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 daedelus

WOW 2/5 stars, Navarro dropping bombs!

Edited by Bill_Rizer

Greatness Mediocrity Awaits!

Posted by So_Hai

Launchtitle-itis: a sickness that occurs when a game is born prematurely.

Posted by xXHesekielXx

ouch!

Posted by Sooty

@aidangs said:

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

no

Edited by OceanRipple

Will be picking this up once it drops in price...

Yeah, it's not been getting great reviews, but what I have seen from people streaming has looked enjoyable and the core mechanics seem nice and solid (especially the combat). Add the 2 player co-op mode and it'll be a nice budget buy for me.

Posted by TheTerribleFamiliar

Looks like a bog-standard launch title. Greatness awaits until some must-have software arrives. I'm sure it's on the way.

Posted by Wolf3

May end up too hard for me, but I'll play it on easy and hopefully enjoy it. Most everything negative I've heard about it pretty much applies to most games like this, so I'm not all that worried. If nothing else, the size change mechanic sounds cool and is rarely used...though probably used better in The Munchables on Wii, I'd guess. This still looks kind of fun to me though, and I don't regret buying it (particularly since I got it for effectively $40!)

Posted by Spaceyoghurt

@forkboy said:

@fushichou187 said:

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.

I agree, that rant was great.

Edited by Goldanas

@forkboy said:

@fushichou187 said:

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.

I agree, that rant was great.

C'mon, guys, I think you're being too dismissive of him because of his tone (which is abrassive, to be sure). All of his points are valid, and a proper assessment of the game.

I got the game for 39 dollars, and I feel that was money well spent. The combat is indeed deeper than one initially anticipates, because of the tremendous enemy variety. I play the game on Hard, and most enemies will one-shot you, and if they don't, they may as well have. It really makes you think about your approach. And personally, I never felt it set me back too far when I failed. It only ever sets you back at most 3 battles, each of which typically consist of 2 or 3 dudes in some sort of configuration. It's not like it's Volgarr and setting you back the whole level.

But to the point of Volgarr, you only have a handful of moves in that game, but everyone praises it all the same. In the same way, Knack is a game entirely about the encounters, and each one is very different from the last, especially when you begin to change size. Even slight size increases give you additional range in your attacks, so now some enemies are a little easier to get in on, and the game then begins to throw either more of those enemies at you, or gives you an enemy to fight in a tougher class. It's very calculating in this way, and infinitely rewarding when you overcome the challenge. It's not like a God of War clone where you have a tremendous arsenal of moves, but never have any need to use any of them because every enemy is the same, or you beat them with a QTE.

It's a deceptively good game, and honestly, if you are a person who plays games professionally, you shouldn't be knocking it down to Easy. You should at least be playing it on Normal, or stepping it up to Hard. This may be the games fault, because it really should describe the difficulties better for the player. Hard feels like the way the game was meant to be played for anyone who has played games before.

When did we get to the point in this industry where if a game is difficult, we complain about it, and then complain about when we bump it down to Easy, that now it's too Easy? This doesn't make sense to me. I mean if a game's not for you, then a game's not for you, no problem, but at least admit that you can't rise to the challenge or that it's not for you.

So much of this site tries to make itself feel "subjective" or "personal" but several of the reviews here still read like "objective" assessments. It's a tremendous inconsistency in this website, and honestly I feel that it's just tied to the nature of reviews. If we got rid of reviews entirely, I feel we wouldn't have this issue.

Posted by bunnymud

Alex should stick to movies and not games.

Edited by xbob42

"GAME IS HARD" = "GOOD GAME" RIGHT GUYS? RIIIIGHT? PLEASE SOMEONE VALIDATE MY NEW CONSOLE PURCHASE OH GOD INSTEAD OF PLAYING KNACK I HAVE TO DEFEND KNACK ON THE INTERNET OH NOOOOOOO

Edited by Alex

@ludorverr: Cute, but no. I bumped it down to easy to see how a couple of more difficult sections looked, but I beat the game on normal.

