Game Title: Knack
ESRB Rating: E10+
Developer: SCE Studios Japan
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Review Author: GrayGargoyle
PlayStation's launch history hasn't always proven to be a rosy one. Disparaged by a lack of games and a lack of award-winning entries all around, PlayStation's launch history has been through the disappointing (Street Fighter: The Movie) to the innately rancid (Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire). When the PlayStation 4 came along, talk about the system came from Sony's promise and hyperbole advertising that greatness awaited us all from the moment our digits would wrap around the controller, with system plugged in, powered on, and channeling our gamer energies for the next wave, many sought to dip themselves into the stuff that matters. The pushing and pulling from a giant vat of va-va-voom, the latest PlayStation model drilled expectancy into the mindless drones of millions of gamers across the world, whether they've been with the system a long time or this is all a first for them. Well we're here now and the wait is over. Sony launched the PlayStation 4 to favorable numbers and still climbing. With new hardware comes games that either explode like flavor crystals in our mouths or leave it dry and drought-full as the months slowly seem to creep ahead.
Knack is one of the few games in Sony's PlayStation 4-exclusive arsenal to have launched alongside the console at the ready. As has been known just before the launch of the system came afoot, delays struck such aspiring giants as Sony's racer Driveclub and the much vaunted stealther, Watch Dogs. This has left the PlayStation 4 opening day a little thinner and as the quality of these games goes, a little less inspired. When it comes to Knack, this action game (developed by SCE Studios Japan, and designed by the system's architect Mark Cerny) tells the story of a living creature fully comprised of relics. In this civilized world, humans are at war with the goblin race. It's when the goblins launch an attack against the human colony that a doctor introduces us to his unique creation in the form of Knack. Able to amplify his strength by way of harnessing more relics and fusing with sunstone crystals, Knack has been made to impose against the peoples' enemy. What the doctor, his pet, and his accomplices don't know however is that there's something else at work here.
Coming from Sony's internal Japan studio, Knack is from the kind of group that has handled matters in several variations of games that PlayStation gamers have credited over the years. Whether Gravity Rush, PaRappa the Rapper, Puppeteer, or the Ape Escape series has been something to talk about, then these are the sorts of folks responsible. Mark Cerny, on the other hand, is the one at the helm of all of this. In the leading role as someone who can say they've built the PlayStation 4 from the ground up, he's also someone who can say that there's a game with his name on it. Knack is an action game, plain and simple. Like many of the games Mark Cerny has either done production or design work on in the past, Knack is a leading character, in a platform-oriented experience if you will. Although not specifically a platformer, Knack does manage to meld some into its DNA with the challenge of getting through the plot. And speaking of difficulty, if you were expecting Knack to be a child's toy so they can get their cakewalk on, Knack is not the game that will allow that.
Knack's basic playstyle is sort of as a beat 'em up. Knack has both the power to increase and decrease his overall mass, but not necessarily all the time. The overall goal of each stage is to get through it by defeating as many enemies as you possibly can or want to - and it certainly can make things easier if you figure your way through crossing them all off the list just so you have the freedom to explore each sector to its fullest. Knack's moveset includes not a whole lot but just enough to get by. Jumping and launching directly into enemies from overhead barrel rolls, punching, dodging, throwing objects, and dashing around makes and breaks the vicious breeds of crackable eggs enemies end up being from this assorted package. From archers, club-carrying giants, spiders spewing acidic baths, spiked robots, stone swordsmen, and gunners of different shapes and sizes can all make the trial ahead a pain in the gear. Sharing the values of some of Mark Cerny's earlier work, much like in Crash Bandicoot the character Knack mostly needs to submit one or two hits per enemy before they're done but will receive just as much or as little before his demise in exchange. Don't think for a second that an enemy wave of robots unloading a multitude of energy bursts lined up with tanks flanking Knack with cannonballs and tiny soldiers bursting out bullets is going to be easy-peasy. There are rules to this game, which begins for the most part with staying alive as long as you can, and getting rid of the worst annoyances as fast as possible.
Clearing certain sections of the game can be fairly trying, especially on the tougher difficulties of the game. Fortunately, Knack comes with a backup plan in the form of sunstone energy. Composed of two separate parts, the game equips players with an on-screen display telling players how much life is in their blue meter and how much sunstone or magic they can utilize. Sunstones are essentiality yellow crystals laid out along the concentrated paths of the game. Along the same direction Knack will come across breakable boxes of relics that fuel his health. Whether he's taken a hit, the lifebar boosts upward and gradually bloats Knack's outer shape every time collective relics are discovered. As long as there's a single sunstone ring fully lit Knack can cast his spell, be it a whirling tornado or a demolishing dome of widespread destruction in his surrounding vicinity. Once the sunstone energy is depleted, however, it will take a long while to fill up again. There are ways to increase the measurements and general tenacity of Knack, but this too will take up to one or multiple playthroughs of the game to get better at it - and that is becoming one of the game's number one treasure hunters. In Knack there's more than just beating up enemies along the way - there are secret rooms to discover. If a wall looks out of place, have Knack knock it down and see what's behind. Should there be a long trail ahead, follow it toward the concealed chest that should present players with one of several randomly generated prizes.
