Review: Knack (PS4)
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (36 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Japan Studio
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Knack is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
*As is always the case here at PS Nation, this review is completely spoiler-free. Read with confidence.
One of the first games revealed for the PlayStation 4 at the February event in NYC was the project that Mark Cerny was actually leading, and it was Knack. They showed some brief gameplay, and ever since, it’s been included pretty much whenever the PS4 games have been shown. Thing is though, I was never grabbed by it. Sure, the game looked cool, and I liked the art style, but I didn’t know what the target market was. Many felt that it was a “kids game” and others, frankly, didn’t know what to make of it. Well, I can assure you that Knack is definitely NOT a kids game. But is it any good?
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 345 of the podcast.
The right stick is your friend, the right stick is your friend. Make sure that you learn this mantra before you start the game. Controls are quite simple, you can Jump, Attack, and use your special powers with Circle or Triangle. The right stick is something that you’ll definitely need to master though, because it controls your dodge move. Dodging is key in combat in Knack, and without it, you will fail. Everything feels really good, and the nice thing is that it’s a relatively simple combat system to master. To give you some perspective on what you’ll be facing I’d best describe it as a combination of the Ratchet & Clank series and the Crash Bandicoot games. The levels are huge and contain many perils, but unlike Ratchet & Clank, the camera is fixed but dynamic like in the Crash games. So, you can’t move the camera, but the game will switch to different ones for you.
All energy in Knack’s universe is derived from Runes. They drive engines, open certain doors, and most importantly, are what Knack is made from. These Runes act as your health replenishment and small stockpiles can be found all over the place. Additionally, there are Sun Stones strewn across the landscape which, when collected, will power your special moves contained in the Circle button. So, as in the Ratchet & Clank games, besides all of the combat, there are ton of things to harvest, and for the Josh in all of us, there’s also an abundance of secret rooms and pickups everywhere. It’s pretty obvious that Knack was made to be played-through more than once, and even though I actually looked for hidden items and rooms, I missed a bunch. These pickups though are actually pretty valuable. Some are parts for a “secrets detector” that helps you find those hidden areas, and others are specific stones that will give Knack certain powers for additional times playing through.
Judging the visuals in Knack was tough for me at first. I really got the sense of everything just looking “too clean”, but then I finally realized that’s the actual visual style they were going for, and as the game progresses, things just keep getting better. Colors are very bright, and everything contrasts quite well. Animation is excellent all around, and explosions and other flashy effects look fantastic. One aspect that can’t be denied is the liberal use of lighting. Everything is self-shadowed, and just overall, the lighting is brilliant. Something the team handled very well is the fact that Knack can keep absorbing materials, some of which give him additional powers such as Ice and Fire. When he continues to absorb these materials, he grows bigger and bigger, even up to the size of some tall buildings. How they handle this dynamic change in scale is superb, and when you get to swat flying airships out of the sky, you’ll definitely have a smile on your face.
By the way, don’t let the visual style fool you. It may look like a CG Saturday Morning cartoon, but this is definitely not a kiddie game. Knack is definitely challenging albeit not impossible to finish. That’s actually what put me off the game a bit at first, but once I started playing it, I started to like it quite a bit.
It’s not all good though. About 3 or 4 times throughout the game, in the middle of a huge battle, the framerate dropped significantly. It didn’t affect any actual gameplay, but honestly, when I get a brand new console that’s supposedly “all powerful”, I still expect that things wouldn’t do this. The drops got my attention, but like I said, it didn’t make the game any better or worse.
The audio is a mixed bag honestly. The voice acting is excellent all-around, as are the environmental and general effects. One place lacking a tad though is the soundtrack itself. At times it’s pretty great, but during most of the game, it’s just kind-of “there”. I don’t remember any specific songs or anything else about the music, and I was even noticing during the game that it just didn’t grab me at all. It’s not really “bad”, but instead it’s not really outstanding.
This is the one thing that I haven’t been able to try yet. There’s no actual competitive multiplayer, but Knack does provide some cooperative options. As demonstrated a few weeks ago, if you have your PS Vita paired to your PlayStation 4, you’ll not only be able to play the Single Player via Remote Play, but you’ll also be able to play cooperatively with someone on the PS4, using the Vita for the 2nd player. Knack also supports couch co-op with a second DualShock 4 controller.
Honestly, I didn’t think that I’d like this game based on what I had seen at various times throughout 2013. It wasn’t until I played it at PAX that I started gaining interest, and Knack has proven me wrong. Especially for a launch title, it’s a cool story, great visuals and level design, and a simple but effective control scheme. It’s not a pushover either, with my first time through the campaign clocking-in somewhere around 10 hours. One thing I forgot to mention is that they borrowed something from Nintendo in Knack, a built-in hints system when you fail in a section a few times. A window appears in the lower left to show you a quick hint or even a small video to show you what needs to be done. It surprised me but when I finally saw it, I laughed a bit, because I didn’t think that I was doing that bad.
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.