Knack is a platform action adventure game developed by SCE Japan Studio in cooperation with none other than Mark Cerny, the PlayStation 4 lead architect, that took the role of Director for the game, so we might feel that something big is to be expected from this project. But does the game really fulfil those expectations or is it a missed opportunity to build a solid new IP?
Knack is the name of the main character, which is the product of Doctor Vargas, a world renowned inventor, and relics, some kind of highly efficient energy source that they use to power everything, from cars to planes to generators. The story is predictable, but still interesting to follow. I really enjoyed the character design, voice acting, and animation in the cut scenes, and there are plenty to see. Your main quest is to find a key that opens a door that is said to lead to a greater energy source before Viktor, a billionaire industrialist, can get his hands on it, and use it for some devious personal purposes. In the meantime, you will have to deal with the Goblins that are attacking humans, until you realise that there is a far more dangerous menace that is hidden beneath the earth’s surface.
What’s interesting about Knack is that he can absorb other elements besides the relics that compose his body and grow his size and strength. The extra elements add another level of strategy to the gameplay, because if he absorbs Ice, he will melt in the sun and will get smaller in size quickly, if he absorbs wood, his body will be more exposed to other dangers like fire, and so on. You start with a small, almost tiny little ball with arms and legs and you will be able to grow Knack until he his easily bigger than a house. Size will not only impact his strength, but also his agility. Giant Knack will be slower to maneuver, but will be able to lift enemy tanks in the air and throw them at the surroundings. Knack will also acquire various special abilities that are powered by crystals that are scattered through world.
What breaks most of the games in this genre is boring combat and enemy clones. While Knack has its fair share of those, the game still manages to introduce a constant flow of new enemy types and gameplay variants that keep the game fresh until you reach the next boss. You will also find secrets, some better hidden than other, that will try and push you to play a second time. These secrets are basically pieces of devices that you can gather to further upgrade Knack’s abilities. By the end of the game I only managed to get one upgrade, among the several available, so it was a little disappointing. Expect for some secrets to be really well hidden. The game is also very linear, and sometimes you will really feel that some areas are just corridors followed by arenas, that lead to more corridors, and then to more arenas… Level design is not great, but the environments, while not extraordinary, can still make up for it, sometimes.
The difficulty level is the biggest problem of Knack if you choose to go with the default. One hit kills are common and the game uses an auto-save feature that might send you back to replay the same level for almost half an hour if your die in the wrong spot. Easy difficulty may be too easy for some, but for most it might mean the difference between a nice weekend of gaming with a brand new PlayStation 4, or a frustrating, repetitive, and punishing action adventure game, that you will end up cursing at until Monday.