Prior to release there were many inconsistencies surrounding Knack, a title from the architect of the PlayStation 4, Mark Cerny. He is no stranger to the action platfomer genre, having had his hands on both the Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Dexter franchise, as well as the classic Crash Bandicoot. After the initial reveal for Knack, many believed the focus for the game would revolve around platforming, moving from one area to another fighting enemies along the way. Within the first chapter, my notion of what Knack entailed went completely out of the window.
The story revolves around a once primitive race of goblins initially equipped with medieval style weaponry, attack a human settlement with technological superior airships and tanks. The government puts a scientist and his assistant in charge of the investigation, along with a suave adventurer and a rich industrialist with an army of advanced robots. Along with them is the one of a kind creation of the doctor called Knack. Knack is made up of the very same relics which powers just about everything in the world from cars to airplanes.
Removing camera control away from the player and using a fixed camera view feels reminiscent of the God of War series, especially considering the heavy focus on action. Arguably the most challenging game you will play all year, Knack’s difficulty shares many aspects of old-school title. Controlling Knack is simplistic, with a single button to attack and another to jump. You can perform three different special attacks using a combination of two different buttons. Using the relics that form his body he is able to explode into a whirling tornado, unleash a powerful shock wave and fire relics outwards, as your only ranged attack. Knack also comes equipped with a jump attack that will target enemies that are right next to you. It could have been a perfect setup for a one-two punch combo, but Knack will be moved back a step after using it, leaving you vulnerable to attacks briefly.
Plan on dying often in Knack, even on the normal difficulty. If the game featured a death count, mine would have been close to the 100 mark by the time the credits rolled. The amount of health Knack has depends on his size. Collecting more relics not only increases his size, but increases his health as well. It’s almost a moot point however, as regardless of your size you will always be pitted against enemies capable of one-hit kills. Even small foes can dispatch of Knack in as little as two-to-three hits. Learning to dodge is essential if you are going to advance through the 13 different chapters. You are still able to receive damage while dodging, so you must be careful not to dodge straight into attacks. There aren’t any unlockable moves, but there is an included cooperative mode that features a robotic sidekick with drop-in, drop-out support.
As you progress through the colorful environments, you’ll face rooms of enemies, some which will literally drop from the sky. Thankfully, the controls are tight, with most deaths due to your own faults and not that of the game. I did feel some of the deaths were unwarranted, especially when the smallest of enemies remove a large chunk of your health. Throughout the game Knack will expand his body with objects besides relics, such as ice, metal and even burning piles of wood (my personal favorite). These objects will add an additional health bar, but are only available temporary. You’ll frequent sunny areas that will melt the ice and obviously burning wood won’t last forever.
Collecting both relics and sunstones which power Knack’s special powers, a very LEGO like sound will come from the DualShock4’s speaker. Hidden throughout the game are numerous chests, each with a piece of a certain gadget or a special relic to play as one of Knack’s secret forms during your second playthrough. It wasn’t until about half-way through the game that I finished my first gadget. Using the social features of the PlayStation 4, if people on your friends list have the game and have already opened that treasure chest, you are able to choose what they discovered in the chest instead. Having plenty of choices allows you to finish gadgets faster. These don’t make a huge impact in the game, but are something to work for while exploring the rather restricting environments.
A charming adventure, Knack will also push your frustrations to the limit with the occasional cheap death and discouraging checkpoints that will force you to replay sections of each chapter. Combat can be broken down into punching everything in sight, but the challenge is welcomed for those looking for a throwback to classic games that weren’t afraid about being labeled as hard.
Note: The Knack review was written based on a retail PS4 version of the game.