When Sony‘s PlayStation 4 launched last Friday, gamers had a wealth of digital exclusives and third-party titles to choose from, but slim pickings on the first-party retail exclusives: Killzone: Shadow Fall or Knack. You probably should’ve picked Killzone.
That’s not to say Knack is bad — it’s just not going to set the world on fire. Knack is at its best charming and inoffensive, and at its worst mind-numbingly frustrating.
The game stars off simply enough: some nearby goblins (who have apparently been living in peace with humans until recently) attack a human city, the humans turn to a golem-like creature named Knack for help, and hours of platforming and pummeling in the style of Crash Bandicoot or Jak and Daxter ensue. Therein lies Knack‘s first problem: we’ve seen it all before. While the graphics and visual flare are definitely those of a “next-gen” game that at times even rival what Dreamworks or Pixar could throw together, the gameplay feels rooted in the days of the PS2.
From a tech perspective, Knack is certainly impressive. Your character can grow or shrink depending on circumstances like how many “relics” you pick up, how much damage you take, and so on, and the changes happen in real-time. As I mentioned, the backdrops and environments are gloriously beautiful, and you’ll find yourself just enjoying the scenery at times. Unfortunately looks aren’t everything, as the combat – while simplistic – can come back to bite you with occasionally sluggish controls and questionable hit boxes for some enemies.
One neat part of the game is the ability to share special items, used for building upgrades for Knack, with your PSN friends. It’s also crucial to do so, as it seems these items are generated randomly (at least as far as I can tell) and without your friends’ help you may not be able to complete more than one.
From a story perspective, other than a general feeling of “get the bad guy,” it lacks anything to really draw you in. Multiple times I flat-out forgot the names of any of the characters except for Knack himself. If I don’t care about my supporting cast, I’m not going to care about the game as much.
The worst offender, however, would be the game’s difficulty. This one is hard. Not Dark Souls hard, but more like “unfair and bad programming” hard. Not that I don’t like a good challenge or anything, but the inclusion of a life bar for Knack is a bit deceptive: most times you won’t be able to sustain more than two hits from any given enemy, and while the controls are responsive, at times they’re just sluggish enough to mean the difference between landing a successful attack and starting back over at the nearest checkpoint, which may or may not be pretty far away. Your attack range and reach also seems to vary at random times with no good reason. Many a controller has been thrown while playing this game.
I think my other big problem with Knack is that it’s just not memorable. This is the type of game you’ll pick up because of its charming looks and either quit out of frustration or trade in the second you beat it out of a feeling of “I’m never doing THAT again.” It’s a shame, because Knack‘s world has the potential to be engaging, and there are moments of greatness that make you see the potential this title has. Hopefully Sony will get it right with the second iteration, if there is one.