Quick Look: Knack

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

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Knack Review

2
  • 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+
247 Comments
Posted by cooljammer00

The end credits "have our protagonist dance to a played out song" thing sounds the most egregious, like Dreamworks got their hands on this thing.

Edited by Curufinwe

Game Informer somehow gave this 8.25/10.

Posted by JDillinger

I.. I actually kinda like Knack. I'm almost finished with the game (playing on hard) and besides a few technical hiccups (framerate) and some of the checkpoint designs; I think it's a fun little action platformer. Not incredibly deep or anything but something certainly not worthy of derision.

Posted by lisap223

I personally do not find this game bad at all, I think the negative reviews are just opinions of that particular reviewer and also the fact they wanted something new and revolutionary. For those slamming the game because of simple mechanics I guess Batman sucks because the battle mechanic is pretty much just as simple with the exception of the multiplier. Mario games simple run jump shoot fire or ice simple yet still amazingly fun. I think Knack is a 3.5 out of 5, it is a fun game to play with the kits or your significant other if they are not a gamer by nature. I think Knack is just what the developer said it was a good entry for those that are not necessarily hard core gamers. Sometimes we have to remember that not everyone buying a PS4 has been a gamer for the last 2-3 console cycles.

Edited by Yummylee

It's too bad they couldn't have instead developed Puppeteer around the PS4 launch lineup instead. Man, that game is fucking beautiful on the PS3, let alone how it would have presumably looked on the PS4. Plus, the game part--while rather simple--I found to still be pretty fun, especially the boss battles, which puts stuff like God of War a run for its money over bombastic set-pieces!

Posted by fisk0

@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

I think both Amy (metascore 33) and Hydrophobia Prophecy (70) have been free titles on PS+, at least in Europe. There are usually 2-3 free titles every month though, and if that is indeed a rule it maybe only applies to the flagship title of the month or something?

Posted by Alex

@lisap223 said:

I think the negative reviews are just opinions of that particular reviewer

Holy shit. You cracked the code.

Staff
Posted by stunik101

wow.. sock it to em Alex

Great review.. I definitely wont be getting Knack !

Posted by Posharoo

I've been playing through this game with my wife in co-op mode. We have played a level a day or so since I grabbed my PS4. She enjoys it, and I enjoy it more because she plays along with me. I think the game benefits from being played in shorter spurts. Perhaps by the end of Knack I will be sick of its simple mechanics, but it stands now I think it is a completely solid purchase. I'm not saying Alex's review is invalid, I'm just throwing in my own opinion for those who may still be interested in the game.

Posted by divergence

Alex has a knack for reviewing bad games. Tired of the puns yet?

Edited by MarkWahlberg

You know, for a medium usually dismissed as being 'for kids', it doesn't seem like there are that many good games that are actually for kids.

Posted by davo

Heh, good review. I think Knack was always going to be a tech demo when your main character is nothing more than a showcase for physics and polygon count.

Edited by Vuud

Ouch. Alex better watch his back. I hear Mark Cerny is on his way to slap his shit.

@alex you must be downright KNACKered after writing such a long review!

Edited by bunnymud

Alex is wrong. This game is a solid 3 stars.

Posted by IAmNotBatman

The gameplay seemed similar, yet worse than Crash of the Titans, an incredibly average game from six years ago.

Posted by oldenglishC

Using the proper "How You Like Me Now" would have earned this game at least one more star.

Posted by Death_Burnout

@schreiberty said:

Poor Mark Cerny

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

I wonder who Mark Cerny is gonna shank at Sony as a result of these reviews.

Posted by LibrorumProhibitorum

Greatness Awaits

Posted by CheckPointD

I can't speak for everyone else's experience with the game but I can speak to the experience my kids and I have had. We have loved playing Knack together. My 5 year old son loves it and has played through half of the game on easy by himself. And by that metric it makes it a good game to me.

Posted by holybins

@posharoo said:

I think the game benefits from being played in shorter spurts. Perhaps by the end of Knack I will be sick of its simple mechanics, but it stands now I think it is a completely solid purchase. I'm not saying Alex's review is invalid, I'm just throwing in my own opinion for those who may still be interested in the game.

This. I agree that if I played in 4-5 hour spurts, the combat (and entire game) would be far less enjoyable. Coming back for shorter play sessions, especially if you're stuck on a particular encounter, keeps the game feeling a little more fresh and rewarding.

