Quick Look: Knack

Jeff samples Knack's punching and platforming but wonders if having "My Sharona" on loop is a step too far.

Drew Scanlon on Google+
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Giant Bomb Review


Knack Review

  • PS4

Knack is little more than a tedious slog.

With new console launches, there is a general understanding that a certain variety of game types must be available during those launch periods to try and rope in as many specific audiences as possible. For the PlayStation 4, Killzone: Shadow Fall would be your requisite war game, Need for Speed Rivals fits well enough into the car-shaped hole left by DriveClub's delay, and for families looking for a simple, colorful, generally cheerful experience to play with younger kids, there is Knack. This action-platformer from Sony's Japan Studio seems tailor-made to fit a particular audience's needs. And that's precisely what's wrong with Knack: it feels more like an obligation met out of necessity than a game anyone would actually want to play. That obligatory vibe permeates every aspect of Knack's design, from its coherent-yet-dreadfully-dull story, to its rote combat and platforming mechanics. Technologically speaking, there are areas where Knack certainly shows off some of the PlayStation 4's power, but at best, that makes it a competent tech demo, and not much of a game.

Meet Knack. Knack kind of sucks.

The titular Knack is a being comprised entirely of mysterious "relics." Relics are the game's shorthand for its especially nebulous brand of MacGuffin, an ancient power that exists in this strange world inhabited by both humans and goblins, who appear to be regularly at odds with one another. Relics serve as an all-purpose power source for both societies, and Knack is the construction of a magnanimous scientist who then strangely sets about having Knack kill anything that causes humanity problems. In this case, it's a combination of rebellious goblins, a blandly diabolical industrialist bent on world domination, and some other scattered mysterious forces that the game never invests much effort in explaining.

If I'm dismissive of Knack's attempts at storytelling or characterization, it's because they're terrible. The humans Knack is surrounded by--the decidedly Jonny Quest-like trio of a smart, if overly ambitious scientist, a hunky blonde adventurer, and a boy assistant who doesn't really do much except get into trouble and spout occasional morals to the story--are all bland archetypes that are as forgettable to look at as they are in personality. There are some troubling notions at the center of the story that make these characters particularly awful; namely their seemingly blithe attitude toward the long-persecuted goblin race's rebellion (it's never explained who, exactly, started this conflict in the first place), and total lack of regard for the destruction Knack causes when they send him off to kill stuff. But even with those elements disregarded, the bigger issue is that nobody in this game has enough personality to make them worth paying attention to. Every character is a weak caricature or stereotype hastily sketched into a script that appears only mildly interested in doing anything but setting up simple scenarios in which Knack may wreak some manner of havoc.

It doesn't help that Knack is the least-developed character of them all. All you'll remember about him is his incongruously thunderous voice, his deeply limited cache of bad one-liners, and his junk-art-sculpture-of-a-Muppet character design. Regarding that last bit, Knack's body consists of varying numbers of relics pulled together into a wireframe of a character. That size shrinks and grows as the game requires, leaving you a tiny, skittering creature in some cases, or a hulking, apocalyptically destructive monster in others, but none of his forms are very memorable. Knack is neither cute nor especially terrifying. He just sort of is. In fact, one of the strangest things about Knack is just how deeply self-conscious the game's developers seem to be when it comes to Knack's likability. The game frequently digs through the lost-and-found bin of computer animated movie cliches in some misguided attempt to present Knack as the cleverest, most likable video game hero, but the character himself has no identifiable personality. All he does is spout hoary pre-battle quips and generically heroic platitudes, while the human characters around him make all the actual (usually terrible) decisions. Even the closing credits reek of minor desperation, as they feature Knack in various forms dancing to The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now." It's so out-of-whack with what meager level of interest the game and character actually provide that it borders on tragic.

If anything, the closest analog I can draw for Knack is Poochie the Dog. He's the sort of personality that comes off as born of boardroom groupthink, a creature meant only to hit specific personality traits that test well with specific demographics for the sake of achieving appropriate levels of audience engagement and subsequent merchandising. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game itself feels just as coldly constructed as well, offering up a brutally dull, completely repetitive slog toward a metaphorical fireworks factory that never, ever arrives.

