The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Directed by legendary designer Mark
Cerny - who is also the architect of the PlayStation 4 - Knack is a relative
rarity. Firstly, it's a brand-new franchise releasing alongside a new console.
Secondly, it's an action/platform game based around a cute (and sometime
fearsome) creature with a cartoonish look - a genre that's long past its
commercial prime. While I doubt Knack will ever be the public mascot for PlayStation
4, it's a well-crafted game and a quality title in the system's launch lineup.
Cerny's background includes work on
such franchises as Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, and Jak and Daxter. He's
an expert in this style of game, and that experience shows. While it's not
really innovative, Knack nails the basics of gameplay and design to an extent
that make it a pleasure to play from start to finish.
The story revolves around a
mysterious attack on human civilization by a previously primitive race of trolls,
who are now equipped with the latest in military tanks, weapons, and airships.
To help thwart the threat, a government scientist and rogue adventurer form a
party to go investigate. They bring along Knack, a being created by the doctor and
composed of hundreds of relics - the same relics that have been used by
humans as a never-ending source of power.
The story relies heavily on some
well-worn sci-fi clichés, but it's well told and populated with some engaging
characters. The few twists in the final stretch are telegraphed hours earlier,
but overall it serves its purpose of moving things along a series of exotic
Like the Crash Bandicoot games,
Knack uses a fixed camera that allows the developers to use a range of
perspectives. While this can be problematic in some games, there was rarely a
moment when the camera wasn't where I wanted it to be - no small feat. However,
don't be fooled by appearances - Knack places an emphasis on the "action"
side of the action/platform formula, dishing out combat that's as challenging
as anything I've played this year.
The basic mechanics are simple; you have one
attack button, a dodge move on the right analog stick, and three two-button
combos that unleash special moves like a shockwave or one that turns Knack into
a deadly tornado of relic shards. It doesn't sound like much, but the myriad
enemies you face force you to use this small selection of moves in a wide
variety of ways. Even on normal difficulty, you die often. Surprisingly, the
tense battles often made me recall the God of War series. Many larger enemies
can deliver one-hit kills, so learning to dodge and counter effectively is
crucial to conquering this game. The basics are handled so well that I wish
they were expanded upon; there are no unlockable moves or specials. There's also a drop-in, drop-out co-op mode that feels completely tacked on; it's literally the bare minimum required to list that feature on the back of the box.
While combat is excellent, the
platforming is routine. I enjoyed the handful of memorable sequences, but they are
largely things that fans of the genre have seen dozens of times. While the
platforming control isn't bad, I had the slight feeling that Knack was only
gliding over the levels, not fully connected. It lacks that perfect feel that
the best in the genre attain. Still, the platforming serves its purpose,
balancing out the pace between the hectic bouts of combat.
Though it's a launch game for a next-gen system,
Knack is almost nostalgic; it's the kind of game they don't make that often
anymore. As such, it's not the most innovative or the most visually dazzling
game. This won't be the one you put in to show off your new console to your
friends. However, when you're done with the prettied-up versions of the big
franchises, you'll find yourself wanting to return to Knack. It's got charm and
heart, and offers a whole lot of good gameplay. Ultimately, that's still
what's important - no matter which generation we're in.