Let’s get this out of the way: Knack isn’t a bad game. But then again, it isn’t a good game. It’s a game full of coherency matched with wild inconsistencies, brilliance alongside lazy design. It’s the ultimate example of a “just okay” or, well, average game – every good point has an antithesis and vice versa.
Knack is an experiment, created by a doctor after finding a sentient core. Absorbing relics, he takes on a bipedal form and, although usually small at the start of each level, can collect more of these and grow into a hulking beast. That means that you’re usually fighting overgrown insects and small goblins at first, but towards the end of each chapter you’ll face off against larger robots and golems, with enemies which proved challenging at first being defeated easily.
It’s really great how Knack scales up against his enemies, but it’s just the same story in every chapter as Knack becomes a huge creature before the game makes an excuse for him to return to his small, original form. There is some variety, with ice, wood and even metal thrown into the mix of Knack’s relics, opening up some gameplay opportunities and granting Knack armour, although obstacles such as fire and magnets will soon try to take this away from you.
So, while it’s a fun game, at the same time it can be absolutely tedious and repetitive, with no puzzles to stop the monotonous combat. That’s all it is, fighting rooms of enemies, one after another. It’s God of War meets Ratchet & Clank without any of the puzzles, interesting combat mechanics or standard projectile attacks. All you do is press square, and occasionally circle when you’ve busted enough gemstones open to grant you a super attack.
Those super attacks do look marvellous, however – Knack performs these attacks by exploding, creating a tornado or throwing the relics that make up his body to cause massive damage, and there’s some fantastic particle work on show. There are some frame rate issues and slowdown when he’s huge, by virtue of the sheer number of relics on screen, but it’s a really impressive sight. In fact, the particle effects are probably the best thing that the game has going for it and really helps the game, making Knack a stand out character as all of his relics move around while he dodges and fights.
Some of the environments can look quite spectacular at times. There’s one section, right in the middle of the game, which looks stunning and plays brilliantly, but the rest is a bit of a mixed bag. You’ll often see awesome reflective textures and some incredible lighting matched up with flat surfaces, so while some parts might just stun you, others will having you saying “this is on PS4? Really?”, and the same goes for the enemy and human NPCs.
Animation holds up for the most part, though it can glitch at times and there are huge problems, not with how the platforming works itself – it’s totally responsive – but how the platforms are placed and how the camera handles things at certain times. It’s a fixed God of War style camera, but nothing like the refined, well-placed camera angles of God of War 3, and much more like the dodgy placement we saw in the first PS2 entry to that series.
The gameplay all feels a bit off, too – the mechanics and controls themselves are fine, but along with those camera issues, there’s further issues in how everything, including Knack, can be defeated in just a few hits, and how projectile-firing enemies require you to dodge quite a lot of incoming fire before you can take them out. Everything feels a bit weak and the combination of the health and checkpoint system is really unbalanced and unforgiving at times, to create something that’s hard without being very rewarding on anything above the easiest difficulty level.
It’s all about the timing and using the right stick to dodge enemies. Despite being billed as a game for kids, the overuse and requirement of using right stick to dodge is an odd choice, perhaps making the game too hard for younger children to grasp. Thankfully, the game’s co-operative mode alleviates some of these issues, making the second player a robotic, invincible clone of Knack.
There are lots of collectibles, hidden away in chests or the Knack’s Quest mobile companion app. These bring upgrades to Knack, allowing him to fight better, wear a different skin or gain more from collecting relics and collecting different parts of gadgets, though the order you’ll collect these in is quite random.
In terms of puzzles, there could’ve been room for much more here. The majority of the game has you fighting successive enemies, and when a level finally does give you a puzzle (about once or twice in the entire scope of things), it’s never really well done or fleshed out enough. It’s just so repetitive with the lack of variety in combat, despite that being the game’s main focus. There are some stealth sections, in which you tap triangle to change to a clear version of Knack and skip past laser alarm systems, but once again, these are fleeting and devoid of fun.
Knack completely outstays its welcome. The game is the metaphorical guy at the party who’s still drinking and dancing away to himself after you’ve woken up at 11AM, turning the music up and doing the same thing over and over. Perhaps all of this extra padding and time spent to create distinct environments in each are could have been spent creating more variety in the mechanics, leaving us wanting more from the game and even a sequel.
Knack’s most redeeming feature really is that growth mechanic – turning from a small two foot creature into one which dwarves buildings in real time is just amazing. You’ll go from fighting overgrown insects and small goblins to colossal golems and then you’ll eventually squish the golems like bugs too. It’s clearly the part of the game that Cerny put the most thought into, and the visuals on Knack at these sections look incredibly smooth.
If you’re here for the story, then don’t except anything fantastic. In with the passable voice acting – although a weird choice of voice for the titular hero – there isn’t much of a narrative to go on, but it’s there. It tries to tie in twists and villains to the tale, but they’re never really interesting enough to keep your attention and the sheer amount of cutscenes – some even just five seconds long – becomes quite tiring.
In terms of music design, it’s much more epic and modern but there are definite Crash Bandicoot vibes here. There’s even a couple of throwbacks to Crash, which are fine but really make you yearn for a new game in that series rather than what becomes a boring drudge through Knackland.
Knack is a game with some solid core mechanics which cry out for a bit more polish and a lot more variety in the gameplay. While changing size is truly amazing, it doesn’t bring enough in the table to make the lengthy game fun, and it becomes quite tired after the halfway mark.
There’s some great design here, but it’s joined by some poor choices and visuals. While children may have a blast, the difficulty and controls are a bit strange, as if they weren’t designed with them in mind but everything else was. It’s just utterly average and repetitive, despite there being an underlying potential for something superb.