Knack review – A right old relic


By Geoffrey Tim on Thursday, December 19, 2013
"Reminiscent of those old school games you loved"

By know, you’ve probably read all manner of criticisms about Sony Japan Studio’s launch platformer, Knack. But forget everything you’ve heard, and everything you think you know about Knack. Yes, many of the criticisms are indeed valid – but there’s a charm to Knack that makes it far more enjoyable than you’ve been led to believe.

For starters, it’s really not the kids-oriented platformer it appears to be. Nor is it really all that much of a platformer; it’s really more of a cute brawler, like God of War blended with some old-school Crash Bandicoot. And to that old-school end, Knack is often quite punishingly difficult. There are numerous enemies and situations that’ll kill you instantly. A single hit, sometimes two, and Knack crumbles to the ground in a scatter of rubble.

Knack (7)

That’s perhaps, at least one reason, why it’s largely been panned in reviews. With infrequent checkpoints and rather frequent deaths there’s a lot of replaying the same sections, which I initially found frustrating. Later on though, I realised that this is exactly the way games used to be, and perhaps we as modern gamers have become a bit spoiled by regular checkpoints and games that very nearly play themselves. Knack very much took me back to my youth, where replaying the same sections of a game, and then finally getting through, is pretty rewarding. While not remotely as challenging as something like, say, Dark Souls, Knack has the same sort of ethos.

Knack (1)

Back to Knack though. It takes place in a world that’s powered by mysterious and ancient relics that are mined from caverns and catacombs. During a relic expedition, inventor and crafter Doctor Vargas finds one that seems special. Different. Indeed it is, as years later he unlocks it’s potential, and it turns out that that particular relic, now named Knack, is sentient. And despite his initially diminutive size, Knack is particularly adept at kicking ass. That’s all very convenient, because the village is being attacked by curiously weaponised Goblins. Knack, naturally, is the solution to it all. It’ll be up to Dr Vargas, Knack and crew to get to the bottom of it all and show the goblins that humans and their mystical pet relic golems are not to be trifled with. It’s largely predictable twaddle, but fun enough to break up the action.

Knack (8)

Knack himself controls rather well, with a handy double-jump,  a dash to avoid heavy attacks and a standard attack. While he’s jumping, attacking propels him in a forward roll, much like Blanka. That’s very nearly the extent of what Knack can do. Nearly. He’s also got a few special powers up his sleeve to make attacking enemies a tad more interesting. He can’t go about unleashing these power’s willy-nilly though, and must smash Sunstones – yellow crystals that litter the landscape – to harvest and store their energy in order to strategically discharge these more potent attacks. 

Knack (14)

A Golem made from relics, Knack grows as he encounters more relics strewn across levels. In some levels, you’ll see him grow to positively gargantuan proportions, which you would imagine would help ease the difficulty. In truth, it just gives the game a chance to throw bigger, and nastier enemies at you. The smaller Knack is nimbler, more agile – but decidedly weak, taking just a hit before death. Larger Knack is slower, but more powerful. Unfortunately, the choice here is never yours; you’re always forced in to being the smaller or increasingly larger character by the story, and it would have been great to be able to change at will. It’s always a little defeating when, at the end of a level of being a giant wrecking ball of a creature, you have to give up those relics and revert back to being pint sized.

Knack (11)

Likewise, there are levels that allow Knack to blend with other materials, becoming a metal Knack, an Ice-Knack or an all-glass one that allows him to bypass laser trip-wires. They hardly change Knack’s abilities beyond being aesthetic, and once again it’s all driven by the narrative and not by choice. It’s a pity, because it feels like some of Knack’s best ideas are never used to their potential.

Knack (13)During the game, hidden collectibles allow you to upgrade Knack, but only superficially. You can store an extra burst of sunstone energy if you find all the parts, or enable a relic detector that lets you know when you’re near relics. You’re also able to collect Crystals that serve as modifiers for subsequent replays, but these too feel a bit underutilised. There are other negatives; though many of the locales you’ll visit are startling in their beauty, others – notably the village – seem dull, and bereft of life. Enemies are recycled a bit too much, and it starts to feel a bit repetitive in its 10 hour campaign length.

Knack (9)

Local co-op, which brings in a buddy for Knack that can help him collect relics and kick goblin behind eases the difficulty  a little, and a bejweled-like companion app makes collecting gadget pieces and crystals – that you can beam to the PS4 – less of a chore.

