As highlighted in Blair’s recent review, Knack isn’t a particularly good game. Currently sitting at a Metacritic average of 55, it’s by far one of the lowest-rated titles on Sony’s next-gen system, though the launch exclusive hasn’t done too terribly in the sales department, grabbing 13th in this week’s charts.
In a nutshell, Knack is a shiny albeit pared down platformer. The game follows our titular hero and companions as they seek to break the human-goblin stalemate. What sets Knack apart is that he’s made completely from Relics. The bite-sized chunks of ancient civilisation are the world’s dominant power source, granting Knack improved size and strength as he collects them.
It’s a sound premise and no way near as daft as those which have propped up some of the biggest platforming franchises in gaming. This concept of adjustable character size and the juxtaposition of ancient treasure with modern tech opens the door for a myriad of possibilities in terms of both gameplay and narrative.
Disappointingly, Knack tries to play things safe, regurgitating the same platforming template that has been kicked about since the days of the original PlayStation. Sure, it looks great in some places but Knack’s combat, puzzles and navigation are basic. There’s just no depth to the gameplay experience whatsoever; any form of variety is simply a thin veil to that basic gameplay, whether that be new environmental hazards or enemies to tussle with.
It’s not as if the game is particularly easy either. Judging by the flow and feel of Knack, I was expecting to rip through levels in no time. However, enemies can (and will) dish out insane amounts of damage, even on Normal difficulty. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was room for experimentation, yet the only way to dispatch enemies is through a handful of melee attacks or using one of your Sunstone-powered abilities. Next to the basic gameplay, Knack’s beguiling difficulty spikes stand out even more, made only worse by the large gaps between checkpoints.
Having waded my way through to the sixth chapter, I wouldn’t feel bad retiring Knack to the game shelf or trading it in for one of the better launch titles out there. Where platformers like Jak & Daxter, God of War, and Ratchet & Clank feel unique and continually drive the player from one set piece to the next, Knack feels painfully drawn out, and more than overstays its welcome.
A part of me is convinced that Japan Studio will, at some point, go back to the drawing board and come up with a worthwhile sequel. What the game really needs is a succinct amount of depth where its three core tenets are concerned. Combat needs to involve more than two primary attacks and perhaps a combo system that isn’t hidden behind an unlockable bonus. Navigation and platforming could also do with an overhaul, and while I don’t have anything against linear action games, Knack seems like it could also work well in an open world environment, littered with challenges and puzzles players can unlock and revisit over time.
Truth be told, I didn’t have incredibly high hopes for Knack, even as it was touted as coming Mark Cerny, who has been involved with the creation of so many major platforming franchises. With that said, I knew it wouldn’t be a distinctly poor game either; I was expecting mediocrity and that’s exactly what I got. It’s just a shame that, alongside Killzone: Shadow Fall, Sony will have to wait until next year to find that truly must-have PS4 experience.