Knack: review

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For the last few generations, launch games for a new console generally aren’t very good. That’s just the way things are. Titles such as Resogun prove that there are still exceptions to this rule, but what of Knack – one of only two Sony-published retail titles for the PS4? Is it a cracker, or is it knackered?

It’s a story-heavy game, with plenty of cutscenes. The basic premise is that the goblins (yes, goblins) have somehow got their hands on armour, tanks, and all sorts of technological death-dealing malarkey. Desiring their houses to stay in one piece, the humans plan a counter-attack. This plan ends up relying on the invention of somebody only ever referred to as “Doctor”; the invention being of course Knack. A fairly brief tutorial disguised as a showcase for Knack’s abilities, and you’re off.

There are some interesting ideas at play here. Knack’s form is composed of a collection of ‘Relics’ – sort of natural batteries that are mined to power everything from vacuum cleaners to giant airships of doom. Each level has relics to be collected. They not only replenish Knack’s health but, if he absorbs enough of them, he gradually increases in size – which in turn increases the damage he deals and the length of his health bar. His default form is small and weak, punching as hard as a kitten while being twice as easy to squash. This means it’s distressingly easy to die in some fights, but it also serves to emphasise the sense of power when he increases in size.

David Cameron and George Osborne like to relax by hunting benefit claimants at Chequers.

The most enjoyable parts of the game are, by a mile, the sections where Knack is tens or hundreds of times larger than usual. There’s an undeniable sense of glee from towering over a group of enemies that could normally kill you in seconds, and smashing them into oblivion with just a few huge swipes. Little details while this size such as throwing cars at enemies and smashing through rocks are more than welcome. It must be said, however, that at least some of the pleasure these sequences provide stems from not having to engage in any one fight for very long.

99% of Knack is moving forward and punching things. That’s it. There are Super Moves powered up by a meter that slowly increases through collectibles, and you can dash for a split second with the right stick, but that’s as complex as this game gets. Bearing this in mind, it’s incredible just how simple and unambitious combat is. There aren’t even any combos; unless you count squaresquaresquaresquare as you hammer the one and only attack button. The only tactical thinking involved is to make sure you save your Super Moves for the most troublesome enemies – especially as the level of the gauge powering them persists through death. Enemies show no intelligence, merely shooting/rushing you at set intervals. As a result, success means either running in to hammer the square button before they start their attack, or running/jumping out of the way before quickly running in to, well, hammer the square button.

There are various gadgets to unlock to help you along your way, which can do things such as increase your defence or help locate secret rooms. Each gadget consists of a number of parts, collected individually in these hidden areas. Which part you find each time is decided randomly – which is where another nice idea comes in. If people on your friends list have been playing Knack, you can choose to swap the part the game’s chosen for you with something they’ve found in their game. Alternatively, you can unlock extra parts via the free smartphone match-three game (albeit still randomly) and instantly transfer them ready for collection. Nice touches, certainly, but not enough to make Knack any more interesting.

We’re not saying the art director likes the Shrek movies but, y’know…

The presentation certainly isn’t, either. The character design for humans may be hideously unappealing (like an Imaginext playset, though not with superhero action figures – accountant action figures), but it is at least child-friendly. It certainly wins points for being a bright and colourful world with a fair variety in environments, and everything’s sharper than you’d expect from the PS3 – but it’s nothing jaw-dropping. The biggest problem in terms of story is just how astonishingly seriously Knack takes itself. The script wasn’t very good to begin with; trying to establish tension and high drama involving people with noses almost as big as their feet was never going to work. Also, a woman’s giant lilac-coloured mech with high heels and a ponytail? Really?

The possible defence of “it’s a kid’s game” has never worked before, and it certainly won’t work here. First, it’s unclear if this is aimed directly at children. It’s extremely badly designed if so, as the syrupy combat will – even on Easy – lead to many a frustrating moment for younger players (there’s co-op play, but with just one DualShock 4 at the moment we were unable to test this). The same goes for the rare but slightly sloppy platforming sections. Nonetheless it’s not a terrible game, but nor is it a good one. It’s… tolerable.

Bottom line: Knack is a game with state-of-the-art graphics, but gameplay that’s at least ten years old. It does most of what it sets out to do competently but, when you’re being asked to lay down fifty quid for the privilege of playing, that’s just not good enough. It’s still possible in this day and age to make such a simple game greatly enjoyable, but there’s a knack to it. Not this Knack, though.

critical score 5

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value.

He doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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