Among Knack's giveaways it's either going to be a piece of equipment that can do one of many things when completed with all components in place, or a power crystal that will unlock a specialized form of Knack to reward players with tracking down these treasures. Hidden doors can be better detected, combo meters can up Knack's strength, and his sunstone gauge can be extended upon with the help of the gadgets that comes from playing through the game. The problem with the treasure system though is that since these items are randomized, you'll rarely if ever receive the same item in a row. On top of that, choice in the matter can be extremely limited all the same. Unless someone on your PlayStation Network friend list has played through Knack before you have, and has found all the same treasure chests as you have, the game won't record their history of what they've gathered. And in how Knack works, it's this system of choosing what the game gives you or what your friend(s) have gotten that makes for an interesting scenario, but one that is ultimately flawed by a certain hassle. This dilemma stems from the rarest of the rare diamond crystal, one that may or may not pop up until you've replayed the same stage relentlessly until it finally decides to appear on your 20th time through. For trophy hunters, Knack is one of the most irritating games to scale that far up 100% wall.
When upping the ante on visual splendor from the generation that's already come of age, the PlayStation 4 upon arrival has a chance to deliver something gamers haven't seen yet. It's a time in which the top-dollar hardware ought to turn our heads and make a scene. Knack's not the only game out there for the system, but it is one of the few powered specifically by the PlayStation 4. It's here in Knack's small example on visual upgrade that largely underutilizes any potential to showcase something much more special. Knack certainly looks technically enhanced over any PlayStation 3 game by comparison. The state of its graphics capture a being that you wouldn't find in a last-generation release, as far as technology is concerned. As much as Knack's ability to encode a larger amount of polygons, shaders, and other pictorials goes, it's that Knack doesn't go well out of its way to establish itself as much more than your average specimen. In Knack's defense you'll find some decency from the cinematics, where the tanks shoving their way through a forest knock down trees with a coat of eye-popping magnetism. Knack himself is formed of several particle materials all held together that fall apart by free will or from damage incurred. Whether Knack has a silver lining as the glossy and translucent form of laser-oppressive Stealth Knack or he's built out of wood and under fire by hostile guards using flaming arrows that can turn Knack into a roasting hothead, the game does put itself out there to make do with what its goal is.
Albeit, this artistic direction is somewhat unusual. Knack looks the part of a child's game but plays more like an adult game. Characters in this story either resemble something from a Saturday morning cartoon show or have not as much distinctive expressionism and take the shape of your typical human being. When paired up, the varying class of characters wedged together seem a bit out of order. It's nothing the eyes won't be able to adjust to, but it's not the sort of love affair you'd want to write home about either. Knack himself stands out more so. Disproportionate as he is just a bunch of tiny jagged pieces spaced out in a collapsible and adjoining mass, Knack's features transition from a wooden puppet when tiny to a more blazoned towering structure of fragments on his sizable fill-up. Past the falling walkways, sliding down the slippery cavern ice chutes, and punching fist through bustable buildings in a city where people stand around to cheer or fear the colossal might of Knack, this isn't the worst game out there, but its collaboration of a more simplistic blending of oddities gives gamers a much less potent example of why climbing aboard the PlayStation 4 right away is not a good thing.
Compared to a game like Crash Bandicoot, you may remember the irresistible audible cues stemming from the Aku Aku mask to the delightful soundtrack. Knack attempts to put itself in similar footwear but doesn't achieve these merits. For one thing, there is no funny mask making funny noises. The enemies of the game are made up of everything from insects that fire green energy beams over to men inside mechanical suits that grunt when they fall over. Knack can punch. Knack can walk across wooden boards or be singed by the molten lava his feet touch. There are walls crumbling when slammed into and the differential tones of a zippy arrow or a stream of bustling missiles heading directly toward the protagonist. In these instances the audio works, but to say there's really something distinctive and impressive at matter... well, this is not that kind of game.
Through the background music as well, Knack sorts through a few different types of tracks. Whether the motif shoots for an upbeat island-like rhythm across the outdoorsy wilderness and mountainous region or switches to a heavier instrumental thematic when dangerous enemies are afoot, these implementations are serviceable for what they're worth. However, it's noticeable that the song selections themselves aren't fantastic in any particular way. Not to mention, often when that ominous theme steps in it will not stop going even if adversaries have all been eliminated. This might make the gamer second-guess whether there's more still on its way. On top of everything, Knack does not come with the best assortment from its vocal talents. The characters all sound like they should, but some of them, Knack in particular, feel off. Ikechukwu Prince Amadi, who characterizes Knack, definitely sounds like the kind of guy you'd pull off the street. While his performance is believable, it's the way his voice sounds that doesn't mesh with the character. But, given how it might be hard to nail down something like Knack, you could probably spend a good long while mixing and matching between every single vocal personality just to find the right one that would befit the portrayal.
There are things you could tell people about Knack as a game. The truth of the matter is that it's not always going to be what you want to hear. Coming into the PlayStation 4 launch, the console's history has not started out with a bang. Some will tell you Knack is fun while others will claim it's pathetic. In my opinion, neither is true. Knack is simply so-so. Average, mediocre, a middle-of-the-road opportunity, Knack is a game without any substantial strength. The story won't have a hold over you, the graphics and sounds don't output enough of an attention-grabber, and the gameplay isn't going to invite gamers over for innovation and impeccable performance. Going through Knack, the best thing that can be said about it is that the game is playable enough to motivate a gamer while the elevated difficulty will maintain that wavelength. People can look at Knack and wish it could have been the greatest system-seller of all-time, but sadly it's a mixed bag that puts PlayStation 4 into the position as having almost nothing fabulous to offer gamers on day one. If greatness is what you were after all this time, all anyone can really tell you right now is that it might be a while longer before consumers will be able to accept precisely that.
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