I initially came across a lot of Sony fans who were dismissive of Sony’s launch title Knack. In fact many of them purchased Knack in a bundle and traded it in without even playing it. I questioned why? Was it the cutesy look? Was it just not that appealing? Perhaps it was because Knack was an unknown entity? Even at launch certain new I.P’s are overlooked and whilst Sony may have a huge amount of sale figures stating Knack has sold well, we all know this is a little misleading. After all Nintendo claimed Wii Sports was the biggest selling game of all time, yet they never highlight that the game came free with the 100+ million Wii consoles that were shipped. So is Knack overlooked and misunderstood?
In the Knack universe, humans have harnessed the power of relics that have been buried deep in caves by an ancient race. The power of the relics has lead to an enhancement in technology. One of the main characters, Doctor Vargas, manages to create a gollum made up of relics, which he names ‘Knack.’ Knack becomes the unlikely hero who must defeat the orcs and goblins who are threatening the existence of mankind. In the past, Goblins only had bows and spears – but now fight mankind with a ton of technological advances. Who has been helping them build these weapons? With a secret vault and the bad guys racing to unlock the power within, I guess Knack and his companions will have to step up to the plate, solve the mystery and save the day.
Playstation 4 architect, Mark Cerny, is highly regarded in the gaming industry and his design and programming skills have graced games such as Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, California Games, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, God of War 3 and Killzone 3 to name a few. This time Mark Cerny was at the helm, so surely Knack is in good hands.
Well yes and no. Knack’s visual design, particularly the character design, is wonderfully distinctive. Very cartoon based and could easily be likened to a pixar movie like The Incredibles. Mark Cerny put a huge emphasis, at the unveiling of the PS4, that Knack would not have been possible on previous consoles. That the PS3 simply could not have coped with all of the individual parts, or in this case Relics, that construct our chief character Knack. Cerny suggests that the processors and other technical jargon allow for thousands of individual pieces to be manipulated at once. I will not deny that this is true. However, surely it is possible to have created something to a similar effect by blocking these pieces together and trick the player into thinking they’ve seen thousands of pieces move at once. You could argue, why do that, surely the PS4 is about progress? This once again is true.
Let me explain. Knack, to date, I think is one of the most wonderfully designed characters I have ever seen. When Knack absorbs relics he grows in mass. This effect is visually stunning and shows off Mark Cerny’s visual prowess, I love watching this happen. Yet, the emphasis clearly has been on the characters creation when the real focus should have been on game play.
Knack is simply…too simple. Crash Bandicoot was a wonderful game at the time, but it is not 1996 anymore. Jump and punch shouldn’t be the only two moves on a pad that boasts over a dozen buttons. Knack has largely one formula. Run into an area the door will close behind you, destroy the baddies and the door in front of you will open. Tad da – the end.
That is perhaps me being slightly overly critical. Knack does have some special moves, which he can unleash once he has filled his crystal meter. You can either smash the ground sending the waves of orcs flying, turn into a whirlwind of relics (which visually, once again, is stunning and great fun) or send out a surge of energy which hits multiple targets from range. It is the latter power I utilised the most, as this surge of energy has a way of dealing with trickier opponents, therefore rendering the other abilities redundant.
So what is good about Knack, other than the character design and plethora of colours on display? Well many criticised the story as it does have its plot holes and such, but the characters themselves are actually a charming bunch. There are moments that are reminiscent of, although perhaps not as enticing as, Ratchet & Clank. The humour and banter is nicely placed if, at times, a little rushed. Which is a shame because no one is in a rush to get to the repetitive gameplay.
Knack does have moments, mainly later in the game, where you are tested. There are various challenges our hero must over come in one of the ancient caves, I remember in particular a set of invisible mazes. Once you set off down a path of one of these mazes it would only become clear that it was a dead end once you reached the end of the path. A force field would appear, which only became visible once you approach it. Take a step back from the invisible maze and you will see a clear path through. Interesting, but not difficult enough. However, the game would have benefitted from more challenges like this.
Knack also has a host of bad guys all with unique attacks, which presents some difficult skirmishes in the game. I did actually die plenty of times by not anticipating what my enemy could do and with Knack often having a limited health bar (except when he becomes a gargantuan size) death became second nature. But even with certain difficult enemies with varying attacks, Knack can only respond by punching them or using a special ability. This imbalance is detrimental to the game. The potential for Knack’s abilities should be through the roof. Cerny’s character almost contradicts himself by doing so. Knack is made up of Relics, which he manipulates to grow bigger. Knack later discovers he can manipulate other items and incorporate them into his matrix. Ice, wood and glass offer new looks but very few offer new abilities, except for glass – which enables Knack to pass through laser beams undetected. Why can’t Knack extend his arms or become so small that he can enter an Orc who is manning a giant titan and bring him down from within? If enemies with unique attacks are countered with special attacks from Knack’s repertoire then the game would have been infinitely more interesting.
The true potential of Knack is never realised. The popular Lego games largely revolve around jump and punch but with a huge cast of characters, abilities and puzzles you never once feel that you are just repeating the same thing over and over. I loved the charm of Knack and the aesthetics but the game play is far too plain and repetitive. I want to love Knack like I do some of the great platformers, many of which Mark Cerny has worked on, but Knack has way too many short comings.
“But it’s a kids game” I hear you say “it’s supposed to be easy.” Normally I would agree with you and even if other games such as Lego, Sly Cooper and Spyro didn’t exist, Knack is actually rated PEGI 12 in the UK. I don’t know of many 12 year olds who would be that engaged in something like this. Not criticising PEGI for why this is a 12 (I’m sure they have their reasons) but if this was aimed at 3-7 year olds I could understand the simplicity.
The reception to Knack has been poor, much like Killzone: Shadow Fall and as far as I’m concerned both franchises are in trouble. Especially for those who have made the leap from Xbox to Playstation. What message does this send to a new audience? Knack is worth a play if you like your cutesy platformers, just don’t expect a classic. Knack may grow at an exponential rate in the game but the future scope for this new I.P is looking small. Here’s hoping Knack 2 has a change of fortune.