Developed By: Japan Studio
With the next-gen at the doors, it’s time to revisit an interesting series. YES, Knack.
I’m not joking, Knack is an interesting disaster, not only because Sony actually made a sequel (which is almost unbelievable in itself, since the first wasn’t even a financial success), but because it’s an exemplary case of console manifacturers that now – more than ever before – really don’t have to try impress the public to buy your machine by making good exclusive launch titles, stuff that makes palatable the prospect of investing in a console. Sell whatever, people will buy it anyway.
If Sony somehow let you preorder a PS5, but sure as shit you can buy the games….. the console will be available to order on launch day. ” To order”, not GET.
Not that anybody needs to make the same mistake as Sony did with the Vita (requiescat in pace) and spunk dozens of launch titles regardless of quality, but still, thinking back it’s amazing Sony actually tried to lure people into buying a PS4 with a crap title like Knack. And i mean it when i say “lure”, with this big particle monsters that looks like Crash Bandicoot a bit, instead of actually making a new Crash Bandicoot or commission another Ratchet & Clank to Insomniac Games (at least this time around there is a R&C game coming near the launch period), if we must go with the nostalgia approach.
SONY PICTURES ANIMATION: THE GAME
The story is dung, let’s not dance around it: goblins exist in a futuristic-but-not dystopian world, they have both medieval technology and laser tanks for some reason, and they attack humans… again, for some reason. The humans created Knack from old relic pieces they found, and he’s tasked to help a scientist (and an array of characters that do bugger all, but are given main stage anyway) uncover why the hell the goblin have plasma tanks, truly a question for our times.
The lines are recycled guff, the characters do taste like Royal Mail fodder, and the villain is so obvious that… the story itself kinda forgot he is there, since it’s already obvious the moment he appears that he has some wily schemes planned. Other reviewers have pointed this out already, but yes, it’s absurd how the goatee scientist kidnaps the human protagonists… when both wanted the same things, and he could have fuckin asked them to follow him in his castle, but kidnaps them anyway, because he’s so used to do thing like the mustached villain he is, i guess.
And there is Knack.
I’m not gonna rack on his design more than it has already been done, but even if i kinda like it (in a pitiable way), i can’t say it’s a good design, at all, and the fact that his personality also seems to have been garbled together from action movie scripts… doesn’t help. I kinda felt bad still, because he basically does all the works for the dumb humans characters, and the goblin villain does raise a good point when he asks “why you ally yourserlf with them?”. Don’t expect the story of Knack to make anything nuanced or good with this questions, because it doesn’t.
Even kids movie nowadays – for the most part – are better written.
The rest of the story and characters aren’t much better, either. Banal and vapid shite, it feels like a bad children animated movie of the middle to low echelon, i don’t know why Mark Cerny did want to be credited for it (he directed and wrote the story), frankly. Not an offensive & bad children movie, but definitely stupid and not written well at all. I mean, it’s one of those animated movies where 2 characters fall in love … and they’ve shared 1 dialogue with just them two. I’ve skipped some cutscenes in the final chapter, to be honest, so i might have missed some resolutions to subplots, but the plot is still garbage, even if does close the many hanging plot threads or not.
And yes, like many others have said, the quasi-Pixar/high budget BlueSky design on the humans are kinda creepy , dunno why, from a pure technical standpoint the presentation and colors are great, but i don’t like the art direction on humans, i’m fine with the monsters’ designs, they aren’t great either (at all), but they don’t give me the quasi-Uncanny Valley effect humans do.
KNICK FOR A KICK
As far as gameplay goes…. it’s shit. I don’t have a problem per se with a more simple game made as a throwback to simpler times, but Knack not only is dated to the core, it’s a very bad action-platformer with game design that feels ancient, like a early-PS2 era hack n slash with pedestrian platforming, channelling even older styled platform of the mascot era. And i like old PS2 style brawlers and platformers, so i wasn’t turn off by default by the proposition, quite the opposite.
But even so, Knack is bad and easily exposes its flaws in a matter of minutes.
For game that’s basically 80 % combat, the combat system is beyond thread bare: besides the fact that you have a single button for attacking, you constantly feel like you’re controlling a wounded or narcotized version of a videogame character, but you never get out of that phase and regain your basic abilities, those are your basic and only abilities. You have a three-hit combo, a jump homing attack with a pathetic range, and an equally pathetic and short dodge. That’s basically it.
You also have three special attacks that consume crystal gauges, but they’re both necessary to pass some battles AND useless, because you need a lot of Crystal energy to launch a special attack, and this game is beyond cheap. It’s not challenging in a good way, it’s just uber-punishing, because you never know if that enemy hit is gonna one-shot you or not (even when your size is giant). It probably will, maybe you’ll get hit -somehow – 4 times in a few seconds by a combo of mooks and archers hidden way back in the arena. Knack of course doesn’t have any ranged attacks, besides one of the special moves, but they’re mostly unreliable or unavailable when you need them, as we said before. The melee range is crap as well, in case you were wondering.
