Knack, from Sony’s Japan Studio, is the company’s attempt to bring a colorful, family-friendly action game to the PlayStation 4’s launch. Built around a character that can change size, its visual effects are made to show off the hardware’s ability to process lots of little parts at once. Whether it makes for a compelling game is, of course, another matter entirely.
The core mechanic of Knack is collecting items called “relics” that function as power sources. The more of these Knack has absorbed, the bigger he is. This is less of a concern to the player during the game, as these size changes are very scripted and controlled by the level in question. Unless the level allows it, Knack cannot grow beyond a certain size in many cases, no matter how many relics are found. Knack has special abilities that can be used by collecting sunstones. These are good for getting out of tight spots, but take quite a bit of sunstone to charge.
As a technical accomplishment, Knack is impressive, but it doesn’t seem to show off the PS4’s power all that well. Knack’s complex body made of hundreds of relics seems like the sort of thing that is more likely to impress a developer than a player, as it’s not really the sort of flashy use that grabs someone’s attention. That said, the game is smooth and has few technical issues, which is a hard enough thing to do at the launch of a new system.
The story is fairly typical for a game like this, serving to tie levels together, though many levels and story elements feel a bit forced. Most of them there to give a reason to show off Knack at a large size, rather than for coherent plot reasons. There is also very little in the way of side content. There are collectibles to be found in hidden areas, and they function as upgrades for Knack. If you are connected to PSN when you find one of these, you can also choose one that a friend has found instead, which makes completing sets easier.
One thing you may not expect is Knack‘s imposing difficulty. Knack tends to have limited health, enough to take only two or three hits in many cases, even when he is at his largest. The game uses checkpoints, but these aren’t in every room. Difficult sections can lead to having to replay areas if you aren’t careful. While difficulty is there, it feels more like a more classic style of challenge: playing carefully and using the dodge function is necessary, and Knack can’t simply rush through every enemy.
Knack is a lot of fun, but it overstays its welcome a little over halfway through the game. It would have been much better as a shorter experience at a lower price, a formula that Sony has really been pushing recently on the PS3. It’s likely that, if it hadn’t been a launch title, this would have likely been the case and it could have fared better.
Pros: Colorful world, challenging difficulty
Cons: Drawn-out length, weak plot, little variety