I’m a little bit confused as to who Knack is supposed to be for. It’s always been treated as a more family-oriented deal that parents could play with their kids, perhaps as a way of excusing shelling out for a new PS4 at launch. It has this Pixar’s Up-style art, and it features a robot dude, and comes from the guy who made Crash Bandicoot.
It’s also super difficult, and while it probably would have fit in with the libraries of my cohort 15-20 years ago, it seems a bit inaccessible to the younger set today which is less used to being pounded to death over and over in a video game.
It also lacks the personality of a Ratchet & Clank — whereas that series contains “mascots” designed to appeal to kids, it also has the humor that older folks can appreciate, and everybody gets to have a good time. Knack has the sort of sweeping epic plot/quest you’d expect from a Ratchet & Clank, just without the jokes. That’s kinda embarrassing considering Knack punches the hell out of tanks.
Between the art style and the robot mascot and the sorta sanitized story (it’s about a war between people and goblins, so it’s still full of violence), it seemed easy to peg it as being child-oriented, but it turns out the game is plenty punishing. The controls are as simple as it can be — X to jump, RS to dodge, square to punch in the face, circle to charge up a special move — but the bad guys hit really hard. When you go up against several at a time, battles get super complicated and require some actual thought. The combat is well thought out and compelling, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be frustrating at points.
Having played both co-op and solo, it feels right to say that easy mode feels more normal than “normal” does when I’m playing alone, and normal feels like a good default for co-op play. Unfortunately, you cannot change your difficulty mid-game, nor can you load up a chapter you’ve reached with a new setting. So if you play with a friend for five chapters, as I did, and then go it alone the rest of the way, as I also did, then you’re condemned to stay with that difficulty level, and it does not scale based on whether you’re playing solo or cooperatively.
Co-op is pretty much the way to go, in any case (though you can’t do that online unfortunately), as in this mode the combat dynamic changes from slow-ish and deliberate to a mad fray. If real Knack dies then it’s back to the checkpoint, but player two’s Metal Knack can die and respawn a few seconds later. Metal Knack can also give some of his health to the real Knack, and he runs much faster. The two Knacks can also hit each other — a la the Lego games, though neither will take any damage from friendly fire — which introduces another pleasant element of chaos to battles.
The co-op dynamic doesn’t change the fact that Knack is still a fundamentally repetitive experience throughout even though most battles contain their own unique combination of foes, meaning you do have to somewhat alter your approach from room to room. As I wrote about Shadow Warrior, Knack is not a game to binge on or else the grind of it begins to wear on the player. The way I did it was to play with a friend will having beers a few nights in a row, and then repeated that process alone the next few days.
That worked pretty well, but even then it’s hard to not realize that I was doing a lot of the same stuff over and over again in that time — even taking different forms, like ice Knack or stealth Knack the fundamentals remain the same. Still, Knack’s combat is challenging and unique enough to keep me engaged, and the number of collectible ability and gadget unlocks I earned might actually drag me back at some point.
I think ultimately Knack’s purpose is a tech demonstration, though. The visuals are uniformly clean throughout — far more so than in Killzone: Shadow Fall — even with the world coated in high-res textures and Knack, who is made up of many individual moving pieces, dominates the scenery. In Knack’s largest form, when hundreds or thousands of relics are going all at once on screen, the framerate will plunge briefly, but the PS4 holds up perfectly the rest of the time. Knack is quite a thing in that way.
It’s just a bit disappointing that the full package comes together in such an unremarkable way. Knack has its own little thing going here, and it’s good enough for what it is, but I doubt there’s much about it we’ll remember in five years.
6 out of 10