Review

Knack

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If you haven’t heard the name Mark Cerny, you’ve definitely seen and played the games he has worked on and consulted for with franchises including Crash Bandicoot, God of War and Uncharted all enjoying his contributions and insights.

Knack, however, is the first game in a long time that Cerny has had a major hand in from conception through to completion, so how has the game benefited from over two decades of his game development experience?

Knack Screenshot 1

What You Need to Know

Knack is a traditional character action game that harkens back to the days when console exclusive mascots were trotted out for grand adventures while engaging in light platforming action and even less challenging puzzles, with the focus being placed on the personality of the characters, villains and myriad of enemies.

You play as the titular ‘Knack,’ a sentient creature made out of ancient relics that The Doctor has managed to bring to life after years of experimentation, aided by his young assistant. What’s special about Knack is that he can grow and shrink at will, using found relics (as well as shards of ice and splinters of wood) to increase in size and power.

Using a very basic combat system comprising punches, jumps and a dodge move, Knack can also collect Sunstone crystals to power a special attack meter which allows him to unleash one of three more powerful attacks, including a ground slam and whirlwind assault.

The story will see Knack, The Doctor, his assistant and the assistant’s uncle travel from networks of caves and mines, to factories and military compounds, as well as to an expansive fortresses inhabited by ogres, amongst other locations, all while unraveling the mystery of Knack’s origins, getting to the bottom of why the ogres invaded the human world, and why a particularly devious military contractor has taken such an interest in Knack and his relic origins.

Knack Screenshot 4

What’s New?

Knack’s ability to increase in size and power using relics and other crystalline objects, while improving his chances of survival by growing his health bar, is an interesting addition to the character action formula. When you’re smaller, all it takes is one hit to smash Knack into pieces and scatter his relics all over the floor, but roles are reversed when Knack grows to maximum size.

The game also makes an interesting use of your friends list on PlayStation 4, and should you find secret hidden areas throughout the game that house parts to construct various tools to make your life easier, you can choose to either take the part that has been randomly selected for you, or select a part that one of your friends picked up at the same location, meaning you can actively work towards getting that combo tool to increase attack damage or that relic finder you’ve been eyeing.

What’s the Same?

In terms of gameplay, Knack takes noticeable inspiration from brawling-based action games like God of War (from which the right stick dodge move and combo attack system is borrowed), as well as 3D platforming games like Crash Bandicoot (where linear pathways and basic jumping challenges are the order of the day).

Knack pares down the challenge of performing actions quite a bit, but the difficulty increased when Knack’s health bar was low and I found myself up against collections of enemies that use melee and projectile attacks that almost seem to be mismatched with one another, and in terms of animation frames and reach, seemingly out of sync with Knack’s own attacks and dodges, making for some frustrating fights and impotent flailing on my part.

You’ll Enjoy Knack If You Liked…

- The linear level runs, attacks and platforming of Crash Bandicoot



What I Liked

- 4.) Attacking more powerful enemies later in the game is made more satisfying when parts of their armour begin to break off the more you punch them.

- 3.) I always enjoy good hidden treasures, and Knack provides in spades. Instead of placing these off the beaten path, entrances to secret areas are usually disguised with just noticeable breakable walls.

- 2.) The character of Knack has been realised very well and as he grows not only does his voice become deeper and more authoritative, his confidence grows, too, which made me feel more in control of the situation at hand.

- 1.) The visuals in Knack are very chunky, clean and vibrant making even dull underground mine areas look sharp.

Favourite Thing

The characters of Knack are definitely the highlight of the game for me, all of whom are very distinct from one another and filled with personality and agendas of their own, reminding me of the sorts of character designs you might see in a CG film by Dreamworks.

KnackSS2

What I Didn’t Like

- 4.) Knack is ultimately very linear in progression, and while the scenery looks nice it’s completely non-interactive.

- 3.) Despite the fact that Knack can grow to become incredibly powerful, the game’s progression is pre-determined so you’ll never be able to carry your growth, and your health bar, over into the next level.

- 2.) With some exceptions, the chosen settings in Knack are rather unimaginative and while the designs of these environments go a long way to make them more appealing, military compounds, factories, science facilities and caves aren’t very exciting worlds to explore.

- 1.) The undulating difficulty spikes in Knack, combined with irregular checkpoints, meant that I found myself replaying quite a few sections of the game after dying and being sent back a few encounters.

Least Favourite Moments

Walking into a room at the beginning of a chapter with Knack at his lowest health bar and then getting smashed to pieces by an overzealous enemy that attacks out of no-where was always a low point.

While that happened quite often to me, by far the most frustrating moments of Knack were when enemies managed to unfairly chip my health down to nothing in quick succession, forcing me to replay sections of the game only to have the same thing happen time and time again.

I had a tough time putting my finger on the issue, but I think that it boils down to the fact that the reach that Knack has with his attacks just isn’t far enough to hit certain enemies after their attack animations are complete, made worse by foes who perform a quick back step or put up a shield once they’ve finished their attack sequence, meaning you have to advance and get caught up in another series of attacks that begin out of sync with your own movements or hop around trying to avoid them to wait for another opportunity.

Whatever the problem, it was a cause of much frustration for me and sucked a lot of the enjoyment of the game. Whenever I died, it always seemed unfair and artificially challenging, but when Knack is larger and more powerful, the game becomes disproportionately easier. I wish this challenge had been balanced out.


Knack – Official Launch Trailer


What’s Extra?

Knack includes a host of hidden secret areas to find and extra tools to construct with parts found scattered around the world which will improve your combat prowess and secret finding ability.

There are also extra timed challenges to test your skills with once you complete the game, and an additional co-operative feature lets a second player jump into the game at certain points of the story to help collect loot and survive enemy encounters.

The Bottom Line

Knack has a lot of charm and character mixed in with its vibrant visuals and interesting premise, but repetitive encounters with what I found to be unfairly challenging enemies in unimaginative settings ultimately made the experience dull and frustrating.


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