As the first PlayStation 4 game to ever be revealed, Knack already has its place in gaming history. Whilst it may very well have been Studio Japan’s intention with the release of this launch title to create a new platforming icon to stand alongside the likes of Crash Bandicoot or Sly Cooper, however, it’s difficult to see Knack becoming synonymous with the console it was revealed alongside in February.
Whilst Mark Cerny’s vision of a family-orientated platformer in the context of a console launch awash with gritty shooters is refreshing, Sony’s latest first-party platformer falls well short of the dizzy heights reached by the games it takes inspiration from.
Created by a man referred to as ‘The Doctor’, Knack is essentially a living weapon built from powerful relics which, in Knack’s world, power society in the way fossil fuels do ours. Knack’s size, therefore, greatly fluctuates as a result of him collecting these relics. This novel idea is the foundation of Studio Japan’s latest release, but like many things on offer Knack’s ability to change size isn’t fully explored.
Cerny is on plot-penning duty for Knack and spins a tale which is, at times, embarrassingly poorly executed. The game threatens to explore some interesting themes, such as whether the humans the game’s protagonist protects actually deserved to be saved from a threat of their own creation. Despite alluding to moral dilemmas and genuine character development, however, any emotional engagement is lost through the narrative’s inability to follow through on any semi-interesting sub-plots.
There are some inevitable, extremely easy to predict plot-twists thrown in that see Knack, the doctor and his ‘Ash from Pokemon’-like assistant fighting different enemies, with the story culminating in a finale that borrows way to much from Indiana Jones. Pixar-quality animations in cut-scenes are rendered completely ineffective by at time hilariously poor voice-acting, which fails to give any one character any sense of identity.
Bold and brash
Stylistically, Knack gets inspiration from a previous Cerny project – Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot – and whilst this won’t be a game that will showcase the power of your shiny new PlayStation 4 Knack’s use of a vibrant palette makes it pleasing enough on the eye. Sure, it’s hard to imagine Studio Japan would have had much trouble getting this less-than ambitious title running on the PlayStation 3, but Knack is a visually impressive game nonetheless.
Gameplay, thankfully, is where Knack begins proves its worth. Although designed very much as an accessible kids game which utilises only a few buttons (X to jump and Square to punch), Studio Japan’s brand of God of War-esque brawling is enjoyable, challenging and surprisingly complex.
My first playthrough was on ‘Hard’ difficulty and I’d say that’s the best way to experience Knack from the perspective of a seasoned gamer. Even when you’re a large size, one-or-two enemy attacks can kill you, meaning dodging use the right thumb-stick is vital to survival. Brawling in Knack is a test of reactions, patience and timing, and the game is at it’s best when you’re concentrating on separate fights, dealing with multiple enemies at once and delivering well-timed blows.
What’s disappointing is that some of Knack’s best ideas, such as the ability to change size by collecting relics, aren’t very well utilised. Generally speaking you’re only as big as whoever designed the level wants you to be, and building yourself from other materials like fire and ice doesn’t really change all that much to the standard gameplay experience. This is a linear platformer the likes of which you’ve played before with the likes of Ratchet & Clank, but you’re presented with the potential for variety and so it’s frustrating just how little you control.
As a platformer Knack is relatively unambitious. Most of your time is spent fighting, with existent jumping segments not offering anything particularly innovative. There’s a bit of dodging traps and running from hazards, but little new territory is explored for the genre. This is particularly disappointing since Knack is a next-generation launch title, as there is pre-existing expectancy for the developer to at least try new things even if not all of it is successful.
Leaving things short
The ‘beat-em-up’ gameplay is just about strong enough to stop Knack from being inherently dull across it’s ten-hour running time, with secret rooms giving you some reason to go back for more. Post-game modes include arena-type battles and time-trials which, although unoriginal, do exist to extend the game’s shelf-life.
Considering the relatively few options of titles to play on PlayStation 4, Knack is probably just about worth your time if you’re a platforming fan wanting a polished product for your new system. The fact is, though, that you can do a lot better with titles from across PlayStation history. The 3D platformer is a genre in need of re-vitalization and Knack certainly doesn’t present it.
There are lessons to be learnt from this project and the potential for a far stronger Knack sequel does exist. For now, however, there’s no sign of Sony creating a character to become synonymous with their new console. Considering the usual standards of Sony first-party releases, Knack ultimately disappoints.