Knack PS4 review – D’oh of the Colossus
From the very first glimpse of Knack at Sony’s PS4 reveal, something seemed off. Had Japan Studio really assembled the game’s star from scraps of gaudy costume jewelry or did it just seem that way? And the parts of his body that didn’t consist of turquoise gemstones and etched gold took the form of claw-like shards. Even if you felt compelled to hug him, you’d risk succumbing to multiple puncture wounds.
Knack’s character design was obviously driven by functional imperative. He had to be able to morph, reassemble, or even fall apart on cue. A handy excuse to showcase the extra power of the PS4’s ability to simulate a myriad of tiny onscreen elements.
Having now played it, we can tell you that Knack the game is just as difficult to love as Knack the character. Mark Cerny and Japan Studio aspire to uphold the design tradition of old-school PlayStation platformers such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak And Daxter – double-jumps, cramped arenas full of cartoony bad guys, collectible trinkets – but the result is so bland and lacking in creative spark that it almost tempts you to cross-examine your nostalgia for PlayStation’s earlier hardware generations.
Knack’s story offers a hodgepodge of medieval fantasy, sci-fi and comic-book plot elements. Waves of trolls have rolled into town with war machinery looking for trouble. There’s a billionaire industrialist and robot-building hobbyist a la Tony Stark who practically starts twirling his moustache the second he walks onstage. A kindly scientist has brought Knack to life in the lab by animating a pile of ancient relics and must now rely on his help to save the day.
Knack’s designers do their best to capture the heady player progression of the Mario series where Nintendo’s plumber started out looking like he’d be crushed to death by a falling leaf but quickly overpowers enemies by super-sizing and stacking on powers. But the mistake Japan Studio makes is dragging out that weakling phase. The itty-bitty Knack’s health bar looks like he’s caught the basilisk curse from Dark Souls and he shatters to rubble with just two or three enemy attacks, forcing you to backtrack extended distances to reclaim your progress. Oddly, buffed-up Knack may be large as a house but he can feel just as brittle.
Mastering hard games can be supremely rewarding, but overcoming a punishing encounter in Knack more often draws a sigh of relief rather than whoops and fist pumps
Mastering hard games can be supremely rewarding, but overcoming a punishing encounter in Knack more often draws a sigh of relief rather than a loud whoop and fist pumps. You have such a narrow range of basic attacks that staying alive is less about strategy and more about spamming the dash-evade mapped to the right stick. You have three super attacks which look amazing and devastate your foes, but it takes so long to harvest enough yellow crystal shards to activate them that you never feel good about burning one. Knack is an occasionally handsome but joyless grind of a game – an adventure full of ancient relics that plays like one as well.