Knack – PS4
Release Date: 11/15/2013
Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Ever since I began contributing reviews to Nerd Bacon I have tried to refrain from reading the reviews posted on any other outlets for games that I might be interested in reviewing myself. I want to do my best to catalog my thoughts and feelings about a game without having any expectations of what I should expect out of a game implanted by IGN etc.. That being said, with the excitement of the PS4 launch a couple of weeks ago, and the games that I knew I wanted to buy firmly decided, I couldn’t help but sneak a peak at what some of the outlets had to say about this title. So, I sold out just a little and decided to scroll through the IGN review to just look at the numerical score they gave it. Ouch. 5.9? This must be a mess. Still, with the only other options being three separate first person shooters, a genre I feel is way too over saturated right now, I decided to hang on to Knack anyway.
I still have not read any actual reviews on the game to date but from what I gather they have been controversial enough for Sony head Shu Yoshida to express his disappointment over them.
So with my expectations lowered, I began my journey into the world of Knack. I’ll spare you some suspense. It’s not that bad of a game. I’ve had fun with it. However it’s a game that could have been so much more.
The main character is Knack. A sort of living golem made up of “relics”, an almost magical material leftover by an ancient civilization. The Doctor (Yes that is actually his name) has been able to fashion some of these relics into his greatest invention yet. Knack.
Knack’s creation comes at a very pivotal time. Goblins have been attacking various human settlements and a weapon is needed to stop them. After a demonstration of his abilities in front of a number of government officials, and a skeptical industrialist named Viktor, Knack is quickly dispatched to kick some tail and take no prisoners.
Along the way he is joined by Lucas, the young assistant to Doctor, and Ryder, a world famous adventurer and relic hunter, (And also Lucas’s uncle) and they set off to uncover the mysteries behind the goblin attacks, where they obtained their advanced weaponry, and what Viktor is trying to do with his relic collecting operations.
Sony’s Japan Studio attempted a more involved story for a game of this type, and while it is passable and never terrible, it becomes a bit too convoluted and illogical for it’s own good. I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but why in the heck would Viktor go to the trouble of kidnapping Lucas in order to get the Doctor to follow him to his palace to take a look at his really big relics? If I was Viktor I probably would have said “Yo Doc, I got these relics which are all over one ton. You want to take a look at them?” I know they went that route for the sake of prolonging the story and showing Viktor’s villainous side, but there are probably better ways of getting there. But, that’s just me nitpicking. At least the voice acting was very well done, and the cast does a great job of bringing the characters to I especially enjoyed J.B. Blanc’s work as Doctor. The voice for Knack himself was the most surprising. Looking at the character designs you would think that he’d be a higher pitched, meeker little guy, however Knack speaks with a very deep bravado that brimmed with confidence. I’m not saying it was bad, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting.
Graphically the game is quite lovely and gives us a solid look at what the PS4 can do. I thought the lighting was particularly well done, with some nice shadows and very impressive reflections being cast on water and metallic surfaces. Knack also boasts amazing details to textures. Everything from cloth to stones, even a muddy pathway early in the game give us a peak at just how pretty this new generation of gaming is going to be. At times Knack looks and sounds like a Pixar film being played out in real time. SCE took the time to give Knack an exquisite layer of polish to it, and the game serves a good dose of early next gen eye candy.
Controls are very simple. Knack has his standard jump and double jump, he can hit square to punch, and a flick of the right analogue stick will perform a dash move which is useful at dodging enemy attacks. He can also perform a mid air attack. Overall the control scheme feels very tight and there was never and instance of Knack performing an action that I didn’t want him to do.
Knack has a lot going for it as far as the production values are concerned. You can tell that they took a lot of time to make sure this looked and felt great. It’s just a shame that the game is so limited in it’s scope and is held back by it’s lack of ambition.
Knack leans far more into action territory than it does as a platformer. In most cases, when you do come upon a section that requires some jumping, the game inexplicably takes over and shows a small cut scene of making the jump for you. There is some light platforming that comes into play, but it’s never really allowed to stand front and center of the action.
