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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Giant Bomb Review

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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
Edited by McGhee

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.

Knack Souls? You can't be serious.

Posted by lisap223

@alex: Hopefully you got what I was trying to say, that reviews are nothing more than one persons opinion and should not be taken as gospel. In my house we are having fun with Knack and think it deserves more respect than it is getting. It is definitely a game that can be enjoyed.

Posted by mrfluke

yo this is his opinion, 2/5? i disagree

i think this game is a 3/5

Posted by Anwar

'Somebody doesn't agree with my review, oh no, better tweet about it'

So what's wrong with giving it a low score and what's wrong about liking Knack? Nothing.

Posted by EarlessShrimp

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

Nothing interesting really does happen. I finished it yesterday and started another play through. I've said it a couple of times but it's a very dull game. I just can't stop playing it for some reason.

Posted by hinderk

Great review Alex.

I personally like what I've played so far, though I do have some questionable taste in games(resistance 2 is one of my favorite fps).

Edited by Alex

@anwar: If my issue were simply that people disagreed with me and not the actual (ridiculous) content of his comment, I would have tweeted about far more comments here. That was not the case.

Staff
Posted by lisap223

I would be curious to know if Alex has played Wonderful 101 and what he thought of that game. That is a game that got little to no love and mediocre scores but in my book is a solid 4.75 STARS.

Posted by RenMcKormack

@mintyice: yea but why cant we hash out opinions here on the site? I don't think the guy like attacked Alex, he just presented views that we can agree or disagree with. People shouldn't be assholes, but lets not run away from any disagreement or equate disagreements with actually bad and unnecessary personal like trolling or whatever.

Edited by freakin9

From what little I played of the game it's lacking a lot of touches that would make it a bit more enjoyable. Lack of interactivity with the environment is the most glaring one. Ultimately the lifelessness of the world ends up making the game feel like something that was a bit rushed, or half assed.

If this was one of Nintendo's core franchises it would've been painstakingly tweaked till it hit that right fun, and variety, mixture.

Posted by Alex

@lisap223: Yes, I understood what you were getting at. People often use the "reviews are just opinions!" statement as some kind of weird rallying cry, so forgive me if I was sarcastic in my response. I don't expect people to just adhere to my views as any sort of gospel. I hated Knack. I expect many will disagree with me. By all means do so. I simply would not recommend Knack to anyone, but if you are finding enjoyment in it, then I'm happy to hear it.

I have not played Wonderful 101 outside of press events, but to be honest, I did not much enjoy what little I played.

Staff
Posted by Fushichou187

The Wolf expressing distress on Twitter about my opinion? Pfft. Whatever. I'd still buy the man a boilermaker next time he finds himself in SF just as I still stand by my opinion that Knack is underrated and requires a lot more time and effort to fully appreciate.

"Knack Souls" is a dumb fucking name.

Okay then, uberexplodey.

To be fair, "Knack" is a dumb name in its own right but the comparison still stands. Fighting enemies is about animation priority, memorizing patterns of attack, and juggling those things when confronted by multiple enemy types.

Edited by Alex

@fushichou187: I'm going to need several boilermakers after this one, man.

Staff
Edited by MarkWahlberg

@amyggen: Yeah, it's just kind of depressing that they're the only ones even bothering these days.

Edited by RecSpec

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.

I give this comment a resounding Kotaku YES. (I don't agree with it, but it's worth reading)

Edited by lisap223

@alex: I did not take it personal, and I respect your opinions. Yes different people like different things, If I was reviewing Knack as a game I would buy and play just for myself I would probably lower my score, but as some family fun and a game that has simple mechanics for a child or non gamer like my wife it is a good game and worth the purchase. You really should give Wonderful 101 a try if you have time. You have to invest time in that game as the subtle nuances of the controls take time, the game can be brutal at times but in an enjoyable way that makes you want to keep playing. BTW I am a guy Lisa is my wife not that anyone cares:)

PS. Keep up the good work love your Bombing in the AM's with Patrick

Posted by Fushichou187

@alex said:

@fushichou187: I'm going to need several boilermakers after this one, man.

I live in the TL. Several boilermakers from any of our fine establishments will run you approximately... $3. Maybe $4 now. THANKS OBAMA.

Posted by AMyggen

@markwahlberg: Yeah. I really liked Shu Yoshida's comment about hoping that Nintendo succeeds, because they're introducing kids to gaming in a way neither Sony nor MS has been able to. I believe he actually means it, and I totally see his reasoning.

