Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 11/15/13 | Genre: Platform
The resident genius known as “The Good Doctor” has created a fascinating create, known as Knack, from the sunstones and relics that power their society. Using these items, he can grow to massive sizes, utilize devastating super moves, and destroy anything in his path. When we first meet Knack, housed in the tutorial, he is tiny and The Good Doctor has setup a robotic obstacle course to show off all of his moves and show he is worthy to be one of the answers to counter the goblins. Knack also is a being that can act and think for himself. Later in the game he says that he takes the action and lets The Good Doctor do the thinking. Once proven to be part of the solution to the goblins, Knack leaves with The Good Doctor, his assistant, a resident adventurer, and a rich billionaire in charge of an enormous robot army. The group goes off to solve the goblin problem and discover how they got their hands on such powerful weapons.
Knack’s gameplay is unforgiving. On difficulty Normal and Hard, players will be met with frustrating sequence after frustrating sequence. You have to pay close attention to even the smallest of enemies, dodge their attacks, and counter with your own. Failure to watch the patterns of the enemies will result in you getting hit, ultimately dying after only a few hits, and being dropped back to the most recent checkpoint. Most of the time, you have to go through around three different battles to reach a checkpoint. When you die, because you will die often, players are given full health but they still will have used up any of their sunstone power reserve—-which is used for special moves. One interesting thing you can do is if you collect sunstone, then die, you get to keep it.
It has been some time since I have played a game that made me so frustrated I wanted to throw my controller. Mark Cerny, PlayStation 4 System Architect and Game Director on Knack, was a producer on the Crash Bandicoot series. Knack owes a lot of its frustrating elements on the Crash series. Back in the PlayStation days, and earlier, gaming used to be much more difficult than it currently is. Knack is a blend between games like Crash Bandicoot and more recent action platformers like Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter. Since I am not as polished of a player as I was in the 8, 16, and 32 bit days of yesterday, I found that Knack’s easy mode was a suitable alternative. Yes, it is still hard and you will die. But I found I died less often and was able to enjoy the experience much more. The only difference with Easy from Normal and Hard are the amount of hits you can take.
Whatever difficulty you end up ultimately playing on, Knack is a simple game that utilizes a button for attacks, a button to jump, the left analog stick to move, and the right analog stick to dash briefly in that direction. The simplicity of the controls keeps Knack focussed on making crisp moves to fight wave after wave of creature, robot, and goblin in your path.
At the beginning of most levels, Knack starts off as a small character. As one progresses through the level, he grows to sometimes the size of a large building. However, something will happen where he needs to shrink for the start of the next level. Sometimes this is utilizing his relics to power an object or to travel in a plane to the next area. Sadly, this is the most frustrating part of Knack. The gameplay of “bigger Knack” is so much fun. Mainly because you have much more health and can easily dispatch enemies in your path. Later on, towards the last part of the game, you will spend more time in the larger form and it is very rewarding.
Throughout the game, Knack will locate hidden areas that contain relics, sunstones, and treasure chests. These chests contains crystals, used to transform Knack in future playthroughs, and gadgets to give Knack the ability to spot hidden areas or relics nearby. These are meant to collect through multiple playthroughs of the game. So don’t expect to collect these in a single run through the campaign.
One area I wasn’t expecting in Knack is how they utilized the story telling in the game. Knack is very much an old-school action platformer while fully taking advantage of the story elements of modern games. Between areas in the game, the game dynamically switches to cinematic sequences, powered by the in-game engine, to continue the story and setup your next move. This makes the game flow very well from area to area. Sadly, I found the story to take a big sidestep for about a third of the game’s 13.5 levels before returning back to the main plot.
The game also drags for a bit for the first third of the game. With the high difficulty level and lack of inspiring gameplay in these early portions of the game, I feel this is why the game critics have slammed Knack. I cannot speak for everyone, but I feel they didn’t fully play through the game or try Knack on lower difficulty levels before slamming the title with scores as low as 3 out of 10. I do not feel this is a bad game. Is it worthy of buying a PlayStation 4 for? No. But Knack is a good, solid and fun adventure that will leave you watching through the very end credits to see what is next. I highly recommend PS4 owners give this one a play—-even if you have to do it on Easy.
Rating Summary: This is an action-adventure game in which players help a small hero, composed of ancient relics, protect mankind from an invading goblin army. Players use punches, jumping attacks, and various super moves (e.g., storm attack, shockwave, blast) to defeat human soldiers and fantasy creatures (e.g., giant bugs, goblins, robots). As player progress through the game, Knack can grow in size to battle larger enemies including tanks, mechanized battle suits, and attack planes. The somewhat frenetic combat is accompanied by impact sounds and mild explosions.