Knack (PS4) Review
Kalvin Martinez / Nov 22nd, 2013 No Comments
Knack is an action-platformer for the PlayStation 4. Mark Cerny and SCE Japan Studio developed the title with Sony publishing it. Knack comprised one of two Sony exclusives at the PlayStation 4 launch, while being the only original “E for Everyone” title and new Sony IP available at launch. In the tradition of earlier PlayStation games that aimed at a broader demographic, Knack benefits from simple yet effective gameplay that can, at times, provide a challenge. While not perfect, Knack offers some interesting ideas, fun gameplay, and a wholly likable protagonist.
Goblins are attacking human cities with tanks, airships and high-tech weaponry. This aggression cannot stand. In response, a council gathers to discuss how to react to these goblin attacks. During the council, a team made up of a billionaire industrialist (Viktor), a renowned adventurer (Ryder) and a brilliant doctor (The Doctor), his lab assistant (Lucas) and creation, all volunteer to destroy the goblin army and find the source of their weaponry. The team travels through forests, caves, beautiful cityscapes, ancient ruins, fortresses and goblin cities as they track the source of the goblin weapons, who made them, and who is leading the attacks on human cities. Along the way, deeper complications arise such as The Doctor’s issues with losing the love of his life, Lucas dealing with his resentment of The Doctor’s methods, and the lives his recklessness costed and Viktor’s true motives. As Knack and his companions get closer to solving one mystery, another arises to complicate things and raise the stakes of their mission.
Knack’s story is effective enough by introducing a large cast of characters and its main protagonist. The issues it suffers from is in how it manages its multiple story lines. In Knack, these stories have an odd pacing and weird introductions. Those that potentially held depth were resolved too easily. As the story juggles its two major story lines of Viktor’s true motives and the goblin attacks, neither can quite develop into something cohesive. The goblin plot wraps up easily with Knack destroying everything. While that plot line tries to hint at Knack’s character development or larger social issues (which the story introduces), it never quite delivers on these developments, making them feel out of place. Viktor’s plot line simply lacks motivation in his wroth hatred for Knack, while the motivation for his scheme never congeals outside of him being evil. There are some truly interesting plot ideas in Knack’s story, but those never develop. What the story and writing does effectively is introduce a likable and charming protagonist in Knack.
Knack’s gameplay features a mix of action and platforming with a dash of adventuring. The combat is relatively simple. Knack can attack enemies with a series of strikes depending on the enemy type and his current stature. The bigger he is the less it takes for him to take out enemies and the smaller he is the more damage he must deal out. Augmenting these basic strikes are an evasive dodge and three super moves. The dodge is responsive and helps to manage larger groups of enemies, but at times gets a bit sluggish when needing to dodge multiple strikes and projectiles. Knack’s super moves include a projectile that targets 3 distant enemies, a tornado that damages enemies and acts as a buffer, and a explosive wave that damages any enemy in its radius. These super moves are effective in a pinch or when dealing with huge groups of enemies. However, since sunstone energy refills relatively slowly, it is best to save these moves for tough situations. The platforming elements are standard fare. Nothing is too challenging and Knack’s jump and double jump are highly responsive so there is very little issue with clearing the various platforming sections. The combat and platforming in the game is fun and creates a solid gameplay base.
At various points in the game, Knack incorporates something other than relics into his structure like crystals, ice, wood and metal. Generally these do not do much more than help him get big and make him more effective at combat (ice, wood and metal). Occasionally those elements come into play like burning wood to reveal secret doors or using metal to open up a locked pathway. Yet the game never plays with the concept enough or the idea of Knack’s relative size having larger gameplay concerns outside of combat prowess. The one time size does come into play is with the Stealth Knack form (crystals). When Knack has his stealth mode option, at any time, he can switch between whatever size he is and a tiny crystal Knack that can sneak past lasers and crawl through small spaces to open doors. The game misses a huge gameplay opportunity to play with level design and Knack’s size to create more puzzles and platforming challenges or to change up combat a bit by giving the various elements some sort of combat perk.
Graphics and Sound
Knack is a pretty game. It benefits hugely from all of Sony’s PlayStation 4 tech to create its living CGI world. Many games in the past have done the living cartoon idea by channeling the classic animation approach through cel-shading. Knack takes that idea, but focuses it on the current trend of CGI cartoons. The art style feels like it is out of a DreamWorks movie, while the characters have an expressiveness and heart that invokes the spirit of a Pixar film. The environments are vibrant with lush vegetation in forests and an arid feel in caves or mountainous areas. The issue with the environments as good as they look is that after seeing a forest, cave or city reoccur several times; the beauty loses its appeal. Sure, they throw new elements into the mix as they revisit similar environments, but it all has a “been there, done that” vibe. There is an amazing environment that they only visit once, but it is the most visually interesting location experienced in the game. The ancient ruin area in the game plays with perspective, camera angles and level design in an impressive way. Also for as great a character as Knack is or how expressive the characters around him are, Knack himself lacks a range of expressions that allow the audience to connect with him. The heavy lifting of making that character comes in the great vocal performance from Knack’s voice actor. That is to say that the voice acting overall all is good with a few dips in performance quality here and there, but voice cast generally gives a solid performance.
Knack is a solid game and a good launch title. For its flaws, it tries to forge an original path and that is commendable. It hints at some good ideas, but does not necessarily capitalize or deliver fully on those ideas as well as it could have. However, Knack is an amazing character, he bristles with personality and charm. Hopefully, Sony gets behind Knack like they did with Gravity Rush. That way gamers can get a more cohesive iteration on it later in the PS4 cycle when Cerny and the team behind the game can execute more on some of the game’s good ideas. Knack is reminiscent of Jak and Daxter for the PlayStation 2 in that it can provide a great framework and universe for future games and get real crazy.
tags: knack , Mark Cerny , playstation 4 , ps4 , review , SCE Japan Studio , sony