Published on December 12th, 2013 | by Chris Scott5
Summary: I felt I needed to wrestle the fun away from the game to let me enjoy it.
When Sony announced Knack, they were targeting gamers just like me. We are those gamers that cut their teeth on Mario but spent a considerable portion of their Playstation years playing games like Crash Bandicoot, Sly Cooper, Jak & Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank. It seemed very apparent that Knack wanted to join that club of Playstation action-platformer, that has for so long been held in high regard. But even though it was targeted directly at Sony’s core fan, Knack just didn’t do it for me.
There was something about it that seemed off. Instead of showcasing Knack’s personality, they showcased the game’s tech. Instead of showcasing how fun Knack would be to play or how this was the next gen evolution of action-platformers, Sony touted how Knack was like playing a Pixar movie. Guess what? I’ve heard that one before and it wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.
Knack is a launch title. It is a good looking game, with some truly impressive tech that allows for very minute detail, but it lacks a basic personality that makes one want to play it. Knack isn’t bad, it just isn’t very engaging. Knack is peppered with promise, though.
The world that Knack inhabits is highly fascinating. With Human/goblin conflicts and mysterious relics that power everything from your coffee maker to floating sky palaces, Knack has the ingredients to deliver something cool. Unfortunately the storytelling that accompanies the game is scattershot at best. First Knack is helping to squash a goblin revolt, then he is exploring relic mines, then he is destroying goblin armories, more relic madness, evil corporation leaders, inconsequential love stories, goblins, relics, madness. The storytelling made my head spin because it couldn’t hold focus on one thing long enough for me to care. It doesn’t help matters that Knack himself is a boring character, designed by a boring Doctor and his boring apprentice. In fact, nearly all the characters Knack encounters, both good and evil, are boring. There is one very Nathan Drake-ish type character named Ryder that consistently put a smile on my face. Overall, the dull characters made it quite difficult for me to become engaged in the scattershot storytelling, no matter how fascinating the world itself was.
With storytelling and presentation mostly being a bust, Knack must rely on its core functionality – that of being a fun game to play. Presented as a whimsical platformer, Knack isn’t that game. It is really an unforgiving brawler with simplistic platforming intermittently placed to give the game a bit of variety. With my expectations directing me one way and the game delivering something else, I disliked Knack from the start.
Knack had to work his way through killbox after killbox, taking down each enemy very deliberately to advance. Rushing into a fight nearly always resulted in me getting killed and since I wasn’t expecting this level of challenge from my kiddie platformer, I disliked it immensely.
I walked away from the game for a bit and reassessed my expectations and found that Knack had a lot more to offer than I originally thought. Knack is challenging and in many respects requires near perfection from the player to advance but coming at it from a different angle allowed me to process the gameplay differently. Each encounter has to be approached in a certain way, and as such the killboxes became puzzle boxes and figuring out how to engage each enemy was the puzzle to be unlocked.
Every encounter is designed around Knack being a certain size. Smaller Knack faces off against similar sized opponents, while giant Knack faces off against tanks and airplanes. By approaching the game this way, Knack is always in danger and most enemies can kill him in one or two hits. While the concept never actually gets much deeper, the variety in the killbox enemies and how they attack makes the game more engaging. I had to learn each enemies attack pattern so I could quickly take them out and move on to the next enemy.
Many games like this begin to feel cheap in the way the attacks are doled out and as such those game can get frustrating. Knack never feels cheap and while it can get frustrating, it is frustrating in the sense that I know that I wasn’t approaching the encounter correctly and I had to rethink it. Many times when I’d get stuck dying in a certain place over and over again, it was because I had regressed to bad habits and was trying to bull rush my way through the section. Knack doesn’t allow this, it forces you to play by its rules and in doing so, it makes you better at the game. And when you get better at a game, even if it is decidedly unforgettable, it can be fun and Knack can be fun.
It lacks the basic charm that past Sony franchises of this ilk have had and because of that, I felt I needed to wrestle the fun away from the game to let me enjoy it. It is the kind of issue only a launch game can get away with but that is what Knack is. As a Sony Playstation 4 exclusive, I feel it shines brighter than its prettier cousin KIllzone and is a serviceable option for a launch title pickup.