Knack's special armors and stealth abilities are briefly touched upon, then quickly forgotten.

You certainly can see the makings of something more interesting in the early goings, if nothing else. Though the tutorial level's awkward info-dump of backstory is obnoxious--the scene literally opens with the doctor starting an explanation with "As you all know..." before talking for several minutes about the things all the people in the room presumably already know--the initial introduction to Knack's mechanics and abilities gives you the impression the game might grow into something. You're presented with Knack's basic attacks, his ability to absorb additional relics to become larger, and his special attack meter which comes from cracking and absorbing the energy from special "sun stones." You play with these initial offerings, and think that maybe, just maybe, this might evolve into something creative and entertaining. That never happens.

Instead, Knack falls into a simplistic, yet oddly frustrating rhythm that it never bothers to try to break out of. Every level consists of the same basic combat scenarios over and over again, with Knack only able to use his same three-punch combo, his one jump attack, and his few sun stone attacks in constant repetition in clearing small area after small area of bad guys. At least your opponents have some variety to them in their attack patterns, but what little enjoyment one might wring from frequently studying new enemies is all but obliterated when you realize just how often you'll die in this game.

The challenge level on the default difficulty is surprisingly unforgiving. One or two hits is usually all it takes to kill Knack, and the game's checkpoint system is shockingly infrequent, often forcing you to redo multiple battles again and again as you try to get back to where it was that you died in the first place. Tuning the game down to easy alleviates this, but arguably too much, as by that point you're basically just running into a room, punching a bunch of goblins or robots or whatever, and then continuing to do that until you run out of game. What few jump puzzles and environmental traps there are don't offer much challenge to speak of, and the only other abilities Knack ever earns--namely ice and wood armors, and a crystalized "stealth" form--are used so sparingly that they scarcely register over the din of endless enemy smashing.

As an aside, you can also attempt to combat the game's difficulty somewhat by including another player, but the game is only partially retrofitted for cooperative play. A second "robo" Knack is playable on-screen, but the camera scarcely pays any attention to them. If they wander off-screen, it's up to the player to find their way back into primary Knack's camera view, which is obviously not quite ideal.

There's no denying that Knack's visuals are technically proficient, but they're also deeply lacking in personality.

The single, solitary argument one could make in Knack's favor is that of its visuals. Indeed, Knack certainly appears to take decent advantage of the PS4's increased horsepower. Most notably, Knack himself, with all his various pieces and doo-dads, is initially a nifty thing to look at. Elsewhere, enemies and environmental textures are super high-res, with only rare frame rate dips or other animation glitches popping up every now and again to distract you. But for all its technical prowess, Knack remains strangely dull to look at. As much as one might appreciate the sheer power on display, Knack's artistic direction is deeply lacking. Human and goblin models look recycled from some previously unseen direct-to-video animated trainwreck, while the world that surrounds Knack's adventure consists primarily of the same lava, ice, and industrial scenery so many also-ran platformers have already mined to death. Other than Knack himself, nothing about Knack's art design offers up one interesting, or even vaguely creative idea. It's all stuff you've seen before, except now in 1080p.

I suppose that's a succinct enough description for the entirety of Knack, really. Here is a game that dutifully balls up tired cliches and flat, unimaginative game design just for the sake of filling a presumed-to-be requisite slot in a launch lineup. It does the barest minimum necessary to craft a functional, if utterly flavorless morsel for families hungry for something to feed their shiny new PlayStation 4. Some might argue that, because it achieves this meager goal, Knack is good enough. It should be acceptable, given that it is largely devoid of bugs, blemishes, or other things that might otherwise taint what its developers have set out to create. I'd argue back that when the only thing you can really say in a game's favor is that it isn't functionally broken, then it's probably got far more deep-seated issues working against it. Knack is a bad game not because it doesn't work, but because the way it's intended to work is devoid of anything resembling personality, creativity, or even a basic level of excitement. It's a product in the most soulless sense of the word, and it's not deserving of you or your family's time.

