This week we take another dive into the next-gen world of PlayStation 4 and one of the consoles launch titles, Knack. Developed by Japan Studio, as well as having a heavy helping hand from Sony’s legendary Mark Cerny, the game was released along side the PlayStation 4 in both European and US markets, and will of course follow the Feb 22nd 2014 release in Japan.
We’ve seen many teaser videos, gameplay clips and more from Knack over the last year at various game shows, through the numerous live streams that were held by Sony, press briefing and more. Everything we saw looked fairly promising thanks to the details graphics, cool looking characters and the fact that Mark Cerny had a hand in it. The only thing that worried me was that it all looked a little simplistic to play.
A doctor who studies ancient relics finally found a way to combine the relics, a procedure which gave them consciousness, the end result being the creation of Knack. The game sees Knack helping in the war against the Goblins. As Knack, you’ll seek out more relics to incorporate into his body, each one transforming him into something greater than before.
You start your life just a couple of feet tall, but the collection of these relics can see you grow in to a giant, capable of smashing everything in your path. This is a great gaming mechanical, unfortunately it’s one that feels like it was poorly planned out. I played the game on normal mode and found it frustrating that the game is on one hand devilishly simple, but that you still keep getting killed, a lot. As the small Knack you’re stupidly helpless and weak, and just as you get yourself built up into a massive, powerful and rather awesome Knack the game finds a way to cut you down. This can be anything like a small hole that requires tiny Knack, or some other lame section of level design that forces you to power down more often that it should.
This mechanic of growing knack is great, as you collect bits you see them spin around you and join into your body and make you bigger. At the same time you hear the speaker in the DualShock 4 controller rattle and click as you hear your body being made bigger, it’s very cool. However, the game kills that feeling of progression by reverting you to previous forms and it would have been nice to see a more progressive nature throughout the game.
The graphics on Knack are nothing short of fantastic, the use of rich particle effects and physics quickly reminds you that you’re playing on more powerful hardware. The subtle things that most people don’t notice are all there too and they help build a more magical world around you, such as a solid frame rate, excellent draw distance and global lighting and reflections that see light shimmer with colour off of every surface. The characters are well realised and reminded me of those you would see in a Dreamworks movie. The story is a little hammed up, and can be a little shaky at times, but it’s entertaining enough to be enjoyable through to the end of the game and does a good enough job of progressing the gameplay.
Gameplay can be fun overall, but the limited controls are more akin to platform games from ten years ago and bare many of the quirks that I thought gaming had long since forgotten. Only having one attack button is fine, but you find many enemies are quite repetitive and getting the angle of your attack wrong will result in you suffering the wrath of the games lousy checkpoint system. As I said, I died a lot in Knack because of the dumbest reasons, poor level design, frustrating and repetitive enemies and such like, only to find that the game checkpoints are miles back and that you have to work through several sections again and again.
Co-op has been poorly tagged in and your partner can drop in our out at any time, however they have no progression of their own. The camera doesn’t compensate for the second player and only focuses on the first player. You can play as player two on the Vita with player one on the big screen, but the Vita screen STILL follows player one, what the hell Sony! So in short, co-op is here, but you’re a cheap support character (think Tails in Sonic 3 on the MegaDrive).
The first generation of games for any format are often lacking in one way or another, the developers have been working hard for a couple of years on hardware that for much of the development wasn’t finalised and it often takes a few years after a consoles release before the hardware is used to the best of its abilities. That isn’t the case here, the game looks great, and it really is a lot of fun, but for reasons I cannot comprehend, it feels like their level designers took an extended holiday.
If you pick this game up, you will enjoy it and my son (Age 7) absolutely loves playing through it. For fans of classic platformers such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, you’ll understand what Sony was trying to do with Knack, they just needed to bring the gameplay mechanics up to date as much as they did the graphics.