Even small enemies can one shot you sometimes, and frankly, even mooks of the lowest order have more interesting moveset and seem more suited for combat. Even the basic mace goblin have a better evasive move than your player character, their roll move looks and is more effective. You’re only chance of survival is being the first to hit the enemy, do it quickly and basically never get hit yourself, while using a player character that’s reliable as an old unfixed pinball machine with a flipper that may stop or start working again when if feels like it, with the looming fear it may fall apart at any second.
This “one-shot” rigged roulette also nullifies almost any point in the unique gimmick of Knack: he can gather relics and grow in size, becoming more powerful and able to – maybe – NOT die on the spot when hit once, if the game feels like it and when it doesn’t makes this system moot by itself, by pairing you with enemy on par with your scale (the only new ability of “giant Knack” is that you can pick up and throw destroyed tanks, that’s it). Sometimes the game makes you collect elements like ice instead, which work in the same way, and giving you a shield bar.
You’d think absorbing ice would give you some power, but no, and to exacerbate that, after the ice caves in chapter 3, you have to hit three switches and do it fast because you’re coated in ice and it will melt fast by going outside, where even the sun itself can conspire against you. I would feel bad for Knack, if he had an actual personality.
And of course when you need to absorb wood, is because the game itself seems to spite Knack, as you will get set on fire. It’s not being weak to enemies armed with fire crossbow, but you just will get set on fire, since you can’t avoid collecting logs from smoldering chimneys. It basically works like ice, as you lose the “armor” segment of the element absorbed over time. And you have to be on fire to burn some wooden door. The irony. Don’t expect things like being partly wood will reduce electrical damage or something, you’re giving this game way too much credit. IF being on fire makes you do more damage, is pratically impossible to tell, since you being big in size means you do more damage anyway. So yeah, think about this for a minute.
I mean, if you wanna go “ye old school”, make Knack trasform in different animals, like in the days of Donkey Kong Country, for example. Didn’t exactly work well for Kameo (yes, i’m that old), but still….at least they tried more with the ideas.
To be fair, the game kinda tries to do something with Knack abilities as it progresses, like collecting crystals makes you able to turn into a small invisible Knack that can go undetected by lasers and enter small passages (and turn back into regular Knack to fight enemies), but it does the bare minimum with this abilities, and they’re not integrated in Knack’s arsenal or skills that you carry through the game, you just have them when the game says “now you can”. And they get recycled like anything else in Knack.
The level design does nothing but purposely sabotage and ambush you at any given moment, to piss you off, with slippery surfaces and tight corridors coupled with ranged enemies or annoying dorks launching bombs at any angle, and/or platforms with at least an archer or ranged unit ready to one shot you midway, because – again – even medium tier goblin units are a better fit for combat than Knack, more agile, more nimble, more proactive, more equipped and pro-active than the sack of levitating rubble you control. I’m sorry, they just look more fit for the purpose than Knack.
You don’t even have a block button to parry projectiles or melee attacks, but then again, there is no git be gudding at, because at the core, this game isn’t hard, it’s cheap as hell, with no depth but plenty of cheap tricks to frustrate you and force challenge out of a game that, at its core, it’s a bad children game. You can adapt to the way Knack wants you to play, but even when playing how the game expectes you to, it ain’t fun, or challenging, just frustrating and boring.
The enemy variety isn’t bad at all, actually is quite decent, but it means nothing when you have such a prehistoric, stiff, primitive and barely workable combat system like the one in Knack, and when the game stretches itself thin like it does, so you’ll end fighting the same old enemies (maybe reskinned) too many times in small arena with few enemy units, because the game recycles itself to a nauseating degree.
Despite the titular protagonist looking a bit like Crash Bandicoot, the game has more emphasis on combat, with a totally linear level design akin the one seen on PS1/PS2 beat em up, meaning there are optional “hidden” rooms containing a chest with collectables inside. These actually do something gameplay wise, as you gather pieces for gadget, and gems for alternate versions of Knack, with specific power/abilities, made for you to replay the game with. Pffft.
To make things even worse, Knack isn’t even good at platforming, being equipped with a poultry double jump that you will have to master anyway.. It’s both absurd and helpful that the game often takes control from you to make Knack climb and do jumping in a cutscene because….you honestly couldn’t be able to perform those things in game. Which is kinda sad (a lot) in a platformer, one that doesn’t even have much challenge in the platforming itself, most of the time is just a traversal method, and when it poses some treat, is by really generic, arcaic and boring platforming, and the puzzles are basic, old and …. not really puzzles, just enviromental interaction.
While patches have fixed the crashes the title was known for at launch and following days, it’s absurd to see the cutscenes stutter and the framerate drop all of a sudden, for no fuckin reason, it’s not even a “uses in-game models and not CGI models for the characters”, not exactly, since the models are the same. And it’s laughable anyway for a PS4 launch title. Like the drops in framerate during battles, which isn’t a continuous problem, but it’s not uncommon either.
The game is quite a colorful one, yes, but from a technical standpoint isn’t that great, so much for it being a “tech demo”, because you definitely could do better, even at launch, Besides that, while there is some decent tech in and it does look pretty-ish, the art style and overall design feels like something out of the PS2, fairly ancient, and while you visit many locales you’ll mostly spend your time in caves, jungle and factories.
