Launch games are unique games in and of themselves. Usually, they are ports of existing titles, and there are usually a few new titles that serve the sole purpose to show off the new power and features of the new gaming system.
With the launch of the PlayStation 4, Sony tasked the responsibility to show off the power and features of the hot new system to Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall. One game comes through, the other, sadly, doesn’t.
Knack, unfortunately, is the latter. Studio Japan Studio, the developer of some of Sony’s biggest and best exclusive titles, and writer/director Mark Cerny, who has had his hand in some of the greatest games ever created, have collaborated on a game that has so much promise, but its failings all come from the lackluster execution.
Knack centers around an ancient war between humans and Goblins. When a goblin army attacks a settlement and steals the collections of relics, which are ancient devices that have been engineered to power everything in the daily lives of the humans, the human leaders call on the best and brightest to help defeat the Goblins once and for all.
Enter Dr. Vargas, his young assistant, his assistant’s adventuring uncle, and his greatest creation, called Knack, who is an entity made of entirely of relics, with a special relic that serves as his “soul.” Knack has the ability to collect relics and grow in size and power, but can also shed the relics to fit into tight spaces. Vargas and crew head off to investigate the Goblins and to try and defeat them once and for all.
While the story of Knack seems pretty straightforward, it’s not. About a third of the way through the game, the conflicts shift away from the Goblins and it goes into the realm of corporate espionage, as human entities want control of Knack for their own purposes. By the time the story gets back to the militaristic Gundahar and his Goblin army, the game is already stumbling in its presentation, and the ending can’t come soon enough.
As a launch title, Knack does serve to show off some of the PS4’s vaunted graphical power. It runs in native 1080p, and the pictures are smooth and pretty. Each individual relic spins and waves on Knack’s body, even during high-action set pieces, and even the shadows on the ground move concordant to the relics on his body. There is zero difference between fully-rendered CG and game play, and most times, the gameplay is prettier than the CG cut-scenes.
What really sinks Knack is not just the lackluster story, but in the incredible level of repetition. The enemies are all generic, and whether they are human, robot, or Goblin, there are four or so types and only the skin colors or outfits change. Each level is a long, boring point-A-to-point-B button masher with zero difficulty in puzzle solving or problem resolution.
Because of this, Knack has to be solely aimed at a much younger audience, and maybe that was Sony’s intention. I found the game generally just “okay” to play through, but nothing–and I mean NOTHING–made me think I was playing a great example of what the PS4 can do.
With that being said, when my seven-year-old nephew comes over, I’m really uncomfortable with him trying out any of the six million mature-rated FPS shooters that ushered in this launch, so Knack is the perfect game for him. And that has always been the point.
What really bothers me is that Mark Cerny was behind Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, two of the best early PlayStation games–and two incredible family game franchises. I expected so much more–for kids and adults–and instead, Knack fails. That is something I cannot look past.
There are well over 100 trinkets to collect and completing sets makes Knack more powerful. Unfortunately, the game is designed to force players to play through the 12-15 hour story multiple times to find them all, and really, it’s not worth it. There is also a companion app on iOS and Android that players can use to unlock certain items.
Using the remote play feature, Knack looks just as good on the PS Vita’s 5″ OLED screen, and since only three buttons are used (square for punch, X for jump, and circle to unleash the power of collected sunstones), there is no reason why the entire game can’t be played on the Vita.
Knack had the potential to be so much more. There could have been less handholding and more puzzles in each level. Knack himself could have been more Katamari, growing more powerful based on the relics found by searching every square inch of the game world, instead of scripted growth and shrinking, based on what was needed for the story. If this title were to ever get a sequel, the groundwork is established and ripe for growth. I hope Cerny and Japan Studio are both paying attention, as the good things here, like the beautiful art direction and the enjoyable boss battles can definitely be salvaged for the next game.
A new system launch is always an exciting time for gamers–no matter where their allegiances lie. Sony came out of the gate with an incredible system and kicked off one of the most successful system launches in console gaming history. Knack, as a launch title, fails to live up to that much hype, and that is unfortunate. With its simplistic level design, its game story that is as vanilla and predictable as an episode of Sesame Street, and the total lack of any true skill needed to complete the campaign, Knack will soon be forgotten under the hype–and hopeful execution–of better games like inFamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886, both PS4 exclusives that are scheduled to hit in 2014. And for the record, my seven-year-old nephew agrees with me.
Knack was reviewed on PS4 using a copy purchased at retail. It released exclusively for PS4 on November 15, 2013.