Posted by AMyggen

@markwahlberg: Nintendo is still where it's at for good kids games.

Posted by hughesie27

Predicted he'd give it 2 stars during the quicklook. Alex loves a shit game!

Edited by automatontribe
Edited by Sveppi

I'm looking at this as the free game that I got due to the Amazon B2G1, for free there has to be some enjoyment.

Edited by dOm_CaTz

Edited by Fushichou187

Knack Souls might not be worth of a 9 or 10, but a 7? Definitely. 2/5 stars? lol That's almost as absurd as Joystiq & Polygon's asinine reviews.

- Sorry if the difficulty and infrequent checkpoints bum you out. Learn to play video games better. Did you hate Dark Souls as well? How about Vanquish? jeezus.

- Knack's repertoire of moves might be deceptively simplistic (protip: gather some gadget/crystal collectibles for christ's sake for more varied gameplay) but do you level the same criticism at shooters where you are literally repeating the. same. action (aim -> shoot) throughout the entire game?

- The dialogue in this game is ridiculous and dumb. I'll certainly give you that.

- I'm glad you at least acknowledged the wealth of enemy variety and their attacks. Knack is less about amassing a huge move list and more about analyzing each enemy's unique attack style and countering it lest you get owned (because, yeah, the difficulty is hard).

- Anybody with a PS4 and on the fence about this game. Wait for sale if you must (I doubt it'll come to PS+ now with that metacritic drubbing its gotten) but definitely pick it up if you enjoy straight-up hard games that reward you for mastery.

Posted by thatdutchguy

Oops,Glad i won't be getting a console at lauch now,it seems like most of the launch games are shit.

Posted by Kidavenger

I'm only about 1/3 the way through the game and I'm enjoying it so far.

As far as Knack being fragile/the game being overly difficult, you could say the same thing about the early super mario games, once you figure things out, it's fairly satisfying to blaze through stuff that gave you problems before.

The only thing I really don't like about the game is Knack himself, not a very good character, everytime he speaks it's really jarring and when he is big Knack, he just looks like a big blob.

The biggest surprise to me was all the collectibles and how they seem like they will open up alternate paths and ways to play in subsequent playthroughs.

Online
Posted by LarryDavis

Mark Cerny Suicide Watch 2013

Edited by shodan2020

Poochy Ain't Stupid and at least he was in a much better game.

Posted by Demoskinos

Anyone in the comments here comparing Knack to Dark Souls in any way just needs to be banned from having opinions.

Posted by patrick5152003
Posted by Bill_Rizer

- Sorry if the difficulty and infrequent checkpoints bum you out. Learn to play video games better.

Brace yourselves! SonyGAF has arrived!!!

Posted by Pie

Knack Souls might not be worth of a 9 or 10, but a 7? Definitely. 2/5 stars? lol That's almost as absurd as Joystiq & Polygon's asinine reviews.

- Sorry if the difficulty and infrequent checkpoints bum you out. Learn to play video games better. Did you hate Dark Souls as well? How about Vanquish? jeezus.

- Knack's repertoire of moves might be deceptively simplistic (protip: gather some gadget/crystal collectibles for christ's sake for more varied gameplay) but do you level the same criticism at shooters where you are literally repeating the. same. action (aim -> shoot) throughout the entire game?

- The dialogue in this game is ridiculous and dumb. I'll certainly give you that.

- I'm glad you at least acknowledged the wealth of enemy variety and their attacks. Knack is less about amassing a huge move list and more about analyzing each enemy's unique attack style and countering it lest you get owned (because, yeah, the difficulty is hard).

- Anybody with a PS4 and on the fence about this game. Wait for sale if you must (I doubt it'll come to PS+ now with that metacritic drubbing its gotten) but definitely pick it up if you enjoy straight-up hard games that reward you for mastery.

Alex talkin mess about you on twitter

Posted by UberExplodey

"Knack Souls" is a dumb fucking name.

Posted by bkbroiler

@cooljammer00 said:

The end credits "have our protagonist dance to a played out song" thing sounds the most egregious, like Dreamworks got their hands on this thing.

And they chose the most overplayed song of the last few years to do it. I think that speaks volumes as well.

This was a fucking fantastic read. I'm glad Alex plays these boring games, because I get a lot of entertainment reading the reviews at the end.

