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
Posted by flippyandnod

That "Like the Ceiling Can't Hold Us" sony from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis has to be the champ of that. It's been in like 5 commercials already, and MS' ran theirs interminably.

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

Posted by Shaanyboi

In a year that we've had Rayman Legends, Mario 3D World, and Wonderful 101, three games bursting from the seams with personality, charm, and variety, Knack seems like a pathetic joke.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Comparing this rubbish to Dark Souls is heresy. HERESY, I say!

Also, it's abjectly retarded.

Posted by Skillface

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 might be the worst comment I've ever seen

Posted by amir90

I feel sorry for you @alex, you always get the bad games :(

Posted by GermanBomber

Very disappointed to see that Mark Cerny's game turned out to be just THAT...a tedious and uninspired launch title. I'm not getting a PS4 before spring 2014, my personal next gen starts with Second Son and Watch Dogs.

Posted by Blu3V3nom07

I would love to see Knack's combos in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale 2.

Posted by ike7779

Where did all of ALF's fur go, daddy?

Posted by Nameless2000

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."

This sounds bad.

Posted by bybeach

I kind of like how knack is visually put together. But I think the human guy looks like a covert asshole. So I guess I see things.

Edited by NekuSakuraba

I haven't actually played Knack yet due to the PS4 being unreleased in Australia, but from I've seen it looks like quite a good game. Maybe not a 10/10 but I think a 7.5/10 looks like it would fit the game well, Knack's combat just seems really satisfying to me.

Oh well, maybe it'll change when I play the game, I'm not sure.

Edited by adam1808

Although it's sad that Alex gets all the bad games, it's where his writing really shines. This and his Homefront review are some of my favourite game reviews in recent memory.

Posted by devilgunman

Poor Cerny. One man can multitask as much.

Posted by RedPandaGamer

I totally agree that it wasn't very well executed, but I still enjoyed it

Posted by AnotherSomebody

I'm sorry you didn't like it, Alex. I myself am really enjoying the game's simplicity and challenge, especially in co-op. I am feeling the same way I felt playing the original Crash Bandicoot; room for improvement and growth but a lot of fun and a stiff challenge.

Edited by Tennmuerti

Beautiful.

Aggressive dull mediocrity should never be excused.

This is also the first time in many years I've heard anyone mention Johny Quest. :)

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

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 noizy

I haven't actually played Knack yet due to the PS4 being unreleased in Australia, but from I've seen it looks like quite a good game. Maybe not a 10/10 but I think a 7.5/10 looks like it would fit the game well, Knack's combat just seems really satisfying to me.

Oh well, maybe it'll change when I play the game, I'm not sure.

If you weren't a gold member, I'd think you an impostor. Ranking games out of 10 and with a decimal on top? What is this Gamespot? ;)

Online
Posted by Nomin

The Blinx of PS4, at least the cat looked cute. This looks like some regurgitated scraps from constructivist nightmare.

How disappointing. Just a bit more aggressive checkpoint system or tuned difficulty a la recent Mario games would have done this game better.

Posted by vhold

This is a good bad review, it's just precise, not angry. A lot of people seem to read it and imbue it with an anger and extremism that isn't there.

Edited by Jimbo

If you're gonna write a 1 Star review you should give it a 1 Star rating. If it was bad enough to make you 'hate' it then that's about as 1 Star as it can get. An entertainment product can't really get any worse than that. In fact 'hated it' may even be the definition of the 1 Star rating. If it's not for this then what is it for?

Awful movies don't earn a bonus star just because the cameraman didn't trip over mid-scene, and the same should hold true for games. Technical competence should just be a given, not something which is considered enough in itself to raise the score. If you still hated the game then surely it is (or should be) irrelevant how technically competent it is.

Edited by Xeiphyer

Knack looks like Ganondorf or something in the header picture.

Posted by narujoe93

@fushichou187: I was getting ready to hate you after your first comment, but then you commented some more and turned out to be an alright dude. Your opinion might be viewed as dumb by the majority, but hey we all have dumb opinions at some point. So with that I say this: I respect your dumb opinion. Kudos!

Edited by OneKillWonder_

I've had this game since last week and while I'm still waiting for my PS4 to arrive (I should have it tomorrow), I'm contemplating just trading this in for NFS without playing it, where as I was originally planning to play through it once to at least give it a shot. I don't know anymore....I guess I'll find out tomorrow, but my interest in playing it has dwindled to almost nothing.

Posted by Mikey1138

@holybins: You are exactly right. If it was not for the normal difficulty being challenging enough to where you have to be thoughtful than this game would be really boring. I have been playing it and am enjoying myself, but it was my free pick for buy 2 get one on amazon.

