When the PlayStation 4 was announced back in 2013, it was showcased along side a number of titles that Sony hoped would appeal to everyone: everyone that is if you like Sports, Driving, or Shooting games. Outside of that remit the launch titles have been quite lacking with only really Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag monopolising the action adventure genre.
Knack sits apart from the other genres released. Something of a platformer, but more akin to previous PlayStation mascot, Crash Bandicoot, than to Nintendo’s Super Mario. The story starts with a group of Goblins attacking a human settlement. A crisis meeting is called, and during a debate about the best course of retaliation, Knack is revealed by his creator, the Doctor (DON’T GET EXCITED, NOT THAT DOCTOR), as an alternative to the security robots of Viktor Industries. Knack is a piece of ancient technology, apparently voiced by Shaft, that the Doctor found, he is able to create a body out of relics, these relics can be used to increase Knack’s size, and strength. Eventually it’s agreed that Knack and Viktor’s robots will work together to tackle the problem. The story will progress further on, but with very little surprises, and it’s certainly one of Knack‘s weaker aspects.
Knack’s ability to absorb the relics is the main game play mechanic for the title. Later on in the game you’ll be able to absorb different materials to allow Knack to use a new ability, but these are always fleeting. The game has a sense of almost predetermination to it: the developers decided long ago what size you should be at any particular time, and you will be that size. No matter how good you are at the game you’ll never be able to tower above your enemies and stomp on them unless the game allows you to.
The other aspect to Knack and the relics is that they act as your health system. If you take damage you’ll lose relics and eventually die, this is something you need to be prepared for as you will die a lot. Outside of the moments when you are allowed to ‘Knack Smash’, Knack is a surprisingly weak character, and most enemies will be able to take you down in two or three hits, some will even take you down in one. Early on when there are only one or two enemies to deal with at a time, this is fine, but later when the game ramps up its difficulty and suddenly you have three or four types of enemies to avoid and hit you will find it difficult to balance the games demands. You do have special abilities to use, but these take so long to refill that you almost forget about them.
If, sorry, WHEN you die you’ll encounter another of the games relics, an antiquated checkpoint system. After every death you’ll be flung back along the linear path from whence you came, enemies will respawn and you’ll be forced to play through the same series of actions that you just did. Perhaps you’ll get a little bit further, or maybe you won’t, either way unless you pass through another almost indecipherable checkpoint you’ll go back to same point. It’s almost like Sony heard people were big fans of Dark/Demon Souls and decided to use that game mechanic, but rather than learn from mistakes, Knack often just forces to relive them. The fact that the ‘Sunstones’ that recharge your special abilities also respawn upon your demise, suggests that the developers knew exactly what they were doing when designing the levels, hinting at an attempt to use difficulty to make the game longer, rather than using the story or interesting game play.
Knack is a strange game, and an even stranger one considering the guy who built the PlayStation 4, Mark Cerny, helped write and design it. The game’s visuals hint of a game that is family friendly, or suitable for youngsters, yet the difficulty is way off anything you’d find in other titles like Ratchet and Clank. The PlayStation 4 is the next generation of gaming with all eyes looking forward, but Knacks gameplay mechanics are firmly rooted in the far distant past.