Posted by ludorverr

@xbob42:

"GAME IS HARD" = "GOOD GAME"

sure, why not? I love difficult games.

you seem upset.

Posted by ludorverr

@Alex

ok, that's fair, you have my respect. (my respect is worth 1000 candies)

Edited by MoonwalkSA

Comparing this to Dark Souls at all is laughable. Don't. Being hard isn't even what defines Souls games in the first place, and you just look stupid trying to justify Knack with that garbage.

One game is an Action RPG with 20 weapon categories and even more special weapons, and every different weapon type has at least 6 basic attacks. The other is a family-oriented platformer with a punch-punch-punch combo, a jump attack, and some super moves. For fuck's sake.

Posted by vizionblind

terrible review. even NEOGAF users state this game is pretty damn fun

Edited by TravistyOJ

I'm not a PS4/Knack fanboy apologist, but I just wanted to comment and say that I'm having a lot of fun with this game. I totally agree that the story, characters, and dialogue are laughably disposable, but the encounters, and core gameplay are varied and challenging, and to me has been a lot of fun. I'm not being dismissive of Alex's opinion, or anyone's opinion. Generally, I agree with the negatives that Knack's been handed, but I think everyone jumped in to shit on Knack so fast they overlooked the positive gameplay experience and hidden depths of the game. And I don't think my love of this game is fueled by trying to justify my console purchase, I totally feel like I'm getting my money's worth without Knack.

Posted by Cold_Wolven

I can imagine that what would make the game's length even worse is that you aren't evolving with new move sets and abilities than what you started with which I feel the game should've at most been half the time to complete.

Posted by Rekt_Hed

Bummer!

Posted by Bill_Rizer

terrible review. even SONYGAF users state this game is pretty damn fun

fixed

Posted by Evercaptor
Posted by Vrikk

Well, damn it. I bought this game because there's it and AC IV for the launch.

Posted by kerse

I wonder if people will ever stop taking review scores as a personal attack. Jeff gave Catherine a 2, and I loved the hell outta that game and even had fun with the gameplay, but I totally see why he gave it a 2.

Posted by James_ex_machina

Don't knack it until you try it.

Edited by Fushichou187

@bill_rizer: Reading your post history... ok, I get it, you have a deep-seated, almost autonomic resentment towards Sony and feel the need to be dismissive of anybody here that enjoys the PS in any way. I'd almost call some sort of astroturfing shennanigans but it's all a bit too on the nose for that.

@cold_wolven said:

I can imagine that what would make the game's length even worse is that you aren't evolving with new move sets and abilities than what you started with which I feel the game should've at most been half the time to complete.

A number of the collectables are gadget parts that, when assembled and equipped, help change up your strategy and style of play significantly especially if you're playing on Hard or above. The crystal collectibles too, once assembled allow you to unlock different "Knacks" (Dark, Vampire, Mega, Diamond, etc..) that add buffs to your character, although it was certainly a missed opportunity to not allow one to swap through those different Knack variations mid-play. None of that adds to the core number of moves you have however, it just allows you to set your strategy for each mob differently.

@vrikk: You can still play it, mang. Take Alex's review as an aforementioned grain of salt but by all means form your own opinion of the game particularly if you already own it.

Posted by Bill_Rizer

@fushichou187 said:

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

It's like he thinks he's still on NeoGAF and is required to defend everything Sony does or else he'll get banned.

Posted by GuyIncognito

The gameplay looked tedious in the quick look.

Posted by TechHits

@coafi said:

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

Knack is wack Jack.

Edited by edeo

I don't know who to believe. The Player One Podcast guys love this game. But what I've seen and played is pretty dull.

Then again they can tend to love crappy games, like those boring ass Lego games.

Posted by TheKing

Picked this as my free game with my buy 2 get 1 and think it's pretty good. So, meh.

Posted by chose

- 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.

You can die in Vanquish? Damn son, you suck at video games!

