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EGM Review:

Posted on November 18, 2013 AT 12:40pm

Falling to pieces

Knack is a by-the-numbers mediocre platformer that amounts to little more than a PlayStation 4 tech demo that, somehow, for some reason, someone at Sony thought should be elevated to “full game” status.

It should not have been.

Part of me is glad Knack exists, especially as a PlayStation 4 launch title. Amongst its Killzone counterparts and Call of Duty cousins, Knack feels welcomingly different. Instead of being a vehicle for how far into the Uncanny Valley we’re entering this generation, Knack showcases how the little things matter, how little touches lend themselves to games in a big way. And instead of shoving a gun in my hand and asking me to murder en masse, Knack—on a conceptual level—is a refreshing attempt at Pixar-level playfulness.

The key word there, of course, is “attempt.” In execution, Knack is a rote, arduous experience in desperate need of a personality injection. Set in a world once populated by a precursor race (a seemingly obligatory videogame trope these days), Knack revolves around an unnamed scientist’s discovery of the titular hero, Knack, who has the ability to manipulate precursor relics, and what this discovery means for humanity. I think. At least, that’s what the narrative communicates early on. But then goblins attack, and then this dude who looks a lot like Tony Stark betrays you repeatedly, and then the secret origins of Knack are teased, and the aforementioned scientist—known only as “Doctor,” even by his dead wife—finds out that that dead wife isn’t so dead after all. In the end, Knack’s narrative threads—governed by an undeveloped cast of characters who offer up absolutely no memorable lines, moments, or personality, not to mention discernible motivations and goals— largely remained frayed, unexplored, and clumsily handled.

And that would be fine, in most cases. The story-driven third-person action-adventure scene is not one that necessarily demands a lot of attention to plot. But Knack amounts to little more than a God of War stripped down to a control scheme that—in the eyes of its developers—accommodates children (which is to say, it requires only the face buttons and analog sticks to play) but really feels insultingly simplistic to anyone for whom Knack isn’t their very first videogame ever.

What certainly doesn’t help this is Ninja Gaiden levels of difficulty. And not difficulty in a genuinely challenging sort of way, but difficulty born out of things that feel cheap. Past Easy mode, Knack’s enemies start dealing an absurd amount of damage, and everything feels sped up, as though on fast-forward. Failure, far more often than not, never feels like a misstep or bad call on your part. It just feels like a series of one-hit kills that set you back 15 minutes thanks to spotty checkpointing.

As a result, Knack is the very first videogame I played on Easy mode. I am not comfortable with this.

Imagine a Mario game that was focused more on combat rather than jumping. Instead of just skipping enemies completely, you had to face off against a squad of Goombas armed with swords and boomerangs and bows and arrows in order to progress. The brutality of those one-hit kills would murder interest pretty fast, and that’s how things in Knack shake down. It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, and it’s repetitive—and not helped one bit by the severe absence of gameplay variety. You will jump, you will punch, and you will occasionally execute one of three powers. You will do this for 13 chapters across eight or ten hours, and the only times you’ll truly find fun is when Knack gains unique relics (ice shards that beef up strength, crystal that allows you to pass through laser detection grids, wood pieces that make Knack lighter and faster) that introduce something different, even if only for a for a few short minutes. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between.

The only real appreciable element to Knack is its tech-demo side, the side that teases what the PS4 can do with particle physics. Watching Knack accumulate more and more bits and pieces and grow larger and larger is fun, and knowing that those pieces each individually exist and are not an illusion is neat, and made neater when you see a light source cast their individual shadows against the wall. This same wow factor, of course, could’ve been achieved with a much shorter, much more focused demo. Marveling over the jiggle and consistency of the jelly jam shot from jelly jam guns later enemies are armed with isn’t exactly a big payoff.

There’s this absurd notion that things made for children need to talk down to children. But children have just as discerning palates as adults do—and know what works and what doesn’t. Knack may look like a Pixar product to some extent, but on a narrative level, it’s not in the same league, and its gameplay will hardly manage to hold anyone’s attention longer than the first few chapters. Everything after that is just a soulless sojourn toward completion to justify a pricey purchase.

Developer: SCE Japan Studio • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.15.13
Knack, while conceptually interesting, never rises above being an OK platformer without any real positive memorable aspects, but plenty of frustrating ones. If you’ve ever wondered what a tech demo turned into a full-fledged game would be like, Knack is—or very much feels—like that.
The Good An aesthetic that isn’t dark, gritty, or aggressively striving for realism.
The Bad Total lack of interest in the world, story, and characters.
The Ugly Damage levels while in Knack’s smallest form are just entirely too punishing.
Knack is a PS4 exclusive. 
Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern) before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. You can follow his rants about storytelling on Twitter @manadrive.[Meet the rest of the crew]

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