As I said, it pisses me off when I see people excusing repetitive gameplay because "it's a game for kids", when Nintendo has made fantastic kids games for decades whch can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Edited by JDP83

ARGH! I'm so disappointed this didn't turn out to be more like some sort of cross between the gameplay of God of War and Katamari Damacy.

Imagine the very responsive combo-riddled combat style of God of War but mixed with mechanics where when you caused destruction, pieces of the world/enemies became a part of you, increasing your mass, attack power, and health but slowed you down. In addition, having certain percentages of your overall mass be made from flammable parts, or frozen parts, or metal, or whatever would cause Knack's overall form to shift to that, and take on properties of that material. At any point, you could use the materials to perform super attacks, but you'd lose that mass (but like Sonic the Hedgehog ring-loss style, in which you could go reclaim SOME of the lost mass after doing the attack.)

You could even bring in other little touches that Katamari devs knew would help illustrate changes in scale like how certain giant enemies only begin to appear/react to you once you gain enough mass. Remember how the mice would chase you when you were smallest in Katamari, but would eventually flee in terror once you grew large enough? Now imagine when you're big Knack, the small enemies flee from you, and new larger enemies show up, like the tanks and giant robots.

Instead, it's "hit this predetermined block to get stuff to make you big... aaand only get powers like 2x, and also you die in like 2 hits."

The major tragedy here is now this concept will go on to be wasted potential. No sequels that maybe could have addressed issues, or improved the core design/mechanics will ever be green-lit, because the big wigs will simply reply with "No. We aren't going to make that because no one liked Knack."

Edited by YukoAsho

You know, when the inevitable PS4 God of War comes out and gets near-universal praise for it's combat system, I'm going to bring this review up, ESPECIALLY if Alex ends up writing the God of War puff-piece for this site.

Posted by SuperSambo

@yukoasho said:

You know, when the inevitable PS4 God of War comes out and gets near-universal praise for it's combat system, I'm going to bring this review up, ESPECIALLY if Alex ends up writing the God of War puff-piece for this site.

You must lead an interesting life.

Posted by Moncole

There are people defending this game.

Edited by sissylion

Boy, "dully tedious slog" sure is a dully tedious slog of a byline.

Edited by Fram

Don't compare this to Dark Souls just because it's hard and you die a bunch. To do so is to be entirely ignorant of everything that makes Dark Souls great. Hell, Superman 64 must be as good as Dark Souls if that's your criteria. SOLVE MY MAZE.

Posted by Marokai

Seriously, people are cheapening how great Dark Souls really is by comparing it to literally every game with a high difficulty.

Edited by StingingVelvet

I'm enjoying it. I certainly wouldn't play it straight through in a couple days, which I think harms the reviewer's impressions. I've done one complete level a day since launch and enjoyed playing it each time. The combat is very fun because you have to focus on what the enemies are doing at all times and time your attacks... very engaging for me.

The story and visual design issues are well stated however. I'd give it a three out of five overall.

Posted by ghostNPC

@alex Fantastic review dude. Thanks for slogging through the game to give us the review. :) Keep at it.

Posted by Deusoma

This is a perfectly good review that gives me a clearer understanding of this game, but given that I've never heard of Knack before I saw the review pop up on Giant Bomb's Twitter feed, it just underlines the confusion I've been feeling for weeks as to why the Bomb Squad would choose to review forgettable fluff like this while opting not to review Batman: Arkham Origins or Assassin's Creed IV, two of the most highly-anticipated games of the year. :P

Posted by xbob42

@yukoasho said:

You know, when the inevitable PS4 God of War comes out and gets near-universal praise for it's combat system, I'm going to bring this review up, ESPECIALLY if Alex ends up writing the God of War puff-piece for this site.

Are you a desperate 12 year old? Get the fuck over yourself and your lifestyle choice of defending/attacking video games. You'll be happier for it.

Posted by WeaponBoy

That sounds about right. The quick look made the game look like a depressingly simple God of War clone with an inexplicably brutal difficulty curve. Neither the checkpointing nor the frequency of health drops really compensate for the absurd speed that Knack gets ripped apart.

Edited by Residentrevil2

Ouch... Yeah, I guess the previews didn't look so hot.

Edited by bakkelun
Posted by stunik101

Knack is a third person action game where you walk around and hit things..

Dark souls is a third person action game where you walk around and hit things..

Devil may cry is a third person action game..etc...etc

everything is Dark souls and Dark souls is everything...with one crucial difference Dark souls is evil.

Edited by tourgen

@holybins said:

@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.

I would go so far as to say it has pretty good combat. It has more depth and requires more skill than the Batman melee combat. Sure, sneer at that comment, but then give it some honest thought. The enemies are more varied, positioning actually matters, the timing and movement is tighter, and there is a real dodge mechanic. The only bummer is the fairly low framerate in places and a slightly too-long animation delay at the end of the punch chain.