Alex Navarro on Google+
237 Comments Refresh
Edited by AidanGS

I guess they just don't have the knack for making these kinds of games anymore.

Edited by GalacticPunt

"Meet Knack. Knack kind of sucks."

That's all you needed to say!

EDIT: Also...

Edited by Demoskinos


Posted by CrossTheAtlantic

@aidangs said:

I guess they just don't have the knack for these kinds of games anymore.

You forgot this:


( •_•)>⌐□-□


Edited by Milkman

Looks like Sony wasn't able to knack this one out of the park.

Posted by doomocrat

They should have used Lego instead, that's good for a star or two most places.

Posted by ripelivejam

muh muh muh muh mah sharonah

Edited by Hardtarget


Edited by SomeJerk

The review caption says everything I see in its gameplay, a dull tedious slog. It's just that I want to sink my teeth into it and see if I have it within me to master it, to possibly speed-run it. Hm :(

Knack is as soulless as Knack himself.

Posted by Coafi

Oh, Knack. Would it be appropriate to say Knack is wack?

Posted by schreiberty

Poor Mark Cerny

Posted by FuriousJodo

I love how evil he looks in the QL picture.

Posted by Atwa

I saw this from the very first trailer.

Knack has just horrible design, not appealing at all and seems to have been created solely because of the technology. Utterly soulless.

Posted by Eselhut

I am very happy about these knack puns

Posted by theodacourt

First 2-star game of the new generation reviewed by Alex! How new consoles change things!

Posted by Arrested_Developer

I'm into world 3 and I already feel like nothing interesting is going to happen for the rest of the game.

Posted by RonGalaxy

Poor Mark Cerny

his facial expression adjusted 5mm downward to give off the appearance of emotion

Posted by sarahnizzle

Came for the Poochie reference, stayed for the 2 stars.

I haven't popped Knack in the PS4 yet, but judging from the mixed-to-bad reviews and several positive anecdotal praises, it's one of those games that really warrants someone to play personally... but maybe at a discount or wait until it (inevitably) hits PS+.

Posted by Astrophyle

After reading this, it seems like Alex was generous in giving it 2 of 5 stars. Too bad there isn't more to the game.

Posted by AMyggen

I'm not a fan of people defending this game as "it's a kids game!" (look at one of the submissions on Jeff's Tumblr as an example), as if that should excuse repetitive gameplay. Some of the greatest games of all time are "kids games", like Mario games, and using that as an excuse seriously underestimates children.

Anyways, I'm a big fan of the games Knack draws inspiration from (some of those made by Cerny himself), but this looks so uninspired. No real puzzles, no real platforming and very shallow combat...yeah.

Edited by Swiket

When asked about the possibility of a sequel, Sony released this press release:

Note: Knack died on the way back to his home planet.

Edited by MAJID

I love when Alex reviews bad games.

Edited by Seikenfreak

Eh I thought it was alright.

If what you see in the gameplay videos interests you then check it out.

Keep in mind though that what you see in the gameplay videos is all the game really is though.

Standard thinly featured launch title.

Posted by HeyGuys

Knack kind of seems depressing to play through.

Edited by davidwitten22

So I'm starting to get the impression that Knack isn't really that great

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

I give your Poochie reference 5 stars Alex. Well played.

Bummer this game didn't turn out, does seem weird how little character they gave to a character based action game. Ah well, launch games and all that.

Edited by Brendan

Too bad, I was hoping the difficulty level would force a more careful/thoughtful gameplay style than your typical frictionless action game these days requires.

Posted by lizzard2

Came for the Poochie reference, stayed for the 2 stars.

I haven't popped Knack in the PS4 yet, but judging from the mixed-to-bad reviews and several positive anecdotal praises, it's one of those games that really warrants someone to play personally... but maybe at a discount or wait until it (inevitably) hits PS+.

I think ps+ games must have a meta score of 75 or more ,but maby sony will break their own rules :P

Posted by ProfessorEss

Ratchet and Clank without guns.

Why would someone...

