Release Date: November 15, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Sony (SCE Japan Studio)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Fantasy Violence
The PlayStation 4‘s launch was accompanied by an array of dark ports. Serious, open world adventures, shooters, and racers, most of which could be found anywhere else. Knack was a beacon. The lone example of something completely different. It’s a bright, colorful, family friendly platformer and PS4 exclusive. It offered an entirely new hero to root for and a detailed world. Unfortunately, it suffers from launch window syndrome. It’s good, but only entertaining for a single romp and might make your new console freeze.
Using an ancient weapon to fight a modern enemy.
Knack starts out simply enough, in a world where fantastic creatures like goblins and humans live side-by-side. Not peacefully though, of course. No, there’s a constant war between the two races, and the goblins are getting more and more active. Normally, that would be no big deal, but recently goblins have been showing up with more advanced technology.
So, the humans send an exploratory mission to the nearest goblin fortress. It consists of Viktor, a major business man, an explorer, a doctor, his assistant, and the doctor’s fantastic discovery, Knack. Knack happens to be a golem, found in a ruins and reanimated, and perhaps the best bet hope for beating the goblins back.
Except, things aren’t always as they seem, and Knack’s true enemy is just pulling the strings.
Knack! What did you do to my PS4?
Before I get into my thoughts on the game itself, I have to talk about the console scares Knack gave me. It left a lasting impression, and they have to be addressed. See, Knack is known for having issues. Before I even picked up the game, I was hearing about glitches and freezes. I went in knowing this would happen, but not expecting such glaring issues.
When I first popped Knack into my PS4, I pretty much immediately received a notification that a patch was downloading. This quelled some of my fears, as I thought it meant a better game experience. Except it didn’t. The game froze on me just after the tutorial. I had to manually turn off the PS4 and restart the system. It wasn’t a good time.
Then, I decided to livestream Knack. Just under an hour in, the game froze again and I had to perform another manual restart. I was upset, but had expected something like this to happen after reading about similar situations online while deciding if I really wanted to buy the game.
It was the third Knack meltdown that truly freaked me out. I was in the midst of the third chapter, when all of a sudden the screen went totally black. For a brief moment, I thought I was experiencing a console failure, since the blue light was still on. But then it turned off, and the PS4 completely shut down. After a moment, it started itself back up again. Knack had caused a cold reboot. I took to the internet naturally, trying to see if anyone had a similar experience, but only saw a handful of similar encounters.
So you need to know right away that Knack has issues beyond normal gameplay problems. I think it even delights in scaring new PS4 users.
Every day, ordinary, linear adventure.
Once you’ve accepted that Knack could give you a few grey hairs, worrying about whether it’s the game or your PS4 that’s causing such strange issues, it’s time to get into and enjoy the adventure. It’s actually a surprisingly challenging one. Knack has a life bar that grows as he absorbs relics, which means little Knack is a frail thing. As in, three hits and you’re done. Add to that a surprisingly challenging adventure, and even experienced gamers may want to start on the easiest difficulty level. More do open up, but they’re really best enjoyed on subsequent runthroughs, perhaps when a player has unlocked a different form for Knack.
The actual game itself is a linear, straightforward experience. Players follow Knack as he joins an expedition to investigate a goblin fortress. Goblin attacks against humans have been especially frequent, and it’s time to trace them back to their source. This means going through a mine, over a lake and mountain, inside an ice cave, and through a goblin fortress. Then, it’s revealed that someone else is the real enemy, and there’s a whole new foe to face. This means Knack has an impressive variety of locations and enemies, and is pretty visually.
It’s impossible to go off the beaten track, except to access occasional secret rooms to collect pieces for special equipment or new Knack forms. As a plus, players don’t have to go with the treasure they find in these rooms. If they are connected to the PlayStation Network, they can see what their friends found in that location, and opt to take one of those equipment parts or form stones instead.
Combat is fairly typical. Enemies will assault Knack, usually in groups of three or more, and he’ll have to pummel them with a combination of standard and special attacks. If he’s acquired enough power from Sun Stones, he can create a tornado of relics around himself, send out relics to attack distant enemies, or perform an attack similar to a ground pound. He starts with the ability to store enough energy for three special attacks, but this number can be increased by visiting secret rooms and getting pieces for enough upgrades.
The problem is, Knack is the kind of game people will really only need or want to play once. The special contraptions and forms are helpful, but unnecessary. There’s no need to replay, because the story won’t change. You can’t find additional lore, explaining more about goblins and relics. There’s no secret ending hinting at a more detailed sequel. It’s fun, but once it’s done, that’s pretty much it. Unless someone loved it and really wants an extra challenge, playing it again with a different kind of Knack at a higher difficulty level, there’s no reason to go back.
Your typical launch window title.
Knack is exactly what you’d expect from a new console launch title. It’s a decent enough game, sure, but it doesn’t have the staying power that compels people to keep playing past the initial experience. Sure, there are other forms for Knack that can be unlocked with additional playthroughs, but why bother? It’s practically the same game either way. Not that Knack is bad, despite some technical hitches that caused my PS4 to freeze and cold reboot. It just happens to be a place holder game. You play it when a console debuts, to see what it’s capable of, enjoy that eight or nine hours with it, then move on to bigger and better games the moment they appear. Nice try, but you should probably wait a year until the price drops to $19.99.