Scotsman Games review: Knack, Playstation 4

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FOR a new IP launching on a new console, Knack is a game with a curiously nostalgic outlook. Its creative director, Mark Cerny, was behind iconic titles like Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet & Clank, and his DNA is writ large in this attractive if unexceptional release from Sony’s in house Japan studio.

Review: Knack - Playstation 4

A screenshot of PS4 launch title Knack. Picture: Contributed

A screenshot of PS4 launch title Knack. Picture: Contributed

Score: 6.6 / 10

The main premise of the game is based on the super-size mechanic seen in Mario games down the years. The eponymous character, the hybrid brainchild of a wayward doctor, starts out as a waif of a creature. Gather sufficient relics and sundry items, however, and they become part of his mutant anatomy, allowing him to grow in stature considerably and exert a new-found might over enemies.

Likeable protagonist

The conceit, while far from novel, results in a likeable, ever-changing protagonist, with the mish mash of component parts of his body a vehicle for the kind of thoughtful character design and modelling that Dreamworks would be proud of. Given he is making his debut in a launch title, Knack is clearly regarded as the start of a franchise by Sony, and his adaptability and simple charm are undoubted plus points.

Elsewhere, the game employs the odd gem of an idea, not least the options that open up once you discover one of the many collectible chests scattered around the world. As is customary, you are free to select the item you find underneath the lid. A novel twist, though, allows you to shun it in favour of an item one of your friends unearthed in their own playthrough.

Lack of variety

Unfortunately, such innovations are too few and the title relies too heavily on the idea of having a main character of shifting size and shape without exploiting it properly. Knack is fundamentally a platform brawler, calling on the two-button mashing techniques popularised in the era of the first Playstation. This melee combat is by no means poor, but it desperately lacks the variety necessary to keep players engaged beyond a few hours’ play.

Knack’s size meanwhile, allows him to mete out additional punishment to foes and the environment, but it does not offer him any improved defences. Even when he boasts the proportions of the average detached house, he remains frustrating susceptible to attacks. Death is a routine occurrence, as is cursing the miserly checkpoint system that forces you to slog through the same sections several times over without the feeling that you are becoming a better player in the process.

Fails to recapture glory days

At its heart, Knack wants to recapture a lost moment in gaming history from around the turn of the millenium, a time when the action platformer was riding high. The best examples of that genre married a smart level design to engaging mechanics. Regrettably, Knack does not achieve that union. Cerny, the lead system architect of the Playstation 4, has hit upon the kernel of something interesting with the game. Hopefully, a sequel will allow him to grow it into a more substantial and engaging offering.