Posted by WMoyer83

Knack; the next generation of shit gaming

Online
Edited by Fushichou187

@chose: Troll harder. The point was to not let the difficulty be a deterrent. I died a shit ton in Vanquish but once I got a feel for the rhythm of the kind of combat they were going for, it became more fun than frustrating. I still died a lot, but I appreciated the game a lot more.

Posted by Zerothe

The review makes it out to be Superman on the N64. It's not that bad. You make it sound like you get kicked in balls every minute while playing it. No it's not a masterpeice or anything but it's better then the review scores it's getting. The fighting is cool to me because of the dash using the right thumbstick. Dashing in and out while avoiding getting pounded. There are 3 other attacks, a whirlwind a ground slam and a projectile attack for enemies that are farther away. There's a ton of this things to collect to either make gadgets or upgrade Knack to be stronger or have different forms he can become. I would have liked to have been able to fly a plane instead of just riding to each set but maybe in the sequel. The characters I frigging hated the scientist and his assistent and although most of the plot was given away early I still liked the way it ended, it was cute. Him dancing at the end of the game wasn't that distracting I didn't think. I would suggest that anyone that may have been interested in this game to give it a try as it's really not that bad.

Posted by HyperBear

I kind of expected this review score from Alex. I honestly have never liked the guy from as long back to GameSpot as I can remember. There's always been something about Alex that's irritated me to no end and that's likely not going to change anytime soon. But this is a typical Alex review, and I hope he does the Ryse: Son of Rome review, and if he gives it anything higher than a 2/5, then Giantbomb seriously needs to reconsider letting this guy go...

OT: I agree with what most gamers are saying, that Knack is somewhere between the 6-7/10 scale. It's not the best animated platformer ever (Crash, Jak, Ratchet), but it's certainly been a while since we've had a new IP of a platformer. And to rate this a 4/10, your essentially telling everyone the game is unplayable, to which it is not.

Edited by samsam1029
Edited by jasondesante

its funny because mario 3d world looks better and its on a "less powerful" console bla bla bla. maybe its up to the imagination? this game doesn't even have amazing graphics to lean on, its just bad overall. :(

Posted by fisk0

And to rate this a 4/10, your essentially telling everyone the game is unplayable, to which it is not.

4/10 means below average, which it seems to be.

Edited by farisr

I know I'm posting in an old-ass review, that probably nobody is going to even check, but if it helps out even one person then great.

If you're looking for a solid single player adventure, or a great story, then yeah definitely not the game for you.

If you're looking for a game with responsive controls (I love that there are air dodges/dashes), good difficulty and great couch co-op, with a lot of enemy variety, good bossfights, then definitely try it out.

One of the best co-op games I've played, has a real challenge unlike the LEGO games, and the 2 players help alleviate some of the points that would be frustrating if playing through the game by yourself.

If you have someone to play with, and both of you are decent gamers, then play on hard.

Had a blast playing through the game with a friend, played it over 4 sittings, 3-4 hours each day, by the end we were like "hope there's a sequel that improves upon this". There are definite downpoints to this game, like the story (characterization, dialogue etc) and a couple of levels felt like they were stretched out a little too much.

A little more open level design, more platform-centric sections, refinement to the way big Knack feels, and the single player would be solid as well. Of course story too, but honestly, I don't play games like Crash Bandicoot or Mario for the story so I couldn't care less about that. Either come up with a compelling story, good characterization, or put it to a bare minimum. I think that is one of the biggest things that hurt this game, there's like 90 minutes worth of cutscenes of a weak story. If the story was just as bad, but there were only like 15 minutes of cutscenes, it would've benefited the game.

Overall, I'm satisfied with my purchase. But yes, if I was a person who didn't have anyone to play the game with, this game would not be worth it at all the way it is right now.

PS: The game does pretty well with it's growing mechanic and making you feel stronger. It's very satisfying to be able to one-hit-kill opponents you were struggling with when you were smaller.