Posted by Draxyle

Really bummed about this one. None of the known quantities on either platform are of franchises I cared about, so I was kinda holding out on this being a secret system seller.

The fact that it actually seems polished and bug-free almost makes it worse. They had enough time to make a game, but some bad design choices kept it from being worth playing.

Posted by Chrystolis


Posted by Hunter5024

I was really pumped for this game when it was first announced. I love platformers and I thought it was kind of cool that they were bringing back a family friendly sorta vibe. The fact that the platforming itself ended up being basically non existent and Knack is devoid of charm is really the worst I could have hoped for in this game. I hope they take another shot at the idea some day, though it doesn't seem like there's enough going on here to make Knack 2 a worthwhile endeavor.

Posted by ripelivejam

i think it's great that the most positivity even knack's defenders can muster is, "ehhh, it's alright..."

Posted by MildMolasses

@lizzard2 said:

@sarahnizzle said:

Came for the Poochie reference, stayed for the 2 stars.

I haven't popped Knack in the PS4 yet, but judging from the mixed-to-bad reviews and several positive anecdotal praises, it's one of those games that really warrants someone to play personally... but maybe at a discount or wait until it (inevitably) hits PS+.

I think ps+ games must have a meta score of 75 or more ,but maby sony will break their own rules :P

For real? Either way, at some point they are going to need to throw up full games and first party things will go sooner than anything else

Edited by 24thDoor

At least they have a new character for their PlayStation All-Stars sequel!

Oh... wait.

Posted by DonChipotle

Can people stop putting "How You Like Me Now" in things? Somehow that is the worst part of this game to me. Nothing against the band, but fuck that song. Seriously.

Posted by UltimAXE

I was stunned to learn that Knack's moveset never expands beyond punch punch punch, dive bomb, and three-flavored smart bomb. How little did all of those involved have to care to allow this game out the door like that?

Posted by GunsAreDrawn

I can imagine how this game got started "we have this tech demo so let's turn it into a game". Except the tech side doesn't even work because enemies fade out on death.

Posted by LoMo

I don't understand why this game was made. What role does it fill in the launch line-up? In the Quick Look it didn't look bad, but nothing about it stood out other than it apparently being rather difficult.

Posted by Gaff

So how you like me now?

Does that make you love me baby?

Does that make you want me baby?

Does that make you love me baby?

Does that make you want me baby?

Alex's review made me look up the video. And the lyrics seems oddly fitting of Knack.

Edited by Stahlin

Agreed about the story & characters, absolutely disagreed about the gameplay. Best launch game, worst character, lol.

Posted by Nasar7

You've sullied Jonny Quest by mentioning it in this Knack review.

Edited by Springfart

oooh, including quick looks with the reviews is a neat idea

Posted by Bill_Rizer

Knack is the reason YOU bought a PS4!


Edited by Shortbreadtom

I give Knack's voice one star. Frankly, a silent protagonist would have been better than this tiny, James Earl Jones sounding motherfucker.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

Looks like the Giant Bomb community has a knack for puns.

Anyways, Alex is right. I've played several hours of the game and it just comes off as aggressively mediocre. It looks pretty, but that's about it.

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

I understand the complaints, but having said that, enjoyed the game quite a bit playing on hard in coop mode. It's challenging, frustrating at times, the Dark Souls of quasi-platformers.

Got it as one of my B2G1 Free games from Amazon, so it ended up only being a $40 buy for me alongside Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Killzone, don't feel like I was ripped off on it, got a little over 13 hours out of it on the first playthrough, and will likely hit it up again at some point in the future to try and shoot for a Platinum.

Posted by Fredchuckdave

Dully Knack Souls

Edited by holybins

@brendan said:

Too bad, I was hoping the difficulty level would force a more careful/thoughtful gameplay style than your typical frictionless action game these days requires.

Well...it does. Even on normal you can't just run in punching and jumping around, you have to be patient with enemy patterns, attack when enemies are open, be thoughtful as to what other enemies are around, etc. True, the game isn't the greatest (as many have said, it's a bit too long and repetitive), but the combat definitely requires some finesse.