In spite of the issues, I enjoyed every minute of Knack. It’s charming and fun, reminiscent of those old school games you loved, like Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter.  Despite it’s appearance, it’s a game for the hardcore player, the sort who’s been playing games for forever – and I’m convinced history will be kinder to Knack than most critics have been.

Knack was reviewed by on the 19th of December , 2013 at 3:30 PM on PlayStation 4

GAMEPLAY
6.5
With Crash Bandicoot-like platforming, and God of War-styled brawling, Knacks only real gameplay flaw is in the lack of variety. One or two more moves would have been very welcome.
DESIGN
7.5
I think Knack was designed to be an old-school game, to evoke those sorts of memories of an era past - and to that end, it does the job perfectly.
VALUE
7.0
It's quite a lengthy adventure, which may actually count against it, as tedium starts setting in. There's a few reasons to replay it, mostly through the employment of a modified Knack, and an even harder difficulty setting if masochism is your thing.
TOTAL
7.0
Though it fails to live up to the promise of its biggest ideas, Knack is a good game, a solid a challenging old-school adventure for gamers young and old.

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Author:Geoffrey Tim

I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Knightwing19

    I would give it a 5 honestly. I played a lot of this game but about 1/4 through it get’s boring as you are doing the same thing over and over with nothing new to do. Not to mention the best part of the action is done on cutscenes and not by a player which really sucks.

    • http://www.youtube.com/themaxiviper117 Maxiviper117

      Basically most games like this back then were all like this.

    • illsystem

      You clearly didn’t get the part where you are massive and have to fight that huge Goblin Mech… that scene was epic!!!

    • William Francis

      I just recently bought the game for the wife to play, and I must say, I’m enjoying it almost more than she is. The co-op play is great to get people who aren’t really gamers into the PS4.

  • Admiral Chief in Vegas

    So Knack not too kack?

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Apparently not, I think the kack brigade (polygon et al.) were trying their luck. Even Killzone and Warframe are awesome. I guess the take – home message is, “polytaku = lulz”

  • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

    Now I’m excited to give it a go, thank you Oom Geoff! I’ve been playing far too much FPS games lately,and I think a weekend with Knack will reset my bile gland.

    • Skoobaz

      Banana’s have bile??

  • illsystem

    I agree with this review. Knack doesn’t feel completely next gen, but it has a certain charm and old school fun that has been absent from a lot of recent releases. If you have a PS4, I would definitely recommend picking it up.

  • Jonah Cash

    I am currently playing Killzone and I don’t like FPS games but WOW what a game!! I will have a look at Knack sometime in the new year, I really enjoy these types of games…

  • LokisDawn

    My honest opinion: this game is really bad. Why? There are quite a few reasons. You say it’s “reminiscent” of old-school games, like Bandicoot, because it’s “hard”, yet, as I see it, you fail to realize *why* it’s hard. It’s not just because you can die in two hits, Dark Souls does that, and it’s a great game.
    It’s hard because it handles like a drunken broomstick. The dashes move you for what feels like twenty pixels, and end in a short stun period, so mercy you if you fail to dash *quite* far enough. There’s *one* single standard attack, since your jump attack gets you *just* out of range of your normal attack, and the stun is just too short to allow you to follow up with anything. Your holy-moly yellow energy fills up at the rate of two grandmas a millennium, and stays depleted on death, so good luck with that one enemy you need your ranged attack for if you die to the ranged guys melee attack one-hitting you.
    But much more than the “hardness”, there’s some *really* courious design-decisions, which completely ruin the game. There is close to zero progression, be it character or game-related, your gaining relics is a farce, you really have no influence on how big you are, which is exactly as big as the level needs you to be. In completely shoe-horned situations you periodically lose your size(give energy to this door, that elevator, or fit through that hole), over which you have zero control. It’s easy to see how badly this gimmick is implemented by how “bigger is better” counts in just about any situation at all. There’s no use in staying small(say being faster, or harder to hit), in fact you can’t even lose size on your own, only when and where the game wants you to.
    This game is simply riddled with problems like these, and I’m not even talking about the unbelievably clichéd plot, where they have found a way to make a space-marine(Because that’s what Knack is, let’s be honest) out of a character that looks fit to be a mascot to some kids show.
    The game was so bad, I had to put it down after less than two hours. So maybe some of this gets remedied later, but honestly, if I need to play for more than two hours to get to the interesting, non-broken part, I don’t want to play your game. That’s why I stopped playing FFXII after 20 hours.
    3/10

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