Lasting First Impressions
Every new console launch needs that showcase game to illustrate what your expensive new toy can do. For the Xbox 360 it was Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero. The PS3 had Genji: Days of the Blade and Resistance: Fall of Man. Remember any of these titles fondly? While probably showing off the capabilities of the new system, they all fell a little flat in terms of gameplay longevity. With this new generation officially kicking off with the release of Sony’s PlayStation 4 console, ostensibly we once again have a key title that is geared to show off the potential of our new toy. That game is Knack. Created and developed by Mark Cerny, PlayStation 4’s Lead Architect, it is evident why this was the game he chose to show off the power of the new system. Unfortunately, in the end, that’s all this game has going for it. It is largely an elaborate tech demo desperately trying to be a game.
Knack himself consists of magical relics that have come together to form a small, troll-like creature. By finding more relics throughout the game’s levels, Knack can grow larger, gain more health, and become more powerful. Each of the elements that make up Knack’s body are individual entities, completely animated as separate object in the game. This is where the tech demo of the system comes into play. As Knack finds more relics, they each add themselves individually to make him larger. Scattered throughout the game’s levels are yellow crystals that can be collected to power up Knack’s super moves which show off the graphical prowess as well as the computational power of the system as each individual relic shoots out in multiple directions, or swirls around Knack like a tornado, to damage enemies. Visually the game looks wonderful and seriously looks like a CGI produced children’s after school show. Unfortunately that’s where the wonderment ends with Knack.
Knack is, for all intents and purposes, a platformer. There are very few buttons needed to play the game. Players control Knack as he jumps, double jumps, and punch enemies. As the crystals are found and super moves are powered up, a press of the circle button followed by either the circle, triangle, or square buttons will unleash one of three moves. Control-wise it is a very simple game to play. Pressing the right stick causes Knack to dodge which means this game gives players absolutely no control over the camera position which, in this day and age, is a very odd choice to make. Ultimately, Knack is relegated to being a simple run, jump and button mash game with not a great deal of substance to it.
As Knack collects more relics and becomes larger with more health, the game never truly makes the player feel like they’ve become more powerful. Knack certainly gets bigger, but so do the enemies he encounters and the number of hits it take to ‘die’ remains the same. It doesn’t take much to “kill” Knack and force the player to play an entire section of the game again; one or two hits from an enemy will send the player, frustrated, back to the beginning of a fairly large section just to do it all again. Knack quickly became one of the most frustrating games I have played in a very long time. And I wasn’t even playing the game on the Hard difficulty.
Even in parts of the game in which Knack is quite large and we finally begin to feel like we’re unstoppable, the game simply takes that away from us as Knack, in a story cut scene, decides to shed all the extra relics and resort back to his tiny little self. All that hard work by the player completely shed and lost. Too many times, the game simply gives the player immense power one minute only to take it away from them the next. It was like taking two steps forward and three steps back. Every level felt like starting the game from the very beginning.
As a launch title, I can clearly see why this game was created. It certainly does a great job showing off the particle effects and computational power of the system. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to give players a fun and exiting game. It seems Knack may go down in history as another Kameo, or Genji; a game we remember as a launch title, but not one we would ever go back to play.
SCE Japan, I gave you an hour and I am NOT IMPRESSED.