PS4 exclusive isn’t going to blow minds, but it ticks all the right boxes for a good platforming time.
The first thing you’ll notice when you begin ‘Knack’ is one and one thing only. The ever-increasing smile on your face.
Knack is a title which begins with you knowing you’re going to enjoy yourself. The game is not terribly difficult or overly challenging, but then it never really should be. At its heart, it’s a classic platformer. The kind of games we were playing at the launches of the Mega Drive and the N64. It’s a title created and born out of the love of scavenging, jumping, double-jumping, jumping-on-enemies-heads-to-defeat-them-jumping and so full of colour you would think your brand new Playstation 4 had just puked a thousand rainbows. Knack has the er, knack of reminding you of those days. It reminded me of when I played Mario 64 for the first time. No, it’s nowhere near that revolutionary but the roots of Knack are buried within the greatest Mario platformer of all time. It’s a solid foundation to work from, and while Knack may never reach the heights of a Playstation 4 classic, as it stands, it’s the best reason to own a PS4 if you have kids right now. Let’s just forget Skylanders exists for the moment.
So who, or indeed what, is Knack? Knack is a creature created of ancient relics discovered by Doctor Vargas. You control the title character, who can substantially grow throughout the game as he finds more relics, allowing him to become far more powerful, along with being able to take on abilities based on the natural elements such as ice, wood and metal to navigate through particular areas. The story goes Knack has been created to take on the assault of the Goblins, who live in the same world and have begun attacking humans. Also a power hungry billionaire called Victor who is after some more ancient relics – enough for him to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Yes, it’s been told a billion times before, but the story will be fun enough for younglings to take an interest in how it ends.
Knack is centered around combat. Its main element is learning the techniques/routines of the enemies in order to defeat them. No matter how big Knack becomes – pulling relics together makes you bigger and replenishes health – and in this case, you’re quite exposed if you’re small. A couple of hits will be all it takes you kill you so learning enemies is a big aspect of the game. The enemies will kill you, plenty of times, but it’s just about learning the routes and navigating through traps, along with avoiding bows, giant hammers and fire. Luckily, Knack is a clever ol’ soul and he’s able to quick dash out of the way of flying arrows/hammers with a quick flick of the right analogue stick. In some instances time will also slow down if you’re in the air to allow to avoid said weapons. You can also gain special abilities by collecting yellow power crystals. You have three separate meters for them and once one is full you can unleash a devastating attack to destroy all those before you, very handy in certain areas that you constantly trying to beat. The crystals are few and far between though and it takes a good while to fill up the meters, so use them sparingly as you may find yourself in a situation you desperately need them and your meters are empty.
Secret areas are also a big thing in Knack, paying yet more homage to its classic platforming roots. Within these secret areas you’ll find yellow crystals, relics and also special upgrade items. It’s fair to say they’re not overly difficult to notice, visual clues will allow you to find them with relative ease. However, naturally there are some far more difficult areas to find and exploring the world of Knack to find them is fun, but the game is completely linear and you can only go where the game wants you to go, so it’s more of a case of backtracking to see what you have missed. It’s worth finding them though as some of the upgrades are worthy additions to your arsenal. As mentioned though, they can be very difficult to find and unless you’re very serious about upgrading it’s probably worth trying to find them on a second playthrough. I think that is exactly what they are there for as I finished the game with only two full special upgrades and I was too busy focusing on getting past big-ass goblins and robots to worry about looking for them. You can complete the game without any of the upgrades, they’re just there to give you a helping hand. It would have been nice if the player was rewarded a little more, especially if younger players are to be going through the game.
Visually, the game is beautiful. It’s certainly the best looking platformer we’ve ever seen on a Playstation console, with some of the cut-scenes playing out like Pixar movies. The environments are busy and full of colour and much more exciting outside of the endless caves early on in the game. The ice levels are also a step-up visually from most we have seen, and it’s nice to see that extra power the PS4 has utilised on screen.
Knack’s classic roots also plays out in the checkpoint system, which in this modern day, depending on your age can be a good or a bat thing. In tough areas there is a checkpoint and you can just head on, other times you’ll play for a good twenty minutes, only to die and be zapped back to the last one you found. This is a retro gaming technique and is surprising to see it in a next-generation PS4 title. To a veteran gamer, it will remind you of those classic days where games were designed to punish you. Today, the hand-holding generation may find this a little too off-putting and frustrating. I was kinda on the fence about it until I tore past a ton of goblins, robots and spikes only to die by falling off a walkway and get thrown straight back to before I powered through an vastly populated enemy area. It was then I got frustrated cus I lost no health throughout and had to go through it again. Ugh. Still, classic gamers will appreciate the effort to make the game a little more challenging.
The music is also a bit er, weak. Nothing classic here that will live up to the score of platformers of yore.
So Knack is a mixed bag but one I most certainly had a good time with. The visuals are a nice way to show off your brand new system and the gameplay, whilst more of a greatest hits of a classic platform genres than anything else, is fun and embracing the power of the new hardware really very well. It’s the first step in showcasing just how well the Playstation 4 will be able to handle more complex platformers, and with its light story and fun characters, you could do a whole lost worse then Knack to play with the whole family once you’ve opened up your shiny new Playstation 4 this Christmas.