Posted by BRich

Where the hell did he find room for the second star?

Edited by Dan_CiTi

@marokai said:

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

Yep...from what I've played Knack isn't even that hard but still. I don't even totally love Dark Souls but people need to lay off with these reallyyyy loose comparisons these days.

Posted by QuarantineND

There's a thread on NeoGaf where everyone has no clue how the reviews gave such low scores on this game. I am one of those people as well. From my understanding (I'm only about 5 hours into it), it does get a little repetitive towards the end, but I, as well as a ton of people really enjoy the game. So this is one of those situations where I would say, play it and make your own opinion on it.

Edited by Tru3_Blu3

I was really hoping for this game to be good. The return of the Jak and Daxters, Rachets, and Bandicoots? Count me in!

NOPE! Developers have forgotten how to make fucking video games!

Edited by Kordesh

Knack is getting way more shit than it deserves. It's pretty samey, but it's not fundamentally bad in any way. It's like an off brand pixar movie where you punch things between scenes. I think it's getting hammered on due to some odd expectations of it. I never expected it to be more than "smash stuff, get relics, smash more stuff" so *shrug*. Knack as a character though doesn't do anything for me. Really generic personality.

If Knack has taught us anything though, it's that if there is no Katamari Damacy for the PS4, then this generation will have been wasted...

Edited by Brackynews

@ike7779 said:

Where did all of ALF's fur go, daddy?

This is where the cat diet comes in. But I tend to side with the Ganondorf comparison.

Posted by Sweetz

I wonder if Alex's over exposure to so many games and movies make him less tolerant of character archetypes or stereotypes than the average Joe. The comparison to Johnny Quest as a negative is something I'm not really feeling. If he was expecting depth of character, I think he went in with the wrong expectations.

I mean I take something like the Ratchet and Clank games and the characters there are all roughly stock late 90s cartoon archetypes, but they never hurt the game. I don't play a Ratchet and Clank looking for narrative depth...

Perhaps I misunderstand what he was going for, but I would ask what in his opinion is an interesting kid friendly character?

Posted by Hailinel

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.

Knack. Souls.

KNACK SOULS

Are you actually equating a painfully mediocre mascot action-platformer with an action RPG predicated on character builds, equipment, combat strategy and timing?

Edited by McDunkin

The quick look of this game made me cringe. From the simple enemies to annoying traps seemingly dropped at random into the levels whose platforming is as difficult as using a stepladder, as well as the game putting up the most makeshift set of wooden boards to block the player from progressing until a few enemies are defeated I can't see how anyone can possible defend the mechanics of this game. You can learn more about the platforming genre in general from the first five minutes of MegaMan X than you will from the entirety of Knack.

Posted by HerbieBug

Knick knack paddy wack give a... you know i'm not sure where I planned to go with this. >.<

Posted by ILikePopCans

Man, I thought Knack Souls would be a much better game.

Darn

Posted by fatwreck

I like the character design of the humans and thought the base idea of the Knack character had potential for an interesting game. Too bad it didn't come together.

Posted by bahMiRK

I was hoping this game would have been as good as Mark Cerny's other games.

Posted by cordialsnail

KNACK Souls. What up.

Posted by Booshka

DJ Quik needs to make a remix of "They wanna be like Compton" to "They wanna be like Dark Souls"

The constant Dark Souls references to everything in video games is out of hand.

Posted by Palaeomerus

Dully tedious? Is that like chubbily fat or something? Crisply brittle?

Posted by Reisz

Haven't disagreed with one of Alex's reviews this much for several years. Glad to know I still have my own opinions. I find Knack totally charming and on hard, captivating fun.

Posted by bybeach

Waiting for Knack Souls 2.

Posted by YummyTreeSap

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

Yeah it really is.

Posted by HeyGuys

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.

It is quickly approaching "Bad to the Bone" levels of intolerable use of a licensed song.

Posted by kkotd

Having played quite a bit of it, I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a 'bad' game. It's an average launch title, it has an average story, with average mechanics and average gameplay. Did anyone really expect this to be anything more? I mean regardless of what Mark Cerny said, 'This is on par with a Pixar film.', did people's expectations get that high that we'd now classify this game as outright bad?

Posted by joetom

The Poochie reference was fucking gold, Alex.

Posted by aceofspudz

This was a great entry in the 'hilarious reviews of bad games' genre.

Posted by lizzard2

@zaxex said:

@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.

I checked the sony EU plus page and it says metacritic of 70 (i live in EU) maby different in US then.