The launch lineup for new consoles is rarely that extensive. You can't really make a masterpiece with a tight deadline and unfamiliar hardware as your chief motivators. Killzone: Shadow Fall did of course prove that even in a hurry, you can make something wonderful looking for the PS4. Killzone isn't really an experience for the whole family though. That hole's plugged by Knack, from Sony's own Japan Studio.
Knack isn't quite up to Killzone's level of graphical fidelity, but otherwise it is quite visually pleasing. The style is akin to modern animated flicks, and is certainly colourful. It is of course a question of taste, and whether you're into this sort of style - but it certainly suits the genre.
Our hero Knack is a robotic creature who is powered by an ancient, mystical relic. Knack is able to collect more relics and grow larger as a result. The story of the game revolves around the hostilities between humans and goblins and the hunt for relics. The story's not terrible, but the motivations of the characters, as well as the relationships between them, can be rather odd and illogical at times.
Despite its appearances, you can't just breeze through Knack. It provides a fair bit of challenge, as while the mechanics are fairly easy to learn, timing proves to be everything. Hits do serious damage, and even on normal difficulty, a death will toss you aways back from where you were. On hard difficulty things become masochistic since there's really no room for error and the checkpoints are few and far between.
Although it is pretty fun to smack enemies around, the monotony of the combat mechanics starts to wear on you eventually. You only have one basic attack and not even a block to work with. Knack's slowness doesn't really help either. There aren't many special abilities and you get to use them rarely. There are collectible gizmos that add a bit of depth (like a combo meter and a way to slow down time) but these have to be collected first, with the gizmo parts scattered around several different levels. You can't really enjoy them until near the very end of the game.
However, Knack's biggest flaw is how old-fashioned it is. The platforming is sluggish and boring, and the levels are so static that they remind of the PlayStation 2 era. There's plenty of shine, but there's no interactivity whatsoever. The levels are maddeningly linear, narrow corridors that are made from a series of predictable encounters with enemies. Knack starts out as a little dwarf, facing enemies of similar stature. As Knack collects more relics and grows, so do the enemies. Although there are several types of enemy, their weapons and powers repeat themselves.
This basic pattern is broken on a few levels where Knack gets elemental items instead of the usual relics. Ice, wood, steel and crystalline armours are a welcome addition, as they do add their share of variety. In the end though, these are short sections and for the most part one-offs. With a dash of imagination the developers could have really made something of these elements, but now it is all a case of wasted potential.
I played Knack on normal difficulty, and it challenged me a fair bit. It also managed to test my temper, but for the most part the difficulty is handled fairly, so it just served to hone my skills. It took me some 11 hours to finish the game, so you can't really call Knack too short. On the other hand, a bit of pruning might have actually done it some good, since there is some obvious repetition and the last third overstayed its welcome.
Finishing the story opens up some challenge modes with time trials and arena combat, but since it is more of the same, it isn't really all that inspiring. For those who finish Knack on hard, there is also a super-hard difficulty level, but since you can't bring over the items you collected on the first run, Knack is pretty much a one-off.
Despite all this criticism it should be emphasised that Knack isn't a bad game, but it doesn't really inspire either, especially not on the PlayStation 4. The game is old-fashioned and feels rather limiting when compared to something like Super Mario 3D World which dazzles with its creativity.
As far as the PS4 launch lineup is concerned, Knack is an okay snack to be enjoyed while waiting for better games, but you should probably try it out before paying full price for it.
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