It’s been six months now since the launch of the PlayStation 4, a launch that saw millions of consoles fly off the shelves in time for Christmas. As an early adopter of the console I’ve worked my way through almost the entire catalogue of games currently available and yet one launch title purposefully slipped me by. That game of course is Knack, a game that received such mediocre reviews I decided it was best kept far away from my virtual PSN trophy cabinet. But is it really as bad as the critics say? Well I’ve finally taken the time for find out.
The Knack Universe is an odd one to say the least, where goblins and humans are at war in what appears to be modern day with a twist. This Earth is not dependent on fossil fuels but on ancient relics which can be used to power the technology of this world. The story follows Dr. Vargas, a scientist and inventor who has been studying the relics for decades. As part of this research he manages to bind them together and give them consciousness creating the titular character, Knack. With the goblins declaring full scale war on the humans, the doctor and Knack (joined by a few other characters) set out on an adventure to save the human race.
The synopsis at least, in my opinion, sounds like an interesting and unique story but sadly it never it gets going, there is no depth. Many will say that because of the target audience for a game like this the details in the story are less important but I question this. As an avid fan of the LEGO gaming franchise I have played a number of TT’s entries into the same demographic. The story has always played as big of a part of the games as the gameplay itself, whether based on movies (LEGO: The Hobbit) or unique to the gaming media (LEGO: Marvel Superheroes), and so Knack has no excuse, short of lazy storytelling, for shredding the story down to a minimum.
That said, the story does allow the game to progress at a nice pace and stretch across a large number of different locations. Each chapter of the game takes place at a different location and is split into a number of levels around a specific theme.
The game is visually pleasing, not in the Infamous: Second Son kind of visually pleasing, but in the Disney cartoon way, bright, colourful and slightly camp. From a castle, to a weapons factory, to the middle of a jungle, visual diversity is something the developers have tried to add into this action platformer.
Sadly this is the only real diversity within each level. Despite the changing environment and the occasional distraction, the basic gameplay of destroy everything, kill the bad guys, get to the end of the level, seems to be the only thing to do and so each level just feels like a repeat of the last and it’s dull. Now I hear many of you now shouting, “Hang on, isn’t that pretty much the same as the LEGO games?”, well yes and no. Where TT games have succeeded in keeping the players interest is in the puzzles within each level. Even as far back as LEGO: Star Wars the gray matter in your head was required on occasion to solve a particular problem, Knack gameplay is mindless tedium.
The Knack trump card however does have one saving grace, seamless changing perspective. Where this game shines, and I hope I’m not alone in appreciating this because it is quite impressive, is in the way that Knack can absorb relics and grow to varying sizes. This might not sound that great but the developers have done an amazing job of changing the environment perspective without the player really noticing a difference. To give you can idea of how extreme the size difference can be; Knack at his smallest is about the size of a dog but by the time you finish the final level he’s about the size of the Empire State Building and yet the growth from the players perspective is seamless. There are levels where you’ll fight a building sized bad guy that will show up again later in the level looking like a small child, it’s an impressive feat which doesn’t require the game to zoom in and out and distract the gameplay.
The soundtrack, though not triple A game standard, fits well with the genre. The ambient background music is less distracting then say, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and the voice over work, while not likely to ever win any awards, is just right for the young audience this game is aimed at, though it is “after school special” cheesy at times.
Although there is no multiplayer, online or local, the game does try to adopt the social aspect that is becoming a prominent part of this console generation by sharing treasures and awards with your friends automatically. It’s not something that’s very noticeable and many won’t even know the functionality is there but this game is made for young children and so keeping virtual interaction at a minimum isn’t a bad thing.
Completionists out there will HATE this game, not because of the story, graphics, tedious game-play, etc, but because of certain design decisions that make this game almost impossible to platinum without a lot of luck. Many of the trophies associated with this game are collectible based. The collectibles on offer can be obtained from treasure chests scattered around the game, hidden in secret caves, pretty bulk standard for this game type.
Two things make this a much more difficult task then you would expect from this game. The first being that the contents of each treasure chest is randomly generated and there aren’t enough through one play-through to get all of the collectibles. But that’s ok surely because there is a chapter select to go back over the game and get the collectibles I’ve missed? Well no, entering a level from chapter select will remove all of the chests from the level, it’s painfully annoying. I’m on my forth play-through and still don’t have all of the collectibles.
So is Knack deserving of the bad press it has received from gamers and critics alike? I would say yes and no.
Yes this game has flaws, the lack of story detail and diversity in game-play are two of the key problems with this game but that’s me looking at this from the perspective of an adult. A few months back I was introduced to Knack by my 5 year old nephew (hey Bill) and to him Knack was a great game. He couldn’t get enough of it and the simplicity of the story and game-play allowed him to engage and even complete the game almost single handedly and that’s the point with this game, it’s not a game for all ages, this is a game for the young. Yes other games have done it better but this is still a good introduction into gaming in the same way that the first Mario Brothers and Sonic the hedgehog games were for my generation back in the late 80’s, early 90’s.
The main reason this game suffered the criticism it received was it’s untimely release as a launch title for the new generation of gaming. The expectation was that new exclusives to the PlayStation 4 would be ground-breaking and Knack isn’t, it doesn’t use the full power of the PS4 because it never has the need to. Had this game been released on the PS3 or even the Vita, six months earlier, it would have gone relatively unnoticed to the masses, like so many games targeting the younger generation and yet would have still found the same audience it has today.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
The seamless perspective changing is impressive
Great introduction platformer for young children
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
Tedious game-play with little diversity
Collectible farming is very much down to pure luck
The story is emotionless at best