Mark Cerny is best known nowadays as the architect behind the PlayStation 4 design. Cerny has a long history in the industry, and he has worked on classic platformers like the Jak series, Ratchet & Clank, Spyro the Dragon, and Crash Bandicoot. Yearning for colorful and exciting platformers of yesteryear, Cerny created Knack as a PS4 launch title, and for the most part, he has managed to recapture the magic from the glory days of the three-dimensional platformer.
Knack is about a golem that is able to absorb small ancient objects of varying shapes called relics to his body and therefore grow in size. Throughout the course of the game, Knack ranges from being below knee-height on a normal person to the size of a skyscraper. The game has to constantly come up with lame excuses for Knack to get rid of his relics to keep the difficulty up, but the mechanic itself is still very interesting and a lot of fun.
Most of the chapters progress on an “arc” of sorts, with Knack starting out small, facing similarly matched enemies, and then eventually growing to immense size by the final level in the chapter. This creates a sense of power. Knack is extremely vulnerable when he is small, with enemies taking multiple attacks and Knack dying in one hit most of the time. When he is large, Knack is able to destroy large groups of those same enemies that once gave him trouble, and this is when the game is most exciting.
While Knack is definitely a platformer, it is mostly a brawler. Each level is separated into a series of rooms, with the goal of defeating every enemy in that room to progress further. There is definite strategy that is involved in this, requiring quick reflexes and mastery of not only the controls, but the attacks of the enemies and how frequently they perform them.
New enemies are constantly being introduced. Unlike other games in the genre, the new enemies aren’t just re-skinned versions of previous enemies (most of the time). Virtually every single level introduces brand new enemies that look different, fight different, and require different strategies in order to take down. Speaking of enemies in the game, the boss fights are fantastic and are the most challenging boss fights in gaming that I’ve experienced in years.
Knack’s main attack is a simple punch, but there’s other aspects about the game that adds new wrinkles to this basic formula. Knack can collect the power of objects called Sun Stones that can be used to execute extremely helpful attacks. These Sun Stones also keep the game from becoming frustrating, as players retain the amount they have even after death.
Gadgets are also present, but they don’t really have a huge effect on the gameplay for the initial playthrough or even most of the second playthrough. The parts of these gadgets are located in hidden areas in each level. It is random as to what gadget part (or crystal relic, more on those in a second) that you will find. It takes an extremely long time to even get one gadget built, unless you have someone on your friend’s list that has found the parts you need. In that case, you can simply pick and choose what you want out of the chests.
Finding crystals for Knack allows you to change his form completely and offers new buffs. Unlike the gadgets, which do not repeat, it is possible to have repeating crystals found in these chests. This makes trying to unlock everything in the game a serious pain, which is probably its biggest flaw, in that one of the main features meant to increase replayability just sort of makes the game not fun to play.
The best part about Knack? It’s challenging. The game kicked my ass many times, but never to the point that I was frustrated or that it felt cheap. The checkpoint system has been hugely criticized by others, but I found it to be perfect. There are checkpoint systems nowadays that are far too forgiving, and others that are far too cruel. Knack finds the perfect balance between these two.
I do wish that Knack spent more time with more traditional platforming gameplay. There are snippets in this game that feel ripped directly from the original Crash Bandicoot on the first PlayStation, and they are glorious. Knack spends far too little time with these, and I think it could’ve been much more successful if it better balanced the brawling and the old school platforming.
Upon beating the game, players unlock a couple of other game modes that can be fun, as well as higher difficulty levels (which allows you to go through with your gadgets and specialty Knacks) just in case the first time through wasn’t punishing enough. A co-op mode is also included as an attempt to add replayability, but while it does make the game significantly easier, the co-op partner is unable to earn trophies, which is a serious flaw that I was hoping Sony would fix with the PS4, but I guess they haven’t learned their lesson quite yet.
Knack is old school in many ways, but that’s not always a good thing. The story is quite terrible. The sequences and events that occur in the story are exciting and fun to watch, but the characters that populate that story are poorly written. I saw during the end credits that Mark Cerny actually wrote and directed the scenes. Well, he did a fine job with directing, but the writing is just terrible. The man has no sense for dialogue or developing believable characters.
Those looking for an eighth gen title to really blow their socks off visually will not find that with Knack, but that doesn’t mean that Knack isn’t gorgeous. The game uses a lot of different colors to great effect, a stark contrast to the modern gaming landscape that is mostly populated with gritty shooters that use primarily dark and depressing colors.
Voice acting is fairly top notch and the music is catchy and great. That being said, you could mute the game and put on music in the background and honestly not miss out on much. That’s not really a knock on the game, moreso to the fact that the game is primarily gameplay-driven, with all that other stuff coming second (as it should with every game).
Knack is a more than solid PS4 launch title. It’s a fun, challenging platformer that brings back memories of the classic games that clearly inspired it. The co-op needs some work, the collectible system is not ideal, and the story is supremely weak, but the game is successful when it counts the most, and that’s with the gameplay.
Tested on PlayStation 4. Final Score: 7.75/10