack power after hitting an enemy 8 consecutive times without being hit back. After collecting a certain amount of each of the gems you are awarded with a special form of Knack that you can replay levels with later. Each special form has a different ability, such as stronger defense. These upgrades and collectibles will make you want to replay the game in order to find everything and see what they all do.
My only complaint is that the game is frustratingly difficult. This will not be a complaint for most of you I am sure, but I am really bad at hard games. Even on easy mode there were a few sections of the game that were crazy difficult for me. But for those of you who like a challenge (a la Demon Souls), you will love the challenge Knack provides. Sometimes after getting through a tough part you might die and the last checkpoint was back so far you have to go through the entire tough part again. This can lead to repetitively going through the same 3-4 minutes of a level if you struggle with a certain part.
The Verdict: 8.5 out of 10
Knack surprised me in every way possible. It went from being my least anticipated PlayStation 4 game to being the most fun I have had playing a game on it so far. Now don’t get me wrong, it is not the best game on PlayStation 4, but it is the most fun to play. I had so much fun during the 10 hour story that I have since gone back and played a few levels just for fun to try and find more collectables. I felt like a kid playing Crash Bandicoot again. Maybe it was the fact that I had such low expectations going into the game that it ended up being such a refreshing wonderful experience? I often find myself thinking that the enjoyment you feel from a game comes from how well you expect it to be starting off. This almost assuredly proved to be the case here. I really hope that Knack sells well enough to get a sequel because I would love to see the direction that Cerny and Japan Studio take it. If you are going into this game, don’t expect it to be a game changer or anything like that, just expect it to be an overall fun and charming game.