The action elements of the game are pretty simple, but pretty well done. Knack has his standard punch by hitting square. and he has his mid-air attack. He also has super moves which he can use after collecting enough sun stones which are scattered across the levels, but they don’t do enough to add much variety to the mix.
The enemies in the game are a highlight, and hearken back to an old school era where gamers had to learn the patterns of even the lowest level baddies. The enemies can be seriously tough. Any one of them can pack a serious wallop and if you are not paying enough attention, then it’s easy for them to take you out in seconds.
Death was a constant in Knack, forcing the player to keep trying certain areas until you get them right. It reminds me of some of the old NES games, even on the normal difficulty setting. It’s a design decision that I respected a lot, and I was pretty surprised at the level of difficulty even on the normal settings. The game may wear the appearance of a cutesy kid-centric adventure,but make no mistake, Knack revels in hard core glory! The story may be lackluster, but the challenge of getting through the levels is the compelling element of the game.
Now, if only the levels were more interesting. You get to walk around in these gorgeous environments, but you don’t really get to explore them at all. You’re glued to your set path and are forced to keep pressing forward. There are some hidden rooms that can be found by smashing through weakened sections of walls or rocks, but this is more of an instrument for collecting the scattered pieces of various upgrades to Knack, rather than a chance to get off the beaten path. These upgrades lead to another poor design choice. It saves all of the completed upgrades till the very last portions of the game. I didn’t start getting any of these upgrades completed until level 9, and by then it was as if the developers realized that they had skipped any of those hidden pieces throughout level 8, so they overloaded on the discoveries in 9. Besides, what good is a combo meter going to do if it’s going to come so late in the game? Sure, maybe it’s intended for that second or third play through, but there isn’t enough to keep you going through the game multiple times. A game like this (Or let’s take Mario for example) should gradually teach you new skills as you progress. Oh, here is how you do a somersault jump. Now use it to get that star. Good, now here is how you do a wall jump. Use it to get here.. now this goes on till soon you are doing combinations of all those moves by the end of the game, which you need because the difficulty of those levels has ramped up enough so that you need all of those skills. Whew. Sorry to rant about game design 101 there.
An aspect of the design that I did enjoy was the choice to have Knack start off each level super small, and have him get progressively larger as he gathers more relics to himself, so that by the end of most chapters, Knack is massive. Sometimes as large as buildings. The larger Knack becomes, the bigger his life meter gets, so that by the end of most levels, some of the enemies that might have given you trouble before are a piece of cake when they come face to face with mega Knack. It’s very satisfying to gradually build the little guy up into gargantuan proportions and pummel the bad guys!
Unfortunately with this good comes a missed opportunity in what could have been some very cool stuff. One level has Lucas suggesting to Knack that he absorb ice crystals to himself in place of relics. Ok, sweet! Now we have friggin ice Knack!! Do I get to shoot ice crystals at enemies? Or maybe an arctic freeze blast or a cool slide move like Sub-Zero? Does the soundtrack at least change to Foreigner “Cold as Ice”?
Just the same routine, you’re just wearing ice crystals. At least they look like next gen ice crystals. A similar situation happens later on with blocks of wood. At least you have the ability to catch yourself on fire for a limited amount of time, but as with the ice crystal example a concept that could have been really amazing is not allowed to fully develop.
Knack has been a tough game for me to review. There are elements missing that would have made the game exceptional however, a review needs to focus on what is there. And what is here isn’t bad at all. The retro-like challenge of the game makes up for it’s lack of modern platform design conventions, plus the production values are absolutely fantastic! It looks great and controls just as well as it looks. If you are a PS4 early adopter, and want something that isn’t Call of Battle Kill Ghosts 4 or whatever, then Knack is a worthy option. If several months have passed, and the PS4 library is bursting with amazing titles, then you can probably wait till Knack hits the $34.99 price point.
Knack stumbles a bit, but it’s a solid game and I had fun playing it.
Rating: 6.5 / 10
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