Knack review: Playing from a smaller perspective
Of all the PlayStation 4 launch titles, I've probably played Knack the most. Part of that is because I'm reviewing it; the other part is that my son kept wanting to watch me play it. Knack has a draw to it. The main character, the eponymous Knack, has a cool design to him, and the overall art design of the stages and characters are cutesy -- something that is attractive to both kids and adults. Still, Knack is a mixed bag: it seems like multiple games mixed into one, and some of the gameplay elements aren't expanded on nearly enough.
Knack is the creation of a a genius scientist who found a way to bind together ancient relics and give it consciousness. The result is Knack, who can manipulate other relics and resources to make himself smaller or larger, so he can sneak around in an air duct or destroy bridges by running through them. After the Goblins lead an attack on mankind with technology and tanks that they weren't known to have, a small team gets put together to find out what's going on and put a stop to it -- but things aren't what they appear to be.
The story isn't exactly the strong point of Knack. Despite the potential for a strong hero in Knack, the rest of the characters don't seem fleshed out, making it hard to care about any of them. Visually, the game looks fine, especially the animations with Knack, and some of the environmental shots are gorgeous. That said, while Knack is a step forward from a lot of games graphically, other platformers like Rayman Legends look a lot better.
While Sony classifies Knack as a platformer, that isn't a fair classification. Sure, there are platforming segments, but the game is primarily a brawler. The levels are very linear, and there's not really any room for exploration. You're able to find collectibles for items that help you in the game, but the spots where they're "hidden" stand out. You'll know exactly what walls to break down to find them. Instead, like I already said, the game is more of a brawler. You'll come across plenty of enemies to dispose of, and they usually drop to the simple button mashing of the attack button. There's only three real actions you need to know for combat: jump, attack and evade. Enemies will require some different strategy, but you'll always use these three moves. By collecting gold crystals, you'll also store up energy for three special attacks: an explosion, a tornado, and a multi-enemy targeting ranged attack.
Boss battles require some more finesse and maneuverability, as well as having to beat the boss in one go. Health is definitely an issue in these situations. Getting hit by regular enemies take away a good chunk of your life. So if you go into a boss battle with anything less than full life, you'll have to be all the more perfect. That's where the main difficulty of Knack comes from, your inability to take damage; you're forced to play through the levels without taking damage. I fully embrace that difficulty, however. It never gets frustrating, as there's a fair amount of health restoration. Checkpoints are also forgiving, albeit random. Thankfully, there's usually one right before any boss fight.
A big mechanic of the game is Knack's ability to grow larger by picking up more relics. Unfortunately, it's a mechanic you have very little control over, as the game decides when it wants you to be big and when it wants you to be small. There are situations where you'll have the ability to toggle between the two forms -- as well as others, like being made of glass to sneak through motion detectors -- but they are few and far in-between. It's a shame because more control and opportunities to decide on which size is best would change the game dramatically. Instead, you generally get larger as you progress through a level until you culminate in a boss fight. Replay value comes in the form of different types of Knack characters, like Vampire Knack. He has increased attack power and causes enemies to drop relics when beaten, but is constantly is losing health. It changes up your playthrough enough to warrant another go-around.
Single-player was just an okay experience for me; the real reason I enjoyed Knack was due to the local co-op multiplayer. You're still playing the same game and going through the same motions, but in multiplayer, the second player uses a robo-Knack that helps beat up enemies and can heal the first player. It's very kid-friendly and is the main reason I've played so much Knack, because my four-year-old wants to play with me. You see, when robo-Knack loses all of his health, there's only a few seconds of wait time before you're able to respawn. Then, he's right back into the action. Advancement still depends solely upon the first player, but the second player definitely helps.
I think that's where Knack is at its strongest -- co-op multiplayer. It makes Knack the best game for kids and the family to enjoy on the PlayStation 4 at the moment. There's still the lack of a well thought-out story, and the game disengages the player far too often with cutscenes to simply show Knack jump, but it's a game that will both offer a challenge and introduce kids to a simple brawler-platformer. While I wish the player had more of a decision on when to grow and shrink in size or when to absorb other types of items, there's a simplicity to Knack that just works.