Knack is a creature made of energized relics, bound together by a force of nature which also powers his neo-fantasy world. He stands as an aberration in this universe of humans, robots, and goblins who consistently find their kinds locked in a war over land.
With his unique makeup, Knack can stretch and contort himself. This ability stands as a considerable demonstration of PlayStation 4′s sharpened particle effects and is central to Knack’s appeal. Japan Studio creates a rather anemic platform brawler, one without use of PS4′s touch pad capabilities or other unique functionality. Knack is not afforded camera control either, utilizing a pittance of the available control options: two sticks and three face buttons.
In a traditional sense, this first-party effort bludgeons the ideology of system launch titles. They should–technically–show off and blossom as they free themselves from restrictive restraints embedded in previous hardware. Knack is disinterested in that and focuses on its core combat mechanisms, an ideal decision which harnesses the PS4 for gratifying collision instead of splashy visual kicks.
Punches are delivered with rare impact. Knack leans into his strikes and stretches at their peaks to muster enormous force. Enemies react with clear facial expressions as their armor satisfyingly turns to shambles. Few videogames have ever sold the idea of a punch this sharply. Knack, despite indifference to his menial personality, feels like a construct of metallic shards. There is no doubt those punches hurt.
Finding relics means elevating the title character’s stature, up to a King Kong-esque brute who can sling tanks into buildings. Level design, despite often locked to uninteresting corridors layered with battles, builds Knack into recognizably gargantuan scale. Stages begin with insect conflicts; Knack is adorably minute in his limited phase. Hazards are birds or a cocky human with a rocket launcher. Found relics attach to his magnetized frame and he blossoms into a monstrous fighting unit. What was once a skill demanding (and even unfair) rumble becomes a one-sided thrashing.
This is a punishing third-person adventure, soured by ill-conceived checkpoints and misalignment of dodge techniques. Knack embeds its retro dogma with malice, unapologetic about what audience it is trying to reach through gameplay. It is at odds with a softened, even rotund character aesthetic of a hero doctor and plucky adoptive adventurer who typically provide safe passage from Knack’s ill-advised decisions. Knack has the look of Saturday morning special and ferociousness of many NES greats. And, its rich violence mimics a Mike Tyson fight.
In a way, despite the multitude of experienced frustrations and antagonistic challenge, it all fits. Double up the grandiose display of power evident in those punches with the savory success of passing rigid encounters and Knack is blissful. Some level of appreciation is due to a videogame which brushes off expectations to fill its own body sans peer pressure. Others will be defined by their abilities to use touch pads and controller lights. In a somewhat ironic twist, they will find themselves as relics as generational innovation seats itself as normalcy.
In the end, there will sit Knack, champion of the simplistic and polished, qualities that are all too often disregarded in modern software. Gamers and critics share a propensity to judge what doesn’t exist rather than what does. Games like this are visible victims. Something needs to be said for purity, certainly more so than for inexcusable arbitrary controller functions. Knack will age, but gracefully. A good punch of simplicity never loses its style.
Knack is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence.