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Knack (PlayStation 4) artwork

Knack (PlayStation 4) review

"Knack isn't the single game that ought to convince you to buy a PlayStation 4, but it's a compelling experience that should stand the test of time."

There’s a lot riding on Knack, because industry luminary Mark Cerny was a driving force behind its development and because he also played a massive role in the creation of the PlayStation 4 hardware on which it appears. That sort of quotable trivia set the title up for intense scrutiny and high expectations, as well as a few inevitable comparisons to Super Mario Bros. and the like. Most of the hoopla surrounding the project is really just an unfortunate distraction, though. A good platformer shouldn’t be measured by its ability to fire a decisive first salvo in what will almost certainly be a protracted “console war.” Instead, it should be judged as what it is: one more game for a system that will doubtless see the release of hundreds or perhaps even thousands of entertainment choices during its lifetime.

Here in 2013, Knack is a very good but not spectacular choice that consumers get to consider. It features cutscenes and environments that wouldn’t be out of place in an animated theatrical feature and it tells a story that spans an interesting 12 or so hours. There’s a relatively simple core game consisting of thrilling combat and solid exploration elements, and that design capably utilizes tried and true platformer principles in a number of enjoyable ways. In short, the game makes a great addition to any robust media library but it won’t change your world.

Knack asset

Knack stars a mysterious creature of the same name, who basically is a sentient orb that can attract magical chunks called relics and fashion a body out of them. He starts out small, like a katamari, but he gains mass by collecting additional relics until eventually he’s large enough that he can climb skyscrapers and punch planes out of the sky (again, sort of like a katamari). Those skills impress some political people who have been trying to decide how to push back a goblin incursion, so they send Knack and his human friends on a journey that kicks off the sort of tale a company like Pixar would make into a movie.

When you first begin playing, you’re helpfully walked through a basic obstacle course. There, you learn that Knack can double jump, bash things with his fists, or dash in the direction desired with a flick of the analog stick. This control scheme can feel slightly awkward at first, depending on which games you’ve played previously, but it eventually becomes second nature. The standard moves at Knack’s disposal make him a formidable threat, plus he also gathers sunstone energy that grants him access to more spectacular skills. He can convert briefly into a whirling cyclone of relics--great for dealing damage to surrounding foes while also becoming impervious to attack--and he can fire projectiles or perform a ground pound that sends a shockwave in a wide radius. The only real downside is that the pint-sized hero is quite weak. A single hit will often fell him, even after he has upgraded, and that prompts a trip back to the most recent checkpoint.

At first, the apparently unforgiving difficulty level feels excessive. As you learn to properly utilize Knack’s arsenal of abilities, though, you’ll likely find that the design strikes a nearly perfect balance. Being able to easily tear through all obstacles would have drained the experience of potential satisfaction. Here, when everything clicks and suddenly you’re going toe-to-toe with mystical guardians and tanks and armored goblins, potentially tedious confrontations instead have the ability to offer a genuine thrill. Failure is frustrating, but the victory that subsequent attempts earn feels all the sweeter because you know you earned it.

Knack asset

There are a total of 50 missions in all, broken down among a number of chapters that reveal the full story. As you advance through those challenges, you’ll battle an awful lot of similar foes while also being challenged to avoid simple traps and to navigate natural hazards. Periodically, Knack learns a new ability and that makes things interesting. The most obvious example comes when he gathers transparent crystals that allow him to engage a stealth mode. He can creep around, avoiding detection by security beams but also making himself a more tempting target for tough robot guards. In a separate area, as he grows large enough that a swing from one massive fist can level an apartment floor, he’ll be bombed by jets that he can in turn bring down by tossing vehicles.

As you explore and rampage, you’ll also find hidden goodies. These can be collected from chambers secreted throughout the world. If a wall seems slightly unusual, try punching it and you might reveal a cellar with a treasure chest. Inside, you’ll find what appears to be a random reward, and you can either keep it or turn it in for gear that your PlayStation Network friends found when they visited that same location. That’s actually a neat touch that will likely make you wish more of your friends were playing the same game, since having a reasonable support network makes it easier to gather pieces to complete certain equipment sets. The artifacts you can eventually assemble offer improved attack power, radar equipment to let you know when you’re near a secret, and even more powerful versions of Knack.

Much of the above is fairly standard stuff that you will almost certainly have encountered by now if you routinely try your hand at similar titles, but here it is executed well enough to feel remarkable all over again. Camera placement, the bane of many a 3D platformer, is almost never a problem here because the perspective is intelligently fixed. You may occasionally get hit by a shot from an off-screen foe, but mostly that doesn’t come up and you’re free just to enjoy the liberating combat. There aren’t a lot of set pieces that will drop jaws due to their visual splendor, and yet the game’s beautifully rendered environments are extremely attractive from the opening moments right through to the adventure’s epic conclusion. There’s not a moment throughout the adventure that feels like anything less than a cut above the current genre standard, even if the flip side is that there are very few instances that take the extra step necessary to stand out as exemplary.

Knack asset

Knack is not the sort of title that will likely shift consoles and that’s more than okay. It’s still a fun romp through a reasonably lengthy campaign, tied together by solid platforming and addictive combat just difficult enough to remain engaging for the bulk of the adventure’s duration. Though the game often lacks the flair that people are looking for on new hardware, its art style looks very good and should continue to impress for years to come, even as developers are able to squeeze more graphical horsepower out of the new PlayStation 4 hardware. As a must-have experience, Knack falls a hair short. If you have a soft spot for engaging platformers, though, you should definitely find a place for it on your radar.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 18, 2013)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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pickhut posted November 19, 2013:

You know, this doesn't seem like such a bad game, if a bit standard-sounding for my own tastes. Actually was surprised to read your opinion and seeing the rating after all the mixed reactions I've been seeing for this game.

I dunno why, either, but I'm reminded of the 360's launch game, Kameo, whenever I see images of this game. Is that a fair comparison (if you've played the other), or am I waaaaay off?

This was a good read, though I am a bit confused about this one sentence:

Knack stars a mysterious creature of the same name, who basically is a sentient orb that can attract magical chunks called relics close and fashion a body out of them.

Does "relics close" suppose to go together, or am I just reading that wrong?
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honestgamer posted November 19, 2013:

The word "close" didn't belong, so I've removed it. Thanks for pointing it out! I blame the pain in my mouth from apparent dental issues. That can make writing somewhat less manageable than usual.

Sadly, I owned Kameo for years (after buying it at launch) and never actually played it. Then I sold it. I can't tell you how similar the two titles are, but my gut tells me you made an apt comparison. I think a lot of people enjoyed Kameo for what it was, but I don't recall critics being especially kind to it. We could find that the same thing happens with Knack. Right now, it feels to me like everyone is hoping for every new PS4 release to be some amazing adventure heretofore unseen, and Knack is not that. So I think some people come down hard on it for that reason, while overlooking how fun it is. Maybe in a few years, they'll revisit it and decide it was actually one of the finest launch titles... or maybe not. In any event, I wanted to let people know not to overlook it if they're into the sort of experience Knack delivers, because it definitely delivers it well.

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