The review is pretty accurate though. It's not a great game. It's pretty, it has decent combat, but it's soulless. Besides watching TERRIBLE cutscenes and story, there isn't anything else besides moving from one combat arena to the next.

Posted by ArtisanBreads

@marokai said:

Seriously, people are cheapening how great Dark Souls really is by comparing it to literally every game with a high difficulty.

Seriously. It seems like a lot of them are fans of the game too which only makes it more bizarre.

Edited by Tikicobra

I think the combat is fun. It does require a combination of dodging, jumping and punching. It's simplistic but it's fun. For me the problem is that there's barely anything else to do and the environments are extremely barren. If the combat were broken up with meaningful platforming and some gameplay diversity I think this could be a great game.

Knack would still be a shit character though.

Edited by ArtisanBreads
@ultimaxe said:

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?

Couldn't agree more. It's baffling.

There are platformers less focused on action that have way more attack options (like say Sly Cooper) AND they have way more complex platforming, and big open levels, and a greater amount of and more meaningful collectables, etc etc.

If this game was pretty much just combat how they hell did it just come out with that few mechanics to its combat? Seriously baffling.

Posted by cooljammer00

@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.

Sounds like a desperate attempt to give him some 'tude. I didn't mind a dance party at the end of Saints Row IV.

Edited by ArtisanBreads

@lisap223 said:

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.

Anyone who could play Knack should go play an actually good game instead like say the new Sly Cooper, which actually has any depth and any interesting mechanics. Also has some charm.
@yukoasho said:

You know, when the inevitable PS4 God of War comes out and gets near-universal praise for it's combat system, I'm going to bring this review up, ESPECIALLY if Alex ends up writing the God of War puff-piece for this site.

The new God of War is only going to have one three hit combo and one jump attack?

Edited by cooljammer00

@alex said:

@fushichou187: I'm going to need several boilermakers after this one, man.

I live in the TL. Several boilermakers from any of our fine establishments will run you approximately... $3. Maybe $4 now. THANKS OBAMA.

Isn't that the section of town with all the homeless people and stabbings?

Posted by FierceDeity

@xbob42 said:

@yukoasho said:

You know, when the inevitable PS4 God of War comes out and gets near-universal praise for it's combat system, I'm going to bring this review up, ESPECIALLY if Alex ends up writing the God of War puff-piece for this site.

Are you a desperate 12 year old? Get the fuck over yourself and your lifestyle choice of defending/attacking video games. You'll be happier for it.

Are you a desperate 12 year old? Get the fuck over yourself and your lifestyle choice of defending/attacking video game website commenters. You'll be happier for it.

Posted by Solh0und

This seems like a game I wouldn't pay more than $15 for. I paid that much for Kameo a year after it's release and was quite ok with that.

Posted by magicwalnuts

Tell us what you really think, Alex....

JK, the game is probably bad. People disagreeing are allowed to disagree, but don't need to be dicks about it.

Posted by Fushichou187

@cooljammer00: The Tenderloin is a broken man's fever dream. Have you played SIlent Hill 2? If so, you'll feel right at home in our special place. It also has some of the best watering holes, whiskey in particular, in the city imo.

Posted by Hunkulese

@yukoasho said:

You know, when the inevitable PS4 God of War comes out and gets near-universal praise for it's combat system, I'm going to bring this review up, ESPECIALLY if Alex ends up writing the God of War puff-piece for this site.

God of War's combat is far superior to Knack's. You're right that there are some similarities but Knack is God of War's combat with everything interesting taken out. There's nothing interesting, fun, or satisfying to be found from Knack's combat.

Posted by soupbones

I kind of liked Blinx... and I'm really enjoying Knack.

It's a bit repetitive, sure - but the combat is fun. It's good, just not great. But certainly not bad.

Posted by Live_Free_or_Die

Don't listen to reviews. Play games for yourself then decide.

Posted by ArtisanBreads

Don't listen to reviews. Play games for yourself then decide.

Thanks for posting this in the comments to a review. Really changed my world view.

Posted by bkbroiler

@live_free_or_die said:

Don't listen to reviews. Play games for yourself then decide.

Yes, because everyone has the time/money to do that. A whole job industry is invalid. You've solved it!

Posted by Undead_Fiend

I really wanted knack to be great despite the bland appearance in previews, the QL didn't look all that bad, at least it's challenging? Most reviews seem to say it gets tiring, maybe I'll get Lego marvel and see if this turns up on ps+ to make use of those dumb items I collected in knacks quest iOS game