Knack is one of the PlayStation 4’s exclusive titles at launch, created by Sony’s Japan Studio and game director Mark Cerny, the lead architect of both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Japan Studio have worked on many notable titles over the years, including Ape Escape, Loco Roco, Shadow of the Colossus, Gravity Rush, and Soul Sacrifice. Now we have their latest project, Knack, which is part platformer, part beat ’em up. Featuring an unusual protagonist who is comprised entirely of powerful relics, and capable of increasing and decreasing his size at will, the game has ended up being something of an underrated gem among the other higher profile PlayStation 4 launch titles.
The world of Knack revolves around relics. They basically fill the role that electricity does in our world, with a range of devices and machines being powered by harnessing their clean, seemingly unlimited energy. Knack is the latest and greatest creation of one of the world’s top scientists, a good natured sentient being whose entire body is made up of various relics. He’s able to grow in size by absorbing more relics into himself, to the point where he can reach Godzilla-like proportions at his maximum size. He finds himself taking on the Goblins, a race of humanoid beastmen who were shunned by the humans after some vaguely mentioned past war. They’ve suddenly launched a large attack on the human settlements, but their technology is unusually sophisticated this time… Knack, along with his creator’s son and grandson, investigates.
Knack‘s gameplay centres around a couple of different elements. First of all, there’s the platforming. Knack makes his way through a large number of different levels over the course of the game’s 10-11 hour story mode, navigating his way through traps, avoiding bottomless pits, climbing to new areas, the usual stuff. All the while, he’s breaking open crates of relics, which are immediately absorbed into his body, increasing his size is realtime. It’s fun to watch, but it’s also functional. As Knack grows larger, so does his attack power. With more bulk, and longer arms, he gradually becomes stronger, able to take down enemies that he struggled with earlier. Of course, these increases in size are never permanent. There’s always some story related reason for Knack to shrink down to a smaller size again, but literally building him up while playing remains an interesting mechanic nonetheless. Knack can also abosrb materials other than relics into his body. As long as the pieces are small enough, he can also grab bits of wood and steel, and incorporate them into himself, gaining their properties. For example, after abosrbing a large amount of wood, Knack is able to light himself on fire which allows him to burn through locked doors and deal extra damage to enemies. It’s a good feature, and it helps to spice up the platforming a little.
Secondly, there’s the combat, which is even more prominent. Knack has a range of different ways that he can attack enemies. He can go for the direct approach, using his simple punching combo to beat up whatever enemy is in range. Alternatively, he can use his aerial attack. He jumps into the air (which has the added bonus of allowing him to dodge any ground based or projectile attacks), and then slams his body into his target. Thirdly, he can choose to use his dash punch. The dash punch relies on Knack’s handy ability to sidestep attacks. Using the right control stick, you can make Knack quickly dodge in any direction you choose. This is a vital ability, as some enemies will attack very quickly, or cover a large area with their strikes. By dodging and then swiftly punching, Knack can cover a lot of ground, and deliver a punch right to the enemy. Finally, Knack has a selection of three different super moves at his disposal. The first one is a simple, yet effective shockwave that spreads out from Knack’s body and smashes any nearby enemies. The second one allows him to turn part of his body into a storm of relics, which surrounds him and deals damage to any enemies it comes into contact with. The final move is a projectile attack, where Knack launches bunches of relics at any surrounding enemies. All three moves are extremely powerful, but they use up a section of Knack’s sunstone gauge. This gauge can be filled by breaking sunstones that are scattered throughout the game’s levels, and are fairly abundant. You’ll really need these super moves too, as they’re great for getting yourself out of a pinch, or through a particularly tough part of a level.
Knack is not an easy game. Some people may see the strong use of bright colours and the cartoonish look of the game, and assume that it’s intended only for kids, but that’s not the case. Although it tells an inoffensive, all-ages story, Knack is a very challenging game. In fact, if you plan to give this game to your kids, I definitely recommend that you have them play on the Easy difficulty. You can’t change the difficulty level once you’ve started. The Normal difficulty is hard enough that even seasoned gamers will find themselves dying often, and that’s actually a rather refreshing thing. Too many modern plat formers lack difficulty. Not only does Knack offer distinct difficulty levels, but they actually put up a fight. Enemies will punish you for simply rushing into combat, and Knack himself is quite fragile, only able to take a couple of hits before dying. You’ll want to make good use of jumping, and Knack’s ability to sidestep attacks, in order to survive. You’ll also need to be wary of the game’s checkpoints, as some of them are placed about five minutes apart. It’s not a common thing, but considering the game’s level of difficulty, they may cause a little frustration if you’re not prepared.
Although it may not have the obvious visual oomph of a game like Killzone, it’s the little things that make Knack look good. There’s Knack himself of course, composed entirely of a large number of objects, almost constantly growing and changing size as you play through the game. There’s the tasteful use of bloom lighting, which never leaves the game looking overly bright or saturated. There’s the detailed, varied environments, ranging from caves to jungle, mountains to cities. There’s the way that enemies take damage, parts come flying off robots with each strike you land, until they finally crumble. There’s the way that Knack loses parts as he takes damage, and his satisfying death animation, where he shatters into a large number of pieces that are flung across the surrounding area. The audio is quite respectable, with an expertly composed orchestral soundtrack that provides the game with the fitting tune for every situation. It’s all pleasant on the ears, and although the voice acting isn’t particularly outstanding, the characters have been cast well. The writing can be somewhat cliched at times, but generally speaking, it’s a good production.
Overall, Knack is a surprisingly good game, with a successful mix of platforming and beat ’em up gameplay. The level design may be a little uninspired, with quite a few sections which force Knack to make his way down corridor after corridor, but the rest of the game’s elements come together well and definitely make up for it. Knack is an interesting protagonist, not so much in terms of personality, but in his actual form. His constantly changing size and different forms make him a fun character to play as. The game is satisfyingly difficult, with solid platforming sections and challenging combat with tight controls and a good variety of offensive and defensive options. The visuals are nice, with a very consistent, cartoony look to them, and we’re treated to some complex particle effects and environments. I really enjoyed Knack. I think that if you’re prepared to take on a game with a simple structure, one that’s not afraid to fight back hard, then you will too. It’s not for everyone, but it’s easily one of the better PlayStation 4 launch titles, and well worth a look.
I’ve also prepared a couple of videos showing the game in action, using the PlayStation 4’s video capturing feature, so that you can see the game in action. Check them out below:
Knack’s wood transformation: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=627285293996156&l=5777476798205665460
General gameplay, and relic storm super move: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=627303997327619&l=2026634333687211290
Fun, challenging gameplay | Knack is an interesting character | Unique game mechanics help to spice things up | Good use of collectibles
Difficulty may cause a little frustration for some people | Level design is fairly repetitive | Checkpoints