To deliver the finishing blow, the game feels excruciating long, with levels that feel way longer than they should, not just because you’ll have to redo many battle encounters because a random small brezee caressed you the wrong way and instakilled you, but because it IS drawn out and mind numblingly repetitive, with weak and almost worthless attents at varying the formula. I was ready to see the credits by the end of chapter 5… of 13. The campaign will take something like 10 hours to beat, but just because the game streches itself way too thin, making the prospect of beating it a total slog, an exercise in tedium resistance.
Once you’ve beaten the campaign, you unlock an arena/coliseum mode and a time trial, because who wouldn’t like to play Knack some more after beating it? Who would, and “why” is what i’d like to know. IF you are such a masochist, then lucky for you, because the gadgets (one of which points out the badly hidden “secret rooms”) are unlocked by your progress in the story, so you wont’t be able to use most of them during your first playthrough, and you can unlock special variants of Knack with unique abilities, like “Crystal” or “Vampire”, which would add some spice to future walkthroughs… but they imply someone would be willing to finish the game.
Also, there is co-op, for reasons. And you guessed it, it’s really shoehorned co-op as well, because the game itself doesn’t fuckin tell you about it, you have to look into the manual to find out. Also, there is a companion app, Knack’s Quest, which should be a match-3 puzzle game, the main attractive to it being able to collect relics and transfer them to the main game… i guess, i wanted to play just for completition sake, for curiosity, but it was never updated for recent versions of IOS, so i can’t play it on my device. You’ll have to take a look for yourself… if you must.
Knack was widely panned by both critics and players, as a crappy launch title that was frustrating, archaic, and reminded them of series from 2 generations ago they wish Sony would have brought back for the launch of the PS4, instead of making one of the less likeable and incompetent action-platformer protagonist, with a name ripe for derision, and a game named after him that justified all the jokes and the crowd’s way too eager taste to parade it around after tarring and feathering it.
Some people said most of the public just didn’t understood Knack and that they expected something different from what the game actually was. Problem is, that even in retrospective, it wasn’t hard to see what the game was, an action-platformer not only dated in concept and design, but a bad AND dated game that tricked people into thinking it’s hard just because it was absurdly punishing, full of fabricated cheap difficulty built on a dysfunctional main character, which isn’t even given much in the way of combos or abilities, making even the very basic enemies a better fit for combat, you really wish you could control any of them, because they move around better, often don’t die with a single hit, can actually dodge and parry competently.
So yeah, it seems (and it IS) suicidal to base an entire game on a character that seems almost defective, looks like someone wanted to make a Crash Bandicoot snowman with random garbage, has no real personality and he’s basically a bellboy for the humans, tasked to do anything they could resolve themselves, but don’t feel like it, in the inane story of goblins attacking humans with sticks and plasma tanks, full of cliches, obvious plot twists seen coming a miles away, all with Pixar-imitation graphics style which feels kinda uncanny on the human characters.
Gameplay doesn’t fare better even with you ignore the combat… because most of the game is combat, the rest is made of archaic, derivative and also frustrating since Knack is barely functional on this regard as well, with stiff controls that need to be mastered, despite being almost no challenge into the platforming itself. There are many automated jumping sequences where the game takes control and makes Knack do things like jumping big chasms. Stuff you couldn’t do realistically otherwise, but it’s telling of how even the game itself doesn’t trust Knack on this.
Not that level design is any better, with the kind of linearity found on PS2 brawlers/hack n slash, with maybe some “secret room” it’s almost impossible NOT to spot and some switches and buttons that need to be hit to progress, most of the time not actual puzzles, and the levels themselves are long, way too damn long, as the game stretches itself way too thin despite the lack of variety, so you’ll be plenty ready for it to end way before the middle part of the 10 hour campaign. IF you can stomach to see the boring and trite finale of this one, that is.
Personally, i don’t mind “old school” styled stuff, i like linear hack n slashs and platformer, stuff that goes (in general) straight to the point, i like the accessibility of old stuff, i don’t despise simplicity in itself. But if you gotta (and probably don’t got to) make an archaic PS2 era styled action platformer, the mininum would be to make it as good or better than most classic titles in that genre that you will inevitably remind people of, and that are decades older.
And maybe don’t make it a launch title for you new console.
Not with this…. quality, with this tiresome, boring and frustrating game that doesn’t even know where to stop, so it keeps going and going just to make the campaign as excruciating long as it.
The fact that you’ll be made to think about both Crash Bandicoot and God of War.. it feels like an insult. Even if you don’t wanna compare this to God Of War (as a beat ‘em up Knack stands no chance, even without comparison with the angry albino greek fella), you will probably be reminded of Jak and Daxter, of Ratchet & Clank, even the original titles of both series are WAY better, and are a decade (and more) older than this PS4 launch title. You probably already know this, but let that sink i
Given how Knack didn’t even sell that well (even with it being a launch title and intended as a Crash Bandicoot successor of some kind, which is “feelable” in every aspect of presentation), i still can’t quite believe sony did greenlit Knack 2, gave this piece of crap a sequel, even more since most people hate Knack, character and/or game.
So of course we’re doing that next.