Posted by OmegaX

I've enjoyed the 2-3 hours I've played so far. Reviews aren't everything folks. If it looks interesting to you give it a go.

Posted by mintyice

Hey @alex, never read the comments to anything ever, please. There's nothing useful to be gained here.

Edited by AV_Gamer

I found myself feeling sad for Knack when during the PS4 launch stream, the cast didn't even play Knack at all (which is PS4's second major exclusive). And when they played Lego: Marvel, the first level looked more entertaining than everything that was shown about Knack during the whole hour long QL they did of the game prior to the console launch stream. Lego: Marvel even put Knack to shame when to came to Knack's multiple relic gimmick by showing how many Lego pieces the game could produce on screen.

It's pretty clear that when it comes to better launch titles, the Xbox One won the opening round.

Edited by nomtank

Knack Souls might not be worth of a 9 or 10, but a 7? Definitely. 2/5 stars? lol That's almost as absurd as Joystiq & Polygon's asinine reviews.

- Sorry if the difficulty and infrequent checkpoints bum you out. Learn to play video games better. Did you hate Dark Souls as well? How about Vanquish? jeezus.

- Knack's repertoire of moves might be deceptively simplistic (protip: gather some gadget/crystal collectibles for christ's sake for more varied gameplay) but do you level the same criticism at shooters where you are literally repeating the. same. action (aim -> shoot) throughout the entire game?

- The dialogue in this game is ridiculous and dumb. I'll certainly give you that.

- I'm glad you at least acknowledged the wealth of enemy variety and their attacks. Knack is less about amassing a huge move list and more about analyzing each enemy's unique attack style and countering it lest you get owned (because, yeah, the difficulty is hard).

- Anybody with a PS4 and on the fence about this game. Wait for sale if you must (I doubt it'll come to PS+ now with that metacritic drubbing its gotten) but definitely pick it up if you enjoy straight-up hard games that reward you for mastery.

Posted by forkboy

Knack Souls might not be worth of a 9 or 10, but a 7? Definitely. 2/5 stars? lol That's almost as absurd as Joystiq & Polygon's asinine reviews.

- Sorry if the difficulty and infrequent checkpoints bum you out. Learn to play video games better. Did you hate Dark Souls as well? How about Vanquish? jeezus.

- Knack's repertoire of moves might be deceptively simplistic (protip: gather some gadget/crystal collectibles for christ's sake for more varied gameplay) but do you level the same criticism at shooters where you are literally repeating the. same. action (aim -> shoot) throughout the entire game?

- The dialogue in this game is ridiculous and dumb. I'll certainly give you that.

- I'm glad you at least acknowledged the wealth of enemy variety and their attacks. Knack is less about amassing a huge move list and more about analyzing each enemy's unique attack style and countering it lest you get owned (because, yeah, the difficulty is hard).

- Anybody with a PS4 and on the fence about this game. Wait for sale if you must (I doubt it'll come to PS+ now with that metacritic drubbing its gotten) but definitely pick it up if you enjoy straight-up hard games that reward you for mastery.

This is funny. You have amused me, so thanks for being so dumb.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I actually had to look up Poochie the Dog and now I feel decidedly younger than I have in a long time. Also I should probably get my hands on more early seasons of The Simpsons.

Knack? Ok. sure. I'll accept that this game is bad.

Online
Posted by Zaxex

@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

Nope. I've definitely played at least one below that. Somewhere in the 60s I think.

Edited by DorkyMohr

@fushichou187: I think the Dark Souls comparison isn't really apt if it doesn't have a penalty for death that's more meaningful than just having to replay the same section over again. Knack may be a more difficult game than most platformers but it sounds like it doesn't press the same buttons as something like a Dark Souls.

But kudos for drawing the ire of Alex's twitter account.

Posted by Abendlaender

"Knack Souls" is a dumb fucking name.

Can't wait for Load Our Knack Souls though

Posted by Tikicobra

So why did this get 2 stars? Your review did nothing but tear it apart.

For the record, I think this game is enjoyable.

Edited by MasterRain

The comparison to Dark Souls doesn't seem too far fetched. You are very fragile, and to beat enemy's multiple attack animations you have to learn them so you can dodge / cheese them. That is Dark Souls. At no point is anyone equating their quality, obviously Knack sucks, but their gameplay premise is at least similar.

Posted by Ozzer

Yikes.

Posted by csl316

I like reading Alex's reviews. But that